JFS: Jewish practice test 'lesser of two evils'

Lord Phillips gives his judgement on JFS in the Supreme Court

Lord Phillips gives his judgement on JFS in the Supreme Court

Rabbi Tony Bayfield, head of the movement for Reform Judaism, has hailed today’s Supreme Court decision which ruled that JFS had directly discriminated by refusing a place to a boy whose mother was a non-Orthodox convert.

He said: “We are delighted that the admissions policy of JFS - which actively de-legitimises our converts and our rabbis - has been confirmed as unlawful and unacceptable by the highest court in the land.

“Many of us continue to have serious reservations about the applicability of the Race Relations Act to matters of Jewish status and the involvement of the courts in matters which should be the preserve of the Jewish community. There are considerable potential dangers to going down this road.

“We also have reservations about the applicability of a ‘faith test’ to Judaism. It is an impractical solution, ill suited to a religious culture. However, we will live with a faith or practice test as by far 'the lesser of two evils'.

“JCoSS will open its doors in September 2010 bringing a new, inclusive, pluralist approach to Jewish education. Thankfully we can now concentrate on supporting this important and exciting development in the community's education provision.”

Jonathan Wittenberg, senior rabbi of the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues, said: “This judgment by the Supreme Court will serve to uphold our key value that Jewish education should be available to all, including the children of converts of all movements. Open access to education is central to our pluralist vision of Judaism.

“We are also glad that the Supreme Court stresses at the opening of its judgment that there is no imputation of racism, in its normal negative sense, to any of the parties involved, or to the Jewish community.

“We regret that this case ever had to go to court and stress that it should have been resolved through discussion within the Jewish community. We look forward to working closely together with all our partners in the community in the future.”

Danny Rich, chief executive of Liberal Judaism, said: “Liberal Judaism welcomes the decision of the Supreme Court. Liberal Judaism has consistently argued that Jewish identity is primarily about thought and deed rather than biology.

We are delighted that the admissions policy of JFS - which actively de-legitimises our converts and our rabbis - has been confirmed as unlawful and unacceptable by the highest court in the land.

Rabbi Tony Bayfield

“Liberal Judaism is saddened that the board of governors at the Jewish Free School and others in the Jewish community has created this self inflicted wound.”

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, chairman of the Accord Coalition, which campaigns for inclusive education, said: “It is a victory of common-sense over discrimination.

It was always indefensible that a Jewish school refused Jewish education to a Jewish child

“The ruling will serve as a wake-up call to all state-funded faith schools to be as inclusive as possible.”

Both the British Humanist Association (BHA) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission also welcomed the ruling.

Andrew Copson, BHA director of education and public affairs, said: “This judgment is immensely important.

“It puts beyond doubt the position that, even though there may be a religious motivation for doing so, discrimination against children in admissions on racial grounds is illegal under any circumstances.

“This is not a matter of restricting ‘religious freedom’ or otherwise; that the admissions criteria of a state-funded faith school have been found to be racially discriminatory should be enough impetus to look carefully at the criteria all faith schools use to discriminate in their admissions.

“There's absolutely no reason why what is essentially a public service should be denied to any children whatever their beliefs or the beliefs of their parents.”

Trevor Phillips, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “This is an important verdict. Whilst not seeking to interfere with the Jewish community's right to promote its religious ethos, the Commission believed that it had to intervene in order to preserve the same protection against racial discrimination for Jews as for anyone else - not least at a time when antisemitic groups are active across Europe.

“The decision of the court achieves that end; and it confirms that no school will be allowed to discriminate based on the ethnic origin of an individual.”

Watch the video of the JFS judgement in full here.

Last updated: 12:57pm, December 16 2009