Thursday, March 6, 2008

U.K. Jewish school sued for barring pupil over conversion

The following excerpt was found in Haaretz at the following link

A British couple is suing the largest and oldest Jewish high school over the school's refusal to accept their son as a student because his mother did not convert in an Orthodox ceremony.

The case, now before the High Court in London, has attracted wide media attention in the U.K. and is a source of contention in the Jewish community.

Most of the 1,900 students in the Jewish Free School (JFS), founded in 1732, do not come from Orthodox homes. Nevertheless, the school is identified with the central stream of British Jewry, the United Synagogue, which accepts the authority of the London Beth Din, or rabbinic court. The London rabbinic court is considered more strict on matters of conversion than rabbinic courts in Israel.

The parents, who have remained anonymous, describe as racist and illegal the school's refusal to accept their son because his mother was converted to Judaism in a Conservative ceremony. They say this is racist and illegal because the school receives government funding.


  1. Here is another article about the same suit, this is a different couple who are part of the same discrimination suit. This has been going on for a couple of years already.

    In England, unlike the US, there is no separation of Church and State. If the woman is not Jewish according to the Israeli Rabbinute and this is the standard of admissions for the school then the British Ministry of Education is not going to interfere.

    The families involved in these suits took the issue to the media for the publicity, a tremendous Chillul Hashem for a Jewish Community that is already suffering from a great deal of anti Semitism.

    (I have a lot of family in London).

    London - Jewish School Accused of Racial Discrimination
    London - A leading Jewish school has been accused of racial discrimination after it refused to accept a girl whose mother was a convert to the religion.

    Her parents are taking legal action against the JFS (formerly the Jewish Free School) for rejecting their daughter’s application.

    The girl’s father is an Orthodox Jew and her mother, who is the school’s head of English, converted to Judaism more than 20 years ago. But the Office of the Chief Rabbi does not recognise the conversion and so refuses to accept that the child is Jewish.

    The couple claim that the school’s admissions code breaches race laws, because it favours children with Jewish-born mothers. Jewish custom dictates that the faith line passes through the mother.

    Children from two other families who consider themselves Jewish have also been refused a place. The school insists that the preference it shows to pupils whose mothers were born Jewish is a religious rather than a racial issue.

    JFS is one of Britain’s oldest Jewish schools and is the largest Orthodox Jewish school in Europe, with 2,000 pupils. It is described by Ofsted as outstanding and is oversubscribed every academic year. [timesonline]

  2. And here is an article from the Guardian:

    Jewish school accused of racial bias

    Riazat Butt, religious affairs correspondent
    Wednesday March 5, 2008
    The Guardian

    The country's top Jewish state school was accused of racial discrimination yesterday for rejecting the application of a boy because he was not an "approved" Jew.

    The high court heard how the Jewish Free School (JFS) in north London refused to grant a place to 11-year-old "M" because its religious authority ruled the boy's mother was not born Jewish and had not converted to a branch of Judaism recognised by the Office of the Chief Rabbi, the body that offers guidance to the school on a pupil or parent's Jewish status.

    The Orthodox movement insists the faith be passed through matrilineal descent. In the case of M, who cannot be named for legal reasons, his father was considered Jewish but his mother, born a Roman Catholic, was not.

    In a witness statement the father said: "Despite being a member of and committed to the Jewish faith, and willing to consider committing himself to conversion, my son is, to put it crudely, not an 'approved' Jew for the school's purposes."

    The education secretary, Ed Balls, disagreed that the JFS had a racist admissions policy. In a written submission Balls said most religions were "disproportionately represented" among certain racial, ethnic or national origins and underrepresented among others."If it was unlawful to advantage those of particular racial, ethnic, or national origin by giving preference in admission arrangements to children of particular religions, this would apply to many if not most schools with faith-based oversubscription criteria."

    He also warned against interference from secular courts in matters of doctrine and theology.

    The case concludes tomorrow.

  3. And from the BBC:

    Race bias case for Jewish school

    JFS has said admission is a religious, not a racial matter
    A court hearing has begun over a Jewish school's admissions policy, which may have implications for at least another 20 schools and other organisations.

    The JFS in north-west London is accused of discriminating against an 11-year-old boy it refused to admit.

    He was rejected in favour of "committed atheists" because his mother was not regarded as Jewish, his family's lawyer told the High Court in London.

    Seeking judicial review, Dinah Rose QC said the policy involved ethnic origin.

    The state-maintained school is heavily oversubscribed. It gives preference to applicants whose "Jewish status" is confirmed by the United Synagogue.

