Monday, October 26, 2009
UK Supreme Court Debates "Who Is a Jew" in School Admissions
This is an important case because it involves our very identity as defined by Torah: A Jew is the child of a Jewish mother, or a halachic convert.
The Halachic definition of a Jew has already be struck down by the lower courts in the UK as "racist." If the definition is struck down by the Supreme Court as "racist," then the UK courts will be, essentially, handing the evangelicals entré into our schools to evangelize as they wish.
It would be increasingly difficult to keep our traditions, our laws, and our ways--especially as we are bombarded by "Jews for Jesus" students and parents.
In other words--Orthodox Jewish Education may cease to exist in the UK.
The UK is already a hostile place to be for Jews, with an overabundance of anti-Semitic acts perpetrated upon the Jewish population.
Jewish education has always been an oasis for Jews in a teaming sea of assimilation. It is a place we can send our children so that they not only learn their heritage, but they learn it in an atmosphere of Jewishness. They can freely associate with one another, go to eachother's homes for Shabbat, play on sports teams on Sundays, and enjoy being "normal" within that Jewish construct.
Without the assumption that our child's friend is halachically Jewish, we must be ever-vigilant and suspicious of every contact. Can he go to his friend's house, where they may keep the appearance of Kosher, without being halachically Jewish? Can she spend the night when we don't know if the parents may be secretly evangelical?
The sense of safety is lost.
What happens when the non-Jews gain a majority in the school, and the parents start demanding that the sports teams play on Shabbat so they can attend church on Sunday? What happens when they start demanding inclusion of information about their false messiah? Is it a Jewish School any more?
If the decision of the lower courts stand, it won't be long before the EU follows and all Jewish schools are deemed "racist institutions."
Just wait until all the anti-Semites are finally able to "prove" that Judaism is "racist" by pointing at the UK decision. Do you think they will stop with the schools?
Judaism isn't racist (although, like any group, there are individual members who ARE racist--I'll be the first to admit that!!).
There are Jews from all over the world, every race, every nationality you could imagine. EVERYONE has the same criterion to be admitted to the Jewish Family: YOU MUST have either a Jewish mother or a kosher conversion. That is not racism--that CREEDISM. And yes, just like most religious groups, we prefer marriages between members of our own creed.
For example, if one of my children wants to marry an Asian girl, or a black girl, or a Latino, or an American Indian--it's kosher AS LONG AS THE GIRL IS JEWISH. If she isn't Jewish, either she will have to halachically convert, or the marriage is not valid. It is hard enough to make a marriage work. To add the additional stress of two competing faiths is a recipe for disaster--especially when raising children.
What defines your religion?
Is being a Jew a matter of bloodline or religious practice? The UK's new Supreme Court is debating the subject this week, in a case that could have a wider impact on faith schools, says Tim Whewell.
In a draughty school hall in Liverpool, they're holding an "admissions evening". Parents listen anxiously as the headteacher explains what "evidence" they'll require to ensure that their son or daughter can apply for a place.
Is Jewishness about nature or nurture?
The scene at King David primary is repeated up and down the country, particularly at this time of year as the deadline for applications approaches. And for those trying to get into a faith school like King David, there's a particular headache: do parents have to "prove" an adequate level of religious observance?
This week that question will be debated by some of The UK's top legal brains at the highest court in the land, the new UK Supreme Court. The outcome will directly affect only Jewish schools such as King David.
But the government is warning that it may have "wide ramifications" for other faith schools too. And at the heart of the case is the simple question: how do you define faith? Is religion a matter of who you are? What you believe? Or what you do?
The King David primary and secondary schools, both highly successful and oversubscribed, are the pride of Liverpool's diminishing but vibrant Jewish community.
In the religious studies class this month, children were making models - some thatched with sweets - of the flimsy huts that Jews traditionally build as part of the festival of Sukkot. It commemorates the years the Children of Israel spent wandering in the desert, without permanent homes, after the Exodus from Egypt. Some of the children come from observant homes, but some do not.
Until now, that didn't matter because, in common with other schools under the religious authority of the Chief Rabbi, they've taken Jewish children as defined by Orthodox Jewish law - the children of Jewish mothers. No test of observance or belief was set.
"Judaism differs fundamentally from all other faiths," says Yitzchak Schochet, rabbi of an Orthodox congregration in London. "Regardless of one's observance level, if one is born a Jew it doesn't matter if they keep absolutely nothing.
"Having a ham sandwich on the afternoon of Yom Kippur, the fast day, doesn't de facto make you non-Jewish. The Jewish definition is that as far as God is concerned, when you are born of a Jewish mother then you contain a unique Jewish soul, which de facto makes you a Jew. And the only other way of embracing the Jewish faith is by way of conversion."
But that definition can't now be used to gain a place at a Jewish school. The Court of Appeal ruled in July that because Jews are also defined as an ethnic group under the Race Relations Act, denying a child admission solely on the basis that their mother isn't Jewish would count as unlawful racial discrimination.
It was a victory for the parents who brought the case, whose child was originally denied admission to a Jewish comprehensive in London, the JFS or Jewish free school, because the Chief Rabbi's office questioned his mother's Jewish status.
'God is not racist'
And another parent in a similar position, David Lightman, also feels vindicated. He says: "My wife keeps a kosher Jewish home, we go to synagogue as a family, my daughter teaches in the Hebrew classes. How dare they question our beliefs and our Jewishness?"
But now JFS is appealing to the Supreme Court to have that judgment overturned. Rabbi Schochet says: "The law is essentially suggesting from a Jewish perspective that God is a racist, and that doesn't wash."