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“The Law is an Ass,” said Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist. And if that is so, then some rabbis are even bigger asses.

The English courts have decided that the rabbis who determined the entrance policy of the JFS (the Jews Free School, a large state-supported Jewish day school in London) have contravened the Race Relations Act. It refuses to admit children where the mother’s conversion to Judaism is suspect according to their criteria.

Unlike other community Jewish schools throughout the world, the JFS’s religious position is controlled by the established Church of Anglo Jewry, the United Synagogue and its ecclesiastical authorities. So that if elsewhere children recognized as Jewish by other denominations and other ecclesiastical authorities are allowed to attend community Jewish schools, in England they are not.

The usual pathetic argument is that if you have children of doubtful Jewish identity mixing with those who are definitely Jewish this encourages intermarriage and will lead to confusion. It is so myopic, it leads inevitably to saying a Jewish child should never mix with any other Jew of different religious background or any non-Jew for fear of ending up falling in love and marrying out. It implies that reasonable adults are incapable of making choices. If ever there was an example of religious insecurity this must be it. And sadly it abounds.

It was my policy when principal of Carmel to accept children from homes where one parent was not Jewish, if I was convinced the parents and child really wanted a Jewish education and would be prepared to rectify the status issue at a later date, and so long as everyone was aware of the present status. Most of such pupils eventually did rectify their Jewish status in a committed way. So I regret nothing because frankly Judaism has been enriched by them.

The Charedi world doesn’t have a problem because its schools really do apply only religious criteria. However technically Jewish a person may be, if he or his parents do not come up to their religious standards they don’t get in. Got a TV at home? You’re out! Now if a private school wants to apply religious or academic criteria, whether one agrees or not, it can. And this would of course exclude many Jews who are not religious, just as it might exclude many who are not so bright (and yes there really are stupid Jews).

But petty Anglo Jewish Orthodoxy has created this absurd situation where children who might be religious but whose parents are not considered Jewish because their conversions are challenged cannot get in. But most pupils in the JFS are not at all religious. They might meet the criteria of identity through maternal birthline, what exactly, ask the Judges are these criteria? They cannot be religious because non religious kids attend. So they must be something else. And why aren’t the current nominally Orthodox parents worried that their offspring will sit next to bacon-fressing Jews and then marry into a family where religious practice is reviled? If that is acceptable why not have children of Reform conversions who only eat kosher? Clearly it is not a matter of religion but something more insidious. But ethnic identity is not necessarily racial. That’s where the law is an ass.

According to English law, the JFS has contravened the race laws and stands accused of racial discrimination! That Judaism is a race is, of course, absurd and only used by anti-Semites as a false argument to berate us with. All criteria of race are genetic and Judaism has no hint of racial discrimination in its laws.

“Jews”, the appeals court has determined (or rather, confirmed), “constitute a racial group defined principally by ethnic origin and additionally by conversion.” Well blow me down with a left-handed goose quill. That is like saying “The big toe, as defined by digits on the right hand.” Are Jews a race, based on genetic make-up? No, because anyone of any race may become a Jew. Are Jews all members of a religion? No because many self-proclaimed Jews refuse to have anything to do with religion. The Torah has no word for “religion”, only “people”.

What is Judaism? Most Jews cannot agree on who is a Jew. Israel cannot agree. But the English judges know! They have simply exchanged one ambiguous term for another. Ethnic origin? Pray, tell me what that is? Are Muslims a religion, a race, an ethnic group, or a football team? The fact is that definitions are usually dangerous, misleading, and ultimately wrong. We are humans and we need to treat each other the way we ourselves would like to be treated. (Where have I heard that before?)

That means that the law’s job, in a democratic society, is not to define but to protect citizens of a state and treat them equally. It means that any state-funded religion, or ethnic group, or golf club should not be allowed to discriminate on any grounds other than preventing others interfering with or degrading the life and amenities of members.

If you allow religions to function, then they must be allowed to function within their own parameters so long as they do not damage or injure other citizens. Religions, like clubs, are voluntary. The French system makes more sense. In the Public Sphere there is no room for religion. Religions fund themselves. Similarly, in the USA, where government may not encroach on religion, denominational schools can apply for government aid to be used for purposes other than religious instruction. Once again I repeat, where religions are freed from state involvement and bureaucracy they flourish.

The British problem is, as always, fudging boundaries. If it supports a Jewish or a Catholic or a Muslim school, it is doing so for anyone who wishes to live or be educated that specific religious way. Therefore the courts were right to say anyone who wants a Jewish religious education should be allowed to receive one. But that is on the basis of equity and fairness, nothing at all to do with race or how you define religious identity.

Had the JFS not been under the dead hand of ecclesiastical authorities, it could, as most community schools around the world do, say that whoever wants to benefit from its kind of education and will participate positively is welcome. Had that been the case Anglo Jewry would not have needed to stump up more millions for yet another school, the Jewish Community Secondary School, to provide just that. Let alone fritter away sparse money defending an indefensible position. But no, once you let clerics get involved they invariably screw things up.

Amazingly this mess is more Anglo Jewry’s own fault because in addition to the pettiness of its ecclesiastical authorities, those who claim to represent Anglo Jews decided to agree and push to have Jews classified as a race to benefit from the Race Relations Act!! I ask you.

Those who sow the petty wind, reap the vindictive whirlwind.

54 thoughts on “The JFS

  1. Mr Bumble actually said "The law is a ass – a idiot." Hurrah for pedantry and Talmudic training in minutiae.
    Hurrah too for your comments. The court ruling is truly asinine but the school rules equally idiotic

  2. "Judaism has no hint of racial discrimination in its laws."

