If it ain't broke, don't fix it!


By Rabbi Zvi
December 23, 2009
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For many years there have only been two choices for Jewish mainstream schooling in Anglo-Jewry: Orthodox or more Orthodox. This has suited most of us, who (whatever our practice) are nominally Orthodox. The recent go-ahead for the JCoSS school (http://www.jcoss.org/) means that this is now broadened to include the "Progressive" or non-Orthodox wing of the wider community. However, this has not been enough for many, who want access to the tried and tested education of the longer-established Jewish schools. This is what the recent JFS Supreme Court decision (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/education/article6891093...) has thrown into confusion.
Let me make no bones about it. By throwing everything up in the air and forcing JFS and other Orthodox Jewish Schools to change their definitions for entry, this case will damage Reform, Liberal and Masorti congregations. We know that parents are desperate to get their children into Jewish schools, and most middle class parents will move house to get into the right school catchment area. By changing the definition of entry criteria this case has forced Orthodox Jews to define Jewishness by practice. Only those who attend an Orthodox Synagogue and who are affiliated with a recognized Orthodox body will be admitted from now on. Witness the rush over Rosh Hashanna to get children recognized with the US shuls.
So in the wake of this case we can expect a rush of parents to register their children with Orthodox shuls - and this means a bonanza for Orthodox congregations, particularly the United Synagogue in London. Where such affiliation is not considered to be a major issue by parents we can also expect that they will stay members of the shuls they have joined. The points system means that siblings will probably also need their parents' shul membership, and my experience with shuls is that once a family have started paying and affiliating (and with a little luck enjoying) a shul, they are unlikely to budge.
The JFS case has jogged Anglo-Jewry towards higher membership take-up for Orthodox shuls. And although the United Synagogue has been resisting it in the courts, this is bound ultimately to be to its benefit. It may well even mean that where schools used to quietly admit the occasional convert from the Progressive sects of Judaism, they will now find it easier to close the door. Where's the benefit in that.
Most perverse are the comments made by Jonathan Romain, my Reform colleague in Maidenhead. He is against any single-faith school and chairs the Accord group(http://www.accordcoalition.org.uk/index.php/about/our-chair/). In his article in the Guardian The JFS ruling is a victory for Jews (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2009/dec/16/jfs-supreme-c...) he says "It is no exaggeration to say that the supreme court has just saved the Jewish community from itself. Or, rather, from the more right-wing exclusivist tendencies that unfortunately seem to exert much greater sway than they deserve to." Nothing can be further from the truth. This case has made discrimination and exclusion more likely. It is unlikely to effect Jonathan's community - there is no danger of any Jewish school opening in Berkshire in the next ten years. Yet by cheering on this case and pressing for change, it seems that those who wish to see more inclusive religious schools have shot themselves in the foot.
I predict that after the dust has settled, there will be more exclusion and upset than there was before the case was brought, and that the Reform, Liberal and Masorti organizations will find themselves with a steady trickle of members with children away from their synagogues, into the Orthodox.
Finally, it is more than likely that new legislation will be passed to ensure that the status quo ante is reinstated: the pluralist lobby has not reckoned with the lobbying power of the Chief Rabbinate and the Board of Deputies.
It all brings to mind the old saying: If it ain't broke, don't fix it!

COMMENTS

Rabbi Zvi

Wed, 12/23/2009 - 19:33

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A minor amendment - the schools may well admit Reform members, accepting their practice forms, but there is now no way to ensure that they won't give preference to those whose forms are signed by an Orthodox Rabbi - in practice if you want to be sure to get your kid into JFS, you need to sign up to an Orthodox shul.


Jonathan Hoffman

Wed, 12/23/2009 - 22:08

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For Romain, the JFS Judgment was the first salvo in a battle that he hopes will end with the death of faith schools. No wonder we get such hyperbole from him:

"It is no exaggeration to say that the supreme court has just saved the Jewish community from itself. Or, rather, from the more right-wing exclusivist tendencies that unfortunately seem to exert much greater sway than they deserve to."

