JFS: Your views - Rights and wrongs of 'racist' ruling

A sample of our brimming mailbag in response to our coverage of the Court of Appeal ruling on JFS’s admissions policy


Test of birth is a religious, not racist, one

The Lords Justices are right to point out that race is a product of birth and that any discrimination on that basis falls within the definition of the Race Relations Act. But it does not follow that every selection which is based on birth is necessarily racial. Nationality, royalty and religion also use birth as their entry point and classification so that, for example, a child born to a British or American parent obtains British or American nationality.

The selection process at JFS and other denominational schools is based on religion, not race. The test of birth is a religious test, not a racist one. It is a test to define who is a Jew and it is a test intended solely to preserve the religious character of the school and the right to preserve “difference”.

To the extent that it might be argued that Judaism is itself racist (because it defines membership on the basis of birth), the rebuttal must surely lie in the fact that anyone who is not Jewish by birth is nevertheless entitled to join the faith. Judaism, in common with many faiths, welcomes new members who genuinely desire to join its ranks, without any regard to creed, colour or race.
Joshua Rowe

Chair, King David Schools, Manchester

Unintended results

There are always unintended consequences of legal rulings. Restricting JFS to the observant would almost certainly deprive the school of much of its comprehensive nature. Students would be from a narrower background and those with Orthodox leanings would miss out on interacting with the less observant.

A simple answer would be to follow the French and take faith out of state education.
Tony Levene
Longley Road, Harrow, Middlesex

If the Jewish schools were to accept children who are not halachically Jewish, the expectation should be that they would get a bar- or batmitzvah at school and hopefully confirm their conversion at the age of 18.

John Franks
Randolph Mews, London W9

US is short-sighted

When the Ilford Jewish Primary School opened in 1970 there were 700 applications for the 150 places. Pupils were accepted on a “first come, first served” basis and the first intake included two or three non-halachically Jewish children.

When the US noticed, they asked the school to try, in future, to exclude such children. The school grew to a three-form entry with over 700 children. What was not taken into account was that the non-Orthodox community would resent the exclusion and open a school in competition.

IJPS has now shrunk to a one-form entry school and the non-Orthodox school has grown to a two-form entry school whose intake comprises, I guess, some 90 to 95 per cent halachically Jewish children; children of members of our synagogues. I call this shooting oneself in the foot.
In America, the ethos of Jewish secondary chools is Orthodox. But they accept pupils and teachers from all strands of the community and are at least as successful as our US schools.

I understand that even their Orthodox teachers also teach what Conservatives and Reform believe, while pupils from the non-Orthodox community learn gemara. I am sure that JCoSS will be successful and that the Chief Rabbi and his Office’s criterion was not sensible.
Woolf Abrahams

practice? irrelevant

Not keeping the commandments does not mean one is not a Jew; it means one is a bad Jew but still a Jew. For a woman it means her children will always be Jewish and it is the children of such Jews who most need a Jewish education. On the other hand, a gentile who keeps all 613 commandments is still a gentile, unless they undergo a valid conversion.

(Dr) Levi Sokolic
Elmcroft Crescent, London

Bayfield is sensible

I write to thank Rabbi Tony Bayfield for unequivocally supporting the Chief Rabbi in his attempt to fight the recent High Court ruling against JFS.

Rabbi Bayfield understands that the JFS ruling rejects the definition of Jewishness accepted by every Jewish movement in the UK, not just the Orthodox, as it insists that Jewishness is defined by practice, not by descent or conversion. By this criterion, a Sabbath-observant member of Jews for Jesus is considered more Jewish than a non-observant Jew or one converted by any movement.

It is lamentable that so many have used this nadir in Anglo-Jewish history to attack the Chief Rabbi, when the ruling so obviously equally affects his detractors, whose interests he is fighting hard to protect.

Rabbi Harvey Belovski
Golders Green Synagogue,
Dunstan Road, NW11 8AE

The chief’s mistake

The Chief Rabbi has spelled out for the whole Arab world, and antisemites everywhere, that Orthodox Judaism is essentially racist.
Of course, heaven and earth will be moved to reverse that judgement, at any financial cost, but for the moment, our religion is branded racist.
Bernard Stanbury

A selfish family

I am appalled by the selfishness of this family who have decided to challenge JFS to accept their halachically non-Jewish child. They made life choices for themselves but are unable to accept the consequences. The mother of this child is not halachically Jewish. She and her husband made a choice and the consequence is that their child is not Jewish according to halachic authorities.

This is not a nasty Anglo Beth Din concept, it is Judaism, upon which our people have stood for thousands of years. Now all our children are burdened with the cost and consequences of what these selfish people have done. Would it not have been easier for them simply to convert through a recognised Beth Din and re-apply to JFS? Were they unwilling to accept the time and commitment that this would represent?

Adam Mallerman

The JFS was established primarily to provide Jewish children with a framework within which they could receive a good secular education without risking intermarriage. Therefore, the only criteria for admission was Jewish status as defined by the ruling Jewish authority, the Office of the Chief Rabbi.

The parents who now wish to have their own children re-defined as Jews to be accepted at this school have no regard whatsoever for the other children at the school, or their families; or indeed for the Jewish world as a whole.

When JCoSS opens there will be a school for Jewish children whose status is not recognised as Jewish by the Office of the Chief Rabbi.

Ms J Mockton
Heton Gdns, Hendon NW4

Biblical examples

The Sheffield community is currently producing a new musical about Ruth the Moabite who renounced her gods and decided to worship the God of Judaism. Apart from it being stated that she was “genuine” in her conversion there is no record of any “reputable ecclesiastical court” sanctioning this nor any record of her undertaking a study course.

