Rabbis' rage after judge insists that a girl of 10 can convert

By Jennifer Lipman, August 9, 2012
Schochet:  ruling is "a travesty"

Schochet: ruling is "a travesty"

Rabbis have criticised a judge for ruling that a Jewish 10-year-old from Essex can convert to Christianity against the wishes of her mother and all four grandparents.

The girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was told by Judge John Platt after a Romford County Court hearing that "the best thing" would be for her to be "baptised as a Christian as soon as your minister feels you are ready". Her father, who comes from a traditional and involved Jewish family, joined a local Anglican church after divorcing her mother, and has been taking the girl and her brother to church services ever since.

Although the mother accepted this, when it emerged that the girl and her father were planning for her to be baptised, she applied to the courts to prevent this from happening.

She also sought help from Chabad rabbi, Odom Brandman, who knows the family and advised them to educate the girl in both religions in order to resolve the dispute. He said he honestly felt the man had been "brainwashed".

"They've really been very caught up in it," he said. "He [the father] was asking us questions and saying 'everything you're telling me makes sense but it's just a tingling in my stomach, I sit in the church and I just have this feeling'."

But the rabbi said the father had been able to make a strong case to convince the judge. Despite the child's age, the judge ruled that the mother could not stop the baptism, telling the girl in a letter that the Christian ceremony did not mean she would give up her Jewish heritage.

"That will always be part of you and I hope that you will continue to learn more about that heritage and about your mother's faith," said Judge Platt. "Even after you are baptised you are still free to change your mind about your faith later."

According to the Church of England's Ven John Barton, "baptism is equal to being viewed as a Christian".

He argued that it was still possible for the girl to explore both Judaism and Christianity. "It does not require her to turn her back on the family in which she was born," he said. "She gets the best of both worlds."

Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, noting that the girl had expressed a desire to be baptised, said: "Hopefully, with the love and support of both of her parents she can be raised with an awareness and appreciation of her Jewishness and will be able to make informed life choices as she gets older. She remains halachically Jewish anyway."

But Rabbi Brandman said the ruling was shocking and set a worrying precedent. He and others pointed out that a 10-year-old was not considered an adult in Judaism.

Rabbi Yitzhak Schochet of Mill Hill Synagogue, who labelled the ruling a travesty, said: "Jewish law maintains that any child under bar- or batmitzvah is not considered intellectually mature enough to make decisions on even the simple things in life, let alone such drastic, life-altering, changes. It is utterly tragic when a Jewish girl is having the core of her identity stripped from her."

"She shouldn't be allowed to do anything until she's old enough to be able to make a mature judgment," said Federation Beth Din head Dayan Yisroel Lichtenstein, suggesting that such a decision should wait at least until a child finished school. He said "the brunt of the criticism" was for the judge, whom he accused of aggravating interfaith relations and showing insensitivity to the needs of the child, by encouraging a confused religious identity.

"I am absolutely appalled," he said. "It seems to me that the father is either wittingly or unwittingly using her as a pawn. The community should do everything it can to overturn this ruling."

Last updated: 4:45pm, August 9 2012