We will find the legislative remedy to this verdict

The Chief Rabbi's verdict

By Lord Jonathan Sacks, December 17, 2009

While disappointed that the Supreme Court, by the slimmest of majorities, was unable to find in favour of JFS, as a community we should be heartened by the fact that the court recognised the religious integrity of the school, the United Synagogue, the London Beth Din and our office.

The judges, without exception, were emphatic in denying that racism played any part in this case.

The most important outcome is a point made, one way or another, by eight of the nine judges, that there may be something wrong with race relations legislation as it stands.

To understand the case we must rid ourselves of the confusion with which it has been surrounded. Many people think it was about conversion. It was not. The court would have applied the same principle, with the same result, had the child’s mother not converted.

Many think it was about Jewish Orthodoxy versus Progressive denominations. Again it was not. The court’s ruling applies to all Jewish denominations, Orthodox, Reform, Liberal and Masorti. It applies to the new Progressive school, JCoSS, as well as to the JFS. The judges were quite explicit about this point.

This case had nothing to do with denominations or conversions. It focused on one simple fact: that Jewish identity is — conversions aside — conferred by birth, by the mother, or in the case of liberal Judaism, by the father if the mother is not Jewish. Any discrimination, regardless of motive, between Jew and non Jew, unless specifically exempted in law, has now been held to contravene the 1976 Race Relations Act.

This cannot be what the framers of that legislation intended. Among other things, they intended to protect the Jewish community against antisemitism, the world’s oldest and most devastating hatred.

They certainly did not intend that the law should be used, as it was in this case, to adjudicate a dispute between Jew and Jew on a matter of Jewish law. Nor did they intend to circumscribe the freedom of Jews in Britain to practise their religion and educate their children in their faith.

So we must now work with parliament and the Equality and Human Rights Commission to do what several of the judges advise, namely to seek legislative remedy. In doing so we will find support from across the political community.

We must proceed together as a community, using the principle that “On matters that affect us regardless of our religious differences, we will work together regardless of our religious differences.”

Good will eventually come from this case, but first there is work to be done, for the sake of British justice and religious freedom, for the sake of our children and our faith.

Last updated: 3:21pm, December 17 2009