Can these rabbis be forgiven?

Maya Lightman’s admission to JFS is a profoundly joyous event. The need for the US Beth Din to seek forgiveness is equally profound

By Geoffrey Alderman, September 7, 2010

Five years ago, in the pages of this newspaper, a communal scandal was brought to your attention. Two Jewish children, born to Jewish parents, were denied entry into a leading Jewish school.

The reason for this denial of entry had nothing whatever to do with money, scholastic ability or shortage of school places.

In fact, the Jewish children of whom I write actually had places reserved for them; but their way had been barred through the base prejudices and political mischief-making of a relatively small group of rabbis, aided and abetted by a sycophantic, and frankly ignorant, laity.

Last week one of these children - Maya Lightman - was at last able to take up, at the age of 16, the place at the Jews' Free School that ought to have been hers at the age of 11.

This was of course an occasion for profound rejoicing - it was an event that I sometimes doubted I would ever personally witness, a miracle. But it was also an occasion for profound regret. And (on my part at any rate) for deep anger.

Maya Lightman is as Jewish as my daughter or, for that matter, as either of the Chief Rabbi’s daughters

Whether you personally believe that JFS gives a better education than any run-of-the-mill state-managed comprehensive is completely beside the point.

Whether you (or I) believe that faith schools in general and taxpayer-supported faith schools in particular are "a good thing" is really neither here nor there.

The facts of the matter cannot be denied. And those facts are that Kate Marlow (as she then was) converted to Orthodox Judaism in 1987 under the auspices of the chief rabbinate of Israel, and that she married David Lightman chupah v'kiddushin (or, if you prefer kedass Moshe v'Yisroel - according to the Law of Moses and Israel - under strictly Orthodox auspices in New York.

Their daughter Maya is therefore as Jewish as my daughter Naomi or, for that matter, as either of Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks's daughters, Dina and Gila.

Why, then, was Maya Lightman initially denied a place at the JFS? The ostensible reason was that the members
of the Beth Din
of the United Synagogue took
it upon themselves to repudiate the authenticity and validity of her mother's conversion.

Whether they had the halachic authority to do this,
I very much doubt.

Whatever evidence they might have had on which to base their decision ought to have been transmitted (and for all you and I know may well have been transmitted) to the rabbinical authorities in Israel.

The fact of the matter - the undeniable fact of the matter - is that Kate Marlow's conversion has never been revoked, and remains today as valid as it was on August 16 1987 when the members of the special rabbinical court for conversion declared: "We examined her and… we accepted her and told her: "You are our sister", and her name was called in Israel Kochavah according to the Torah a daughter of Abraham our father, may peace be upon him."

That is all you and I need to know. Kate Lightman (as she became) is a Jewess. Her children are therefore Jewish. She and they are recognised as such in Israel, in the USA and even in the UK.

But not by the United Synagogue and its rabbinical and lay leaderships. This recalcitrance has nothing at all
to do with halachah, but everything
to do with the supreme arrogance of the members of the United Synagogue's Beth Din, which arrogance led them, five years ago, to spit in the face of the chief rabbinate of Israel and to deny to a Jewish child the Jewish education that she and her parents wanted for her.

That she is now able to enjoy that education (and hopefully make up for lost time) is due to the intervention of the English judiciary. In some quarters, this intervention is felt to be a matter for regret. Let me be frank; I, too, regret that secular judges had to be brought in to right the wrong inflicted by religious judges.

But what is important is that a wrong has been righted.

This is not an occasion for gloating. There is nothing to gloat about. Rather, this is a time for reflection.

We are now in the Ten Days of Penitence. I pray that the five rabbonim responsible for this wrong that has now been righted - Rabbis Sacks, Abraham, Binstock, Ehrentreu and Gelley - find the courage to ask the Lightman family for its forgiveness.

I pray with equal fervour that the Lightman family are given the strength to grant it.

Last updated: 1:24pm, September 7 2010