Are Orthodox Jewish Practices Racist? The UK Supreme Court Will DecideNovember 9, 2009 3 Comments
A 12 year old boy was denied admittance to a Jewish school in London on the basis that he was not Jewish.
Although the entire family practices Judaism, the fact that the mother was not born into the faith meant that the child was not Jewish.
A British court has called that decision racist.
The school, JFS (originally Jews’ Free School), is allowed under English law to favour the admission of Jewish students. Although the boy’s entire family are observant Jews, the fact that his mother converted in a progressive synagogue means that the school refuses to acknowledge her as Jewish, and by extension, him. The school defines Judaism “under the Orthodox definition set out by Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth.”
The family took the case to court and lost, before going to the Court of Appeal. There is was decided that basing someone’s Jewishness on the basis of the religion of the mother was discriminatory.
The school is allowed to select students on the basis of religion, but not ethnicity. The court concluded because the test was about what religion the mother was, and not about what religion the boy practiced, it was racist.
- “The requirement that if a pupil is to qualify for admission his mother must be Jewish, whether by descent or conversion, is a test of ethnicity which contravenes the Race Relations Act,” the court said. It added that while it was fair that Jewish schools should give preference to Jewish children, the admissions criteria must depend not on family ties, but “on faith, however defined.”
- The same reasoning would apply to a Christian school that “refused to admit a child on the ground that, albeit practicing Christians, the child’s family were of Jewish origin,” the court said.
The decision has angered the Orthodox Jewish community who have used those criteria to determine whether someone was Jewish over 5000 years. The school has appealed to the Supreme Court and a decision is expected before the end of the year.
The court has ruled that the Orthodox determination of whether someone is Jewish is racist, and it’s application to the school admissions process is illegal. Strictly applying the law, it is the correct decision, although the British Supreme Court will likely overturn it for political reasons.
So what is the right decision?
If you are religious then the idea of bending the tenants of your faith to the whims of the legislative process seems crazy.
But if you are not religious, allowing a group of people to break the law is just as mad.
Should the strongly held beliefs of one group trump the rest of society?