    A convert cannot marry a Kohen (ok, nor can a Jewish divorcee, a woman with a non-Jewish father or a kidnapping victim !) But isn't there at least a whiff of racial discrimination about this? That ever-present halachic obsession with "purity"? A convert must of course be welcomed wholeheartedly, but they may have to wait a generation or two before they become "pure" enough in the eyes of those running the show …?

  3. Aren't there already enough schisms in Jewish society? As a community we are under threat from all sides but mostly from within. I can foresee a time when converts and their children become anti-Semites because of their treatment by the so-called "orthodox".
    I should like to nominate you, Jeremy, as Chief Rabbi and the sole member of the Beth Din. You're one of the very few who talks sense.

  4. The courts have had to grapple with an inherent difficulty in our discrimination laws. Our laws prohibit racial but not religious discrimination. The reason anti-Semitism is illegal is because the courts have consistently decided – over a very long period – that Judaism is defined predominently (but not exclusively) by descent. Judaism is therefore a "race" for the purposes of our anti-discrimination legislation. If Judaism was solely a religion, and not a race, anti-Semitic hate speech (for example) would be perfectly legal.

    The courts are therefore on the horns of a dilemma with the JFS case – they have to apply the "sauce for the goose" principle. If discriminating against Jews is prohibited under our anti-discrimination laws, then it logically follows that the activities of the JFS are equally discriminatory.

    Frankly the problem here is not with our laws – Judaism is not just a religion – but with the myopic and intolerant views of the US establishment. And this myopia does not just extend to their intolerance of other streams of Judaism – just read the recent update of Ros Preston's working group on women in the community for examples of how the myopia extends within the community.

  5. As a member of both a United Synagogue and also Reform (hedging my bets!), I warmly welcome the Court’s decision in this case.

    The mother of the child denied a place at JFS is Jewish. It is simply that the school and the United Synagogue do not recognise her conversion as it was not carried out under the auspices of the orthodox movement. If JFS want to run an orthodox only school, that is their right. But if they want to continue to receive state funding, they should be required to accept anyone who is Jewish, however that is defined.

    I am angered that the United Synagogue would see a child denied a Jewish education to try and prove some hallachic point. Recently my Rabbi invited a Muslim speaker to give the Shabbat sermon from the pulpit. It was a very interesting experience and I support the Rabbi for allowing it, but when I asked him if he would consider allowing a Reform Rabbi to address us, the request was met with a refusal. Inter faith dialogue is fine, but intra faith is not. At least, not in the eyes of the orthodox movement.

    Frankly, the world is not so over-run with Jews that we can afford to constantly fight with each other. The JFS ruling is the natural consequence of the United Synagogue’s dogmatic and often antagonistic insistence that they, and they alone, are the arbiters of who is and who is not Jewish. The orthodox community is entitled to say “If you want to join our gang, these are our rules” but they have absolutely no right to impose their values and beliefs on the Progressive movement.

    If I prayed in Church every week and had bacon & eggs for breakfast, the United Synagogue would still recognise me as Jewish, but they seek to deny membership of the faith to people who are far more worthy than I will ever be.

    The Court’s ruling is a long overdue recognition that religion is determined by what is in your head and in your heart and not by what is written on a piece of paper.

  6. King Solomon School in Barkingside,Redbridge,also under the US, has been forced, due to a declining Jewish community in our area to show far more compassion and commonsense. What was a cause for regret has becokme a cause for celebration. The multi-denominational Clore Tikvah Primary school (in practice Liberal, Reform and Masorti)is now the main feeder school for KS, including it's non-orthodox converts, more so than the nominally orthodox IJPS.

  7. Thank you for that post, Nick. Certainly the present snafu is the fault of the US (the United Synagogue not the USA, for American readers). But you are right the question is both one of defining Jews and how to deal with anti-Semitism.

    Muslim friends object to Islam being categorized as a race too. They tell me horror stories of inner-London Socialist councils sending Muslim orphans to black Christian families rather than white Muslim ones on racial grounds!!!

    But I believe there must be a distinction between race and religion. Now I don't want the state to stop me criticizing or poking fun at religion–any religion including mine–otherwise we'd never have seen 'The Life of Brian!'

    But equally, freedom of speech should not extend to incitement or attacks. Surely the Asses can come up with some formulation to class Judaism as a religion rather than a race, but to make anything that smacks of anti-Semitism a crime on the grounds of incitement & hatred and exactly the same for Islam?

    And ancestry is a false distinction. If for random example, I hate the French, based on the ancestral cultural characteristics, is this racist? Surely not!
    Some suggest Biblical antipathy to certain tribes was racial, but it wasn't; it was directed towards their practices regardless of colour (recall Moses's black wife, according to some commentators) and indeed in the case of the Moabites, excluded all women. So it was particular and cultural and ancestral but not racial.


  8. Jeremy

    Islam is not classified as a race (at least for the purposes of anti-discrimination legislation). On the other hand Sikhism is. This is because "race" is defined for the purposes of the relevant act as “colour, race, or ethnic or national origins”.

    In England we do not outlaw religious discrimination (although the law was changed recently to provide for limited protection against stirring up religious hatred) (Northern Ireland – for obvious reasons – does have legislation on religious discrimination). So there is no law which prohibits discrimination against Muslims or – for that matter – in favour of Christians. Your socialist inner-London borough is acting out of political correctness – not because of some legal requirement. And yes – discriminating against Frenchmen