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London: Supreme Court Rules Against Orthodox Jewish School

cha1.jpgThe BBC reports: The Supreme Court has found a Jewish school guilty of race discrimination for refusing places to pupils it did not consider to be ethnically Jewish.

Nine justices ruled, by a small majority, that the JFS in London had breached race relations legislation.

The case was brought by a Jewish man whose son was not given a place because his wife was not regarded as Jewish under rules set by the Chief Rabbi.

The parents were angry that their Jewish status was being questioned.

Giving the court’s verdict, Supreme Court President Lord Philips said: “The majority of the court has concluded that the JFS admission policy does discriminate on the grounds of ethnic origin and is, in consequence, unlawful.”

“A minority disagrees, considering that the admission requirement is exclusively a religious requirement and does not depend on ethnic origin.”

But he stressed that while the school had acted unlawfully over its admissions, it should not be regarded as racist.

“The majority have made it plain in their judgments that the fact that the JFS admission policy has fallen foul of the Race Relations Act certainly does not mean those responsible for the admissions policy have behaved in a way that is racist, as that word as generally understood.”

The school went to the Supreme Court after three judges at the Court of Appeal ruled in June that the entry criteria had racially discriminated against the boy, known as M.

Chairman of governors at the school Russell Kett said the school and governors were disappointed at the ruling.

“We must now set about establishing a more workable solution for a Jewish practice test to be used for admissions in 2011.

“JFS School felt it had no alternative than to continue to press for its test of ‘Jewishness’ to be based solely on orthodox Jewish religious law, rather than on a series of factors which themselves have no relevance under Jewish law, but which seem to support the notion of a test of Jewish practice required by the English legal system.”

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks said the matter required “careful reflection and consultation” and instant reactions would be inappropriate.

“The closeness of the court’s judgement indicates how complex this case was, both in English law and in debated issues of Jewish identity.

“Our office will be working closely together with the schools, the United Synagogue, the Board of Deputies and other interested parties to consider the implications of the verdict before making a full response.”

The 12-year-old boy was refused a place at the JFS (formerly known as the Jews’ Free School) in Brent, north London, despite regularly attending a Progressive synagogue.

While his father is Jewish by birth, his mother is Jewish by conversion.

However, the conversion ceremony was conducted by a Progressive rather than an Orthodox synagogue, which is not recognised by the Office of the Chief Rabbi.

The children of atheists, and practising Christians, were allowed to attend the school as long as their mothers were considered Jewish.

Although Liberal Jews say faith is about belief rather than ethnic origin, Orthodox Jewish supporters of the school said the Supreme Court’s ruling risked infringing their human rights by interfering with the way they have always been defined.

The BBC’s religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott said the impact of the ruling on other faith schools was likely to be limited because of the close relationship between faith and ethnicity in Judaism.

He said the JFS and other Jewish schools would now have to test for admissions on the basis of religious belief and practice and participation in the Jewish community.

(Source: BBC News)

17 Responses

  1. The last two sentence is why the case isn’t a big deal – an “Orthodox” Jewish school will have to limit enrollment to orthodox Jews (assuming they don’t persuade the parliament to change the law, which the report suggests the court is encouraging).

    In most places, most frum parents prefer a school where all the students are from frum families – that is the reason for choosing a parochial school.

  2. “The children of atheists, and practising Christians, were allowed to attend the school as long as their mothers were considered Jewish.”

    Maybe they cooked their own goose(?) I can’t imagine a yeshiva in this country – or even a day school – having a policy like this. Am I wrong?

  3. In these times of recession and fiscal austerity, wouldn’t it be less costly to buy a scarecrow, give it a beard and a yarmulke, and call it Chief Rabbi? Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks seems to wield the power of a rubber band driven propeller. He’s nothing more than a fancy title, much like the queen or her heir apparent.

  4. In the times of Tenach, is there anything ever mentioned in the Pesukim, about, any action of Geirus done, because the mother was not born to a Jew?

    No hint and no mention, as far as I can see.

  5. Watch it locknload (# 3) – It’s no chiddush to apply Kavod Ha Rav to rabbanum with whom you agree and for whom you have sincere respect – it applies as well to those you don’t. Your comments about R. Sacks are over the line.

    Besides, you have no idea how he intends to navigate this issue, no evidence that his agenda is tainted, and you are required to give him the benefit of the doubt – especially as I presume you are enconched in safety of America (I bet in the womb of Brooklyn or the like) where you have the benefit of living in a frum-friendly country where the 1st Amendment would prevent this sort of thing from ever happening.

  6. Ader (#5) You comment, “In the times of Tenach, is there anything ever mentioned in the Pesukim…”

    Bist du eine Yid? If so, you need a cheder education . . . Pesukim don’t change – and the rest of your question makes no sense either.

  7. #5
    You are not likely to get an answer to your question if you write it in a fashion that makes it almost impossible to decipher…

  8. #6 Up until “benefit of the doubt” you were great. We have to stop the personal attacks. Stick to the article. Follow the example of our gedolim who disagree on issues but personally hold each other in high esteem. #3 I don’t understand why you belittle Rabbi Sacks. He happens to have done great things for the British Jews.

  9. This British court seeks to overpower Orthodox Judaism with progressive reform judiasm. Maybe the school should not continue to be described as Jewish but rather Jewish Grandmothers school. Then what will the court say? If my memory serves me right Jews were not allowed in Parliament until they made an exeption for D’israeli. Now is the time for all the Jews to sue for what they’ve been forced out of all these years. We all know there are plenty of cases of discrimination against Jews. I’m sure this court would oblige.

  10. hello did anyone ever hear of Kiruv schools? Like beer hagolah, nefesh, shalshales and even jfs in Staten island. All their kids dont exactly practice Judaism, thats why they are there!

  11. #6 – The US first amendment might not reach a different result if a frum school were to have a policy of accepting people based on halachic status while ignoring if they were frum. For a variety of reasons that is unlikely to happen in the US, at least to Orthodox schoools, since our schools tend to reject students whose religious standards are below that of the school. Yeshivos and Beis Yaakovs don’t get applications from Reform Jews.

  12. 14: Yes JFS is State supported. It is a state school.

    The Supreme Court have opened a can of worms. According to this ruling, Catholic schools should not be abl to refuse CoE children. Both are Christians. The same will be true with all faith schools who don’t have a strong religious practice admissions criteria.

    As it happens, King Soloman in East London already accept Goyim!

    What it won’t effect are the heimishe schools. if anything this ruling will strengthen them, as they will have good grounds to refuse parents who are not tznu’o enough or have a TV/Internet, for example, as they can make those things part of their religious practise criteria!

  13. YonasonW Thats not my point. Plenty of mixed famalies like to get into a so called religious school as long as there children are not forced to adhere to the religion and feel comfortable w/the other normal kids and to keep their own out of public school. In those schools the Jews for the most part are not othodox observers.

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