JFS: we must find a workable solution

December 16, 2009
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Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

JFS governors said they were “disappointed” and must work towards finding a workable solution for a Jewish practice test to be used for admissions in 2011.

Chairman of governors Russell Kett said “Of those who ruled against the school, Lord Philips, President of the Supreme Court, suggested that there may be a defect in the law by not allowing the school to give admission priority, when oversubscribed, to those who are Jewish in orthodox law, and all stressed that neither the school nor the Chief Rabbi had acted in any morally wrong way or in any racist way in the commonly held sense. The unlawful discrimination relates to ethnicity and not race as such.

“JFS felt it had no alternative than to continue to press for its test of ‘Jewishness’ to be based solely on orthodox Jewish religious law, rather than on a series of factors which themselves have no relevance under Jewish law but which seem to support the notion of a test of Jewish practice required by English legal system,.”

United Synagogue President Dr. Simon Hochhauser said the organisation was “extremely disappointed”, adding: “Practice tests are anathema to the United Synagogue, which for centuries has opened its institutions to all Jews, observant or not.

“These practice tests have no relevance under Jewish law and serve only to support the notion of a test of religion in the eyes of the English legal system. As Lord Brown noted, essentially we must now apply a ‘non-Jewish definition of who is Jewish’.”

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks said: “The closeness of the Court's judgement indicates how complex this case was, both in English law and debated issues of Jewish identity. I welcome the judges’ vindication of the good faith in which the United Synagogue, the London Beth Din and our office have acted.

“I likewise welcome the suggestion of the President of the Supreme Court that the issue at stake in this case may merit legislative remedy.

“However, these matters require careful reflection and consultation, and instant reactions would be inappropriate. Our office will be working closely with the schools, the United Synagogue, the Board of Deputies and other interested parties to consider the implications of the verdict before making a full response.”

A statement from the Board of Deputies said: “We are extremely disappointed by this decision, which was reached by the narrowest possible margin.

“The sheer breadth of the Race Relations Act 1976 meant that JFS’s admissions criteria, based on millennia of Jewish practice, fell foul of the civil law despite the “unimpeachable motives” and the “sincerely and conscientiously held beliefs” of the school and of the OCR.

“We will be exploring, as a matter of urgency and after consultation across the community, the possibility of a legislative change to restore the right of Jewish schools of all denominations to determine for themselves who qualifies for admission on the basis of their Jewish status, which we consider to be a fundamental right for our community and one with which the members of the Supreme Court had great sympathy.

Watch the judgement given by Lord Phillips in full here.

Last updated: 12:59pm, December 16 2009