Liberal Judaism has long and consistently argued that Judaism is primarily transmitted culturally and through example and influence. That transmission, which frequently happens to children in families, but may happen to adults too, is perhaps best described as one of Jewish education in its broadest sense.
This education equips the Jew with a sense of identity and commitment which is forged by an encounter with Jewish beliefs, values, attitudes and ideals, and an immersion into Jewish practice and Jewish mores.
The above statement is difficult to reflect in legal terms but, conscious of a further principle — that of gender equality — Liberal Judaism has sought to build a policy of inclusion based on its assessment of a compassionate response to what is actually happening in the Jewish community.
Thus Jewish status is accorded to individuals in Liberal Jewish communities in different ways, but none of them is based on biological descent alone and, therefore, may well not fall foul of the recent judgement of the Court of Appeal.
In the case of a person with two Jewish parents, it is assumed that Judaism will be transmitted culturally; this applies equally whether the child is the biological issue of the Jewish parents or is adopted in infancy.
In the case of a person who has one Jewish parent, regardless of whether that is the mother or the father, Liberal Judaism relies on a number of factors, including evidence of formal Jewish upbringing and/or education, and what an individual tells of his or her story of the encounter with Judaism and its resulting effects.
Clearly, if Liberal Judaism does not believe that birth is the major factor of Jewish transmission, how much more so will it reject a school admission policy which makes maternal identity the overriding factor, and then adds an overtone of political motivation with the mother’s pedigree determined by reference to only one section of the Jewish community?
Liberal Judaism is not opposed to the United Synagogue or to faith schools, but it welcomes the recent Court of Appeal decision because it believes that it is not proper for the state-funded JFS to decide its admissions on the basis of the status of the mother of a prospective pupil, and particularly by reference to only one British Jewish religious authority, the Office of the Chief Rabbi.
Liberal Judaism has long argued that it is preferable for the state not to involve itself with the private concerns of religion.
But when, at the state’s expense, a religious group practises discrimination even within that sect itself, it may well be time for the state to act.
Liberal Judaism would hope that, even at the last minute, a chastened Jewish community might put its own house in order.