The BBC does JFS

By Simon Rocker
October 22, 2009

There's a BBC radio documentary on Monday looking at the JFS entry case ahead of next week's Supreme Court hearing.

Here's the blurb:

"Being Jewish – Blood or Belief?
Monday, October 26th at 8pm on BBC Radio 4

One child’s battle to get a place at a Jewish state school ended in an explosive court judgment this summer, causing bewilderment and fury in parts of the Jewish community and provoking wider questions about faith schools and the right of the state to define religion.

The Court of Appeal ruled that JFS, the Jewish Free School, a highly popular and successful comprehensive in north London, had broken the Race Relations Act by refusing to admit the boy on the grounds that his mother was not Jewish as defined by the Chief Rabbi. That judgment forced a rapid re-writing of admissions policies at Jewish schools across Britain, making observance rather than parentage the criterion. But the Chief Rabbi – party to an appeal next week (Oct 27) to the new UK Supreme Court – claims the ruling has effectively branded Judaism racist.

In Being Jewish – Blood or Belief? reporter Tim Whewell explores the implications of the judgment. In Liverpool, he finds, Jewish parents are worried that children of non-observant families could be denied Jewish places at a faith school that’s served to keep a small community together. But others believe it’s not the job of state schools to offer religious upbringing that parents fail to provide.

The judgment has reignited an age-old argument about what exactly makes someone Jewish. Is it blood, belief, way of life, or culture? Are Jews primarily an ethnic group – as defined by the Race Relations Act – or a religious one? And has the community tried until now – as some say – to “have it both ways”?

The case raises profound questions about how the state deals not just with Jews, but with all religious groups. Do they have a right to define themselves, or can the civil law decide? Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue tells the programme that if the existing judgment stands, democracy will be contesting the word of God.

More broadly still, the Government believes a variety of faith schools – including Sikh and Catholic ones - may also be affected by the judgment. In some parts of Britain, membership of particular religious groups is closely linked to ethnicity. Does that raise the risk of indirect racial discrimination in admission procedures? Meanwhile, some schools have admissions criteria that may reflect parents’ religious background more than their current observance.

Most British politicians are committed to encouraging faith schools, but outside parliament, among ordinary citizens, their role is more hotly debated.
Being Jewish – Blood or Belief? highlights some of the very controversial issues involved.

Produced and presented by Tim Whewell"



Wed, 11/11/2009 - 18:19

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The Jewish faith is divided into many sects. The argument here is between the Orthodox Jewish establishment which currently controls entry to the Jewish Free School and other denominations. Orthodox Jews believe that to be a Jew a person must have a Jewish mother or have been properly converted to the Orthodox sect.

Conversion to Orthodox Judaism is a long and difficult process taking at least a year in this country and involving many hours of hard study and a period living with an approved Jewish family in Hendon or Golders Green. The rent is expensive in those districts.

Conversion to the other sects is not so difficult and the rules of observance are not so arduous, hence the refusal of the Orthodox establishment to accept such conversions. Orthodox Jews believe that the rest are not obeying the Laws of God

It would certainly be ironic if changing entry qualifications from ethnicity to observance resulted in the legal exclusion of the less strict sects! It would depend on who was in charge of defining "observance". Please do not go there.

The judgement was partly based on the argument that it would be racist to deny a Christian child of practising Christians a place in a church school because one of the parents was ethnically Jewish, the exact obverse of this situation. However that did not take into account the argument within Judaism over who is a Jew.


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