The Teacher: Is there a political agenda behind the judgement?

By Jo Wagerman, July 2, 2009

A political agenda behind the judgement?

It is startling that for the first time in England a judge, be he Christian, secular or anything else, believes he can impose his interpretation of Jewish identity on the community. This judgement reflects the confusion between race and religion that bedevils much of English life.

Jews may be of many races. Walk around in Israel to see this. JFS has always admitted children of all races, provided they were Jews, as accepted by the Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogue. The US has never attempted to limit admission to US children, admirably seeing it as a school of the whole Jewish community, including, most importantly, children from non-observant families.

The purpose of JFS is to strengthen the Jewish identity of all its children. Teaching Jewish religion, history, language and Zionism is about teaching a worldwide Jewish identity. Observance is only part of the point.

This judgment reflects two strains of thought now prevalent in the UK. One is that we should constantly seek to eradicate the differences in our multi-cultural society, and thus all come to love and understand each other, in a kind of secular soup.

The other is that in my 40 years of teaching, governments have sought to minimise the gap between good and bad schools by trying to take away from good schools the things that are the basis of their success. The general attack on faith schools, and the ever more niggling criteria for admission, are mistaken beliefs that this will in some way spread “good” children into “bad” schools and vice-versa, and even out the difference. It doesn’t work.

JFS is an outstanding school. We have seen parents adopt incredible strategies to get their children into the “right” schools. It will be inundated with devoted Christian, secular, Hindu and even Muslim parents trying to get their children the best state education, and this presumably is part of the political agenda behind the judgment. The view that they be given preference over Jewish children who are not shul-goers, or who watch television on Saturdays, is bizarre.

The community must back the Board of Deputies in organising the challenge.

Jo Wagerman, ex-president of the Board of Deputies, was head of JFS (1985-1993)

Last updated: 3:11pm, July 2 2009