And no wonder accuracy takes a back seat:

"….and just as most people regard Anglicans, Catholics, Baptists, Methodists and others as all Christian, so most Jews regard each other as fellow Jews."

That’s really not correct. A Jew who attends a Liberal synagogue has about as much in common with a Chassid from Stamford Hill as he does with Her Majesty The Queen – possibly less.

And Romain incorrectly believes that the Judgment has implications for other religions:

"This applies to other religious schools – whether Christian, Muslim or Hindu – which are controlled by one strand of the faith and can deny access to children of other groups within it."

Wrong. Those faiths are not regarded as a ‘race’ under the UK’s Race Relations legislation. Judaism is – and that was the problem.

As I argued after reading the Appeal Court Judgment, it turned on ‘false equivalence’: the Judges said that what is sauce for the Race Relations Act goose, must be sauce for the school admissions gander: they said that Jews are correctly treated as a racial group for the purposes of the Race Relations Act but that means that a school admissions policy that relies on the Orthodox definition of Judaism (matrilineal descent or Orthodox conversion) is illegal. But the definition of a Jew for the purposes of the Race Relations Act is much wider than the biblical one which the Chief Rabbi and JFS have. It is invalid to equate the two.

Romain then descends into nonsense:

"Whether one is religious or not, many will agree that state-funded faith schools should serve not just themselves but also the community around them. JFS was adopting an approach that breached that sense of inclusivity and fair play…. [The Judgment] will also serve as a wake-up call to all state-funded faith schools to honour their responsibilities to wider society."

That's ridiculous. JFS was not failing to “serve … the community around it” or ”to honour its obligations to wider society.”

It simply fell foul of Sir Stephen Sedley’s zeal (and that of his two Appeal Court colleagues) to use his judicial office as an instrument of social engineering.....


Lanne

Thu, 12/24/2009 - 12:09

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It was wrong for so much money and time to be spent taking this case to court to stop a few children who are not considered Jewish, going to a Jewish school. Because of this it does look like discrimination. This money could have been better spent on the Jewish community providing more Jewish education but insted it was wasted. The school could have told the children that they do not consider them Jewish but will still accept them into the school.


gordon bennett

Thu, 12/24/2009 - 12:55

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It seems that Hoffman has nailed his colours to the reactionary mast. Progressive Zionists, RSY-Netzer, Noam et al, dissociate from the ZF now and set up an alternative.


Jonathan Hoffman

Thu, 12/24/2009 - 13:10

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"It seems that Hoffman has nailed his colours to the reactionary mast."

Only in your rancid mind Mr Troll


Lanne

Wed, 12/30/2009 - 12:55

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You say "It may well even mean that where schools used to quietly admit the occasional convert from the Progressive sects of Judaism, they will now find it easier to close the door.". If it is found that a Jewish school is rejecting the children of Reform, Liberal and Masorti congregations then there are likely to be more cases against Jewish schools, especially now since they know the law is on their side. If there are more cases brought to the courts against Jewish schools, they may lose their legitimacy. If any company or school is repeatedly seen as breaking the law they eventually lose their legitimacy.

The Jewish community is very lucky to have free Jewish schools funded by the state (in other countries Jewish people pay for their Jewish schools) and it is very ungrateful for these Jewish schools to accept this money, not follow the law and reject the children of the parents who are paying for these schools through their taxes, without these parents these schools would not even exist.

More schools such as JCOSS may open and become popular so there might be less incentive for parents to join an Orthodox synagogue. From the information in the newspapers JCOSS seems like an attractive school and there is a demand for it.


Natalie

Mon, 09/20/2010 - 07:39

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Has membership of Orthodox shuls increased as forecast by Rabbi Zvi?


Rabbi Zvi

Mon, 09/20/2010 - 08:02

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Certainly more have been getting the required certificate by attending them - this will only increase in the wake of the King David case in Liverpool and my colleagues report many more children coming to shul.

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