Ruth’s great grandson was King David. Would the ruling by the Appeal Court have allowed him to get a place at the JFS School?
By the way, Ruth opens on October 27.

Stephen Swycher
Whinfell Court, Sheffield

When it came to the exodus from Egypt, we went out as a faith —the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but also with an erev rav, a mixed multitude (Exod 12, verse 38).
After seven weeks we came to the foothills of Mt Sinai and were given three days to prepare to receive the commandments. Did Moses and Aaron use the time to go amongst the people, filtering out only the genuine descendants of Abraham?
The good fortune of the erev rav was to live before the Common Era. They did not have to confront an inflexible Chief Rabbi and Beth Din.

Dr Sonia Goldrein
St Andrew’s road, Liverpool

the court is right

The Court of Appeal ruling does not undermine Jewish practice, but is in agreement with the halachah (Yoreh Deah 268.11) that a parent who brings evidence which casts doubt on their own Jewish status cannot disqualify the children.

Rabbi Michael Hilton
Kol Chai Hatch End Jewish Community
Uxbridge Road, Pinner

The Court of Appeal is correct. Orthodox British Jews are a race. The minuscule numbers able to make it through the Orthodox conversion process only serve to reinforce the Court of Appeal’s verdict.

To be converted under Orthodox auspices, one has to find an acceptable mentor, undergo the continual inquisition of the Beth Din, become a Talmud Chacham, live in Golders Green or Stamford Hill and live the life of a saint (irony intended). At the end of this there is still only a 50-50 chance that the Beth Din will convert you.

I wonder how far we have come from the intention of the Torah to a position where it is now practically impossible to become a member of the mainstream Jewish community — unless your mother is Jewish.
Mike Harper

Hutchcomb Road, Oxford
this is bad publicity

Does the United Synagogue consider the need to keep Boy M and others like him from receiving a state-funded Jewish education so pressing that it justifies the substantial negative publicity generated by this case?

Kathleen Ezekiel

Publish the policy

It seems that JFS governors just do not get it: they have excluded pupils without explaining why, without publishing proper criteria, and have left decisions to rabbis who are not part of the school. They are then outraged when, predictably, they fall foul of the law. They can put this right by publishing fair and proper admissions priorities.

Dudley Leigh
Rosecroft Avenue, London NW3

jews of many races

A Jewish race? I would advise the three learned Court of Appeal judges to take a stroll along Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff any day of the week. The in-gathering of the past 60 years has revealed the enormous diversity of racial types that go to make up the Jewish people. Wherever we settled in sufficient numbers over the past 3,000 years of the dispersion, the slow process of genetic assimilation inevitably began. People of every shade of skin and exhibiting virtually every racial characteristic make up modern Israeli society, living refutations of the crude pre-war Nazi caricatures of “the Jew”.

What a tragedy that the totally misconceived philosophy that lay behind the Nazi Race Laws is now, it appears, to be enshrined in British law.

Neville Teller
Stonegrove, Edgware, Middlesex

Race is not a factor

If a mother who had undergone a full Orthodox conversion had applied for a place for her child at the JFS would she be turned down? If the answer is “no”, then this shows that the criterion for acceptance is indisputably a matter of religious practice and could not be construed as race.

Tony Drake
High Street, Rawcliffe,
East Yorkshire

Not the court’s call

Much as I respect Lord Justice Sedley, with whom I was on friendly terms during my years at the Bar, and his two non-Jewish brethren in law, they would appear to have been confused by the fact that Jews are not only a race, a nation and a cultural group but also followers of Judaism. The failure to distinguish between race and religion has led to this bizarre decision. In effect the Court of Appeal has taken it on itself to decide “who is a Jew” and usurped the position of the leaders of our religion.

Laurence Kingsley

A Pandora’s box

If our schools have to scrap the broadest definition of Jewish identity, namely anyone born to an halachically Jewish mother or an halachic convert, where will that leave us?

The Adass group of schools expect families of pupils to be at minimum Shomer Shabbat, but that’s just the starting point. Some London schools rejects applicants who have television in their homes, others reject families who have internet.

When I was a teacher in a Stamford Hill boys school, I was told I would not be paid unless I signed a contract saying I had no access to television, internet or a mobile phone.

Once we scrap the genuine halachic definition of “Who is a Jew”, we open a Pandora’s box in trying to define minimum Jewish religious observance. I hope the Law Lords agree.

Joseph Feld
Brook Lodge, London NW11

open schools to all

Jewish schools are by and large good schools. On all objective tests the Jewish schools lead the league tables. That is why the problem of more applicants than places has arisen.

This latest decision must be seen not as an attack on, but as a challenge and a compliment to, Jewish schools.

It is all a question of having a flexible Jewish studies curriculum which is well taught. Let those who wish to, attend Talmud classes and be inspired by them. Let other students attend classes in Jewish ethics and values and be inspired by them.

Something like 100,000 Jews have disappeared from Anglo Jewry in a single generation. Jewish schools are the greatest bulwark against further loss. They must rise to the challenge.

Rabbi Brian D Fox
Cheshire Reform Synagogue
Altrincham Road,

Hitler’s criteria

I would like to remind the Orthodox powers-that-be that for Hitler it was enough for one to have a Jewish grandparent to be considered a Jew.
Rosanne Goldman

Masorti perspective

Speaking as a lawyer and a Masorti member, the words “hoist” “own” and “petard” come to mind.
Nicholas Goldreich
Parkway, London NW1

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive