Should the Courts Decide Who Is and Is Not Jewish?

The Guardian reports here that a Jewish state school in Great Britain has lost an appeal against a racial discrimination suit. The school turned down the application of a child because they did not consider the child Jewish. Apparently the school gets twice as many applicants as it can accept each year and their chief rabbi whittles the list down by rejecting anyone he does not recognize as Jewish (meaning anyone whose mother he does not recognize as Jewish). A student was apparently turned down because the rabbi did not recognize the non-Orthodox authority who effected the conversion of the child’s mother.

But the school appealed and took the case to the supreme court. Critics say today’s ruling has meant secular jurists are deciding who is Jewish and who is not.

The ruling will lead to children who apply to one of the UK’s 50 Jewish schools having to sit religious practice tests to ensure the schools are not discriminating against children on ethnic grounds.

It is also likely to lead to a revision of faith schools’ admissions policies. Lawyers said it was the most controversial ruling since the supreme court was created in October.

I think this is a very serious move being taken by the UK’s supreme court, but it’s a state school and I think the people ponying up have the right to define what kind of traditions are allowed. The Jewishness of the boys mother, however, has nothing whatsoever to do with race or ethnicity. It appears to have only to do with the orthodoxy of her denomination.

The British Humanist Association said the verdict should trigger an investigation into all state faith schools’ admissions policies. Andrew Copson, the BHA’s director of education and public affairs, said: “There’s absolutely no reason why what is essentially a public service should be denied to any children, whatever their beliefs or the beliefs of their parents.”

What are your thoughts?

EDIT: I assumed, based on my own misunderstanding of how faith schools in the UK worked, that this was a private school, but it’s not. Thanks to Doug for the correction.


4 responses to “Should the Courts Decide Who Is and Is Not Jewish?

  • Doug Chaplin

    Daniel, you should know that it’s not a private school, but a fully state funded comprehensive. You may still disagree with the judgement, but since you stress “private” so much in your post, I thought this was worth clarifying.

  • Daniel O. McClellan

    You’re right, I misunderstood the word “comprehensive.” Thanks for clarifying. I’ll make appropriate edits.

  • Doug Chaplin

    We work hard to make our schooling system as hard to understand as possible! 😉

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      So I’ve noticed. A friend of mine is pulling his hair out over the fact that he had to print out five hard copies of his application to a PhD program at Cambridge and mail all five copies separately to the same place.

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