    The boy - named in court only as M - has a Jewish father. His mother converted to the Jewish faith before he was born but had been a Roman Catholic.


    In the eyes of the United Synagogue the 11-year-old was not Jewish because his mother was not accepted as Jewish, Ms Rose told Mr Justice Munby.

    She said JFS's current admissions policy was incompatible with the school's own religious ethos and admissions code.

    Ms Rose accused the school of applying a test "not based on faith but wholly or partly on ethnic origins".

    She said the issues raised by the case went to the heart of the national debate started by the Archbishop of Canterbury over the extent to which Islamic Sharia law should be accommodated by UK law, which prohibited racial discrimination.

    Ben Jaffey, appearing for the United Synagogue, was allowed to address the court after saying that, if M and his father were to win their case, it would have "very serious potential consequences" for the synagogue.

    He said it would affect not only the JFS but more than 20 other schools and other Jewish community organisations.

    The British Humanist Association is supporting the family.

    The hearing continues.

  4. The final ruling:

    Notes: The court ruled that it is only racial bias when the doctrines of Orthodox Judaism are not followed.

    The school has a policy of admitting the non Jews only when it is under enrolled which thankfully has not been the case.

    In the cases in which the school has been under enrolled, and children who are not Jewish are accepted, the school has in the past given preference to those who have a Jewish biological father or grandfather which has NO BASIS under Jewish law.

    The court ruled that this practice is racist.

    It is very interesting that a secular court would enforce Jewish law at a time in the Diaspora when many Jewish courts have failed to do so.

    It is sad that we need a secular court to remind that Jewish patrilineal descent has ABSOLUTELY ZERO bearing according to Jewish law. To show preference for Gentiles who have a Jewish father is the "doctrine" of Hitler; that is, it is racism and not Judaism.

    Judaism must remain a religion. It is not to become a race or a nationality.

    Here is the BBC's report:

    Race bias ruling on Jewish school

    JFS said admission to the school was a religious, not a racial matter

    A schools watchdog has partially upheld claims that a Jewish school's admissions policy might discriminate racially against non-Orthodox Jews.

    The JFS, a state comprehensive in London, has been told to change under-subscription criteria which could result in indirect discrimination.

    But the adjudicator rejected a claim against the school's main criterion, that a pupil must have a Jewish mother.

    Complaints had been made by Brent Council and two parents.

    The school, in north London, is ranked outstanding by Ofsted and says it is oversubscribed - with more applicants than it has places.

    The chief adjudicator, Philip Hunter, said the case involved a "very difficult" issue that could only be decided finally by a court.

    The central objection was that the school broke the Race Relations Act 1976 by giving priority for places to children recognised as being Jewish by the Office of the Chief Rabbi.

    The chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregation of the Commonwealth (OCR) - the school's religious authority - says that to be Jewish, one's mother has to have been born Jewish or been through a recognised conversion, or one must be converted oneself.


    Dr Hunter said the school's first criteria in its admissions policy was based on religious grounds, not those of race.

    "It appears to me that the policy reflects an essentially religious view, i.e. the view that those who satisfy the requirements of Orthodox Judaic law for being Jewish should be the ones given priority for admission to the school," he said.

    So the policy did not contravene the prohibition on direct discrimination on racial grounds.

    But Dr Hunter objected to criteria relating to who the school would admit if it did not have enough applicants who were Jewish under Orthodox Jewish law.

    The school's policy gives preference to children who have one Jewish parent or grandparent, ahead of those of other faiths or none.

    It is greatly reassuring that the authority of the office of the chief rabbi to determine the Jewish status of our applicants has been confirmed

    Jews' Free School

    He said: "I accept that there is no direct discrimination as the criteria are still based on religious grounds not racial grounds (albeit the religion of the father or the grandparents).

    "However, those criteria may conflict with the prohibition on indirect racial discrimination.

    "The point to bear in mind here is that the criteria deal with the way in which two children - neither of whom are Jewish in the religious sense - would be dealt with in terms of admission.

    "One child (the child with a Jewish father or grandparent in the religious sense) is given preference over the child who has no such parent or grandparent.

    "That does appear to me to put persons who are not ethnically Jewish at a disadvantage as compared with those who are."

    The school said it was pleased that the central aspect of its admissions policy and its underlying principle had been upheld.

    "It is greatly reassuring that the determination of the criteria for admission of Jewish children to JFS has been confirmed as being a religious, not a racial matter, and the authority of the office of the Chief Rabbi to determine the Jewish status of our applicants has been confirmed," a spokesman said.


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