A bad ruling at a bad time: To confuse religion and race is a mistake.

By Lord Jonathan Sacks, July 2, 2009
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The learned judges who ruled last week that the admission procedures of the JFS were in breach of the Race Relations Act clearly did not wish to claim that Judaism is racist. Yet, by one of the great ironies of our time, a law, intended to protect Jews from racism, has now been used against them.

Since the days of Abraham and Moses, Jews have been commanded to educate their children and thus hand on their faith across the generations. We are the people who predicated our survival on education, the first in history to create a universal system of schooling.

Our citadels are schools, our heroes, teachers, and our passion, education and the life of the mind. We believe in teaching our children to be active citizens, honouring the law of the land, contributing to the wider society and the common good.

Jews have been in Britain for 353 years and the JFS has been in existence since 1732. In all those years the same principle has applied, as it has applied throughout Jewish history.

We extend Jewish education to Jews, that is, those born of Jewish mothers or those who have converted according to the standards of the religious authority to which the school belongs. This is a religious, not a racial, test and it applies to all Jewish schools, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike.

Now, an English court has declared this rule racist, and since this is an essential element of Jewish law, it is in effect declaring Judaism racist. In seeking to compel a Jewish school to admit a child that it does not consider to be Jewish, the courts are in effect using the power of civil law to force a Jewish school to change its religious character.

The immediate result of the ruling will be to plunge all Jewish schools into confusion whichever section of the community they seek to serve. Furthermore, if Jewish schools are compelled by English law to impose a test of religious practice instead of the existing test of membership of the Jewish faith, they will no longer be able to teach the Jewish faith to those who have little or no experience of practising it.

We must now work together as a community to ensure that the Jewish educational system — a source of pride to Jews and Britain alike — is not now put at risk. The implications of this ruling are vast and affect us all. To be told now that Judaism is racist, when Jews have been in the forefront of the fight against racism in this country, is distressing. To confuse religion and race is a mistake.

To use anti-racist legislation to deprive Jews of their right to religious self-governance is a bad ruling, at a bad time. We respect it but we must join together to challenge it, for the sake of Jews and Judaism, and for the sake of Britain as the fair and decent country we know it to be.

Last updated: 3:21pm, July 2 2009