Sarah Lyhall of the New York Times reports that Britain’s Supreme Court ruled against a Jewish high school in London that had rejected an applicant because his mother wasn’t Jewish enough – and so, by extension, neither was he. Yep, she had chosen Judaism years ago and gone through a conversion process, but
By all outward appearances, the JFS applicant, identified only as “M” in court papers, is Jewish. But not in the eyes of the school, which defines Judaism under the Orthodox definition set out by Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. Because M’s mother converted in a progressive, not an Orthodox, synagogue, the school said, she was not a Jew — and neither was her son. It turned down his application.
As we say in my home town, oh no you DIDN’T!
However irritating the school’s selection criteria are to me and some other liberal, progressive, Reform, unaffiliated, Conservative, take-your-pick-of-non-Orthodox Jews, this is hardly the first time that non-Orthodox Jews, especially non-Orthodox converts, have been classified as “insufficiently Jewish.” So the situation is hardly surprising.
What is surprising, at least to me, is a) that the court ruled that the policy was against British law and b) their rationale for that decision. While religious groups in the U.K. are allowed to practice discrimination based on religion, the ruling classified this school’s policy as race- and/or ethnicity-based discrimination, which is illegal.
The court ruled that it was an ethnic test because it concerned the status of M’s mother rather than whether M considered himself Jewish and practiced Judaism.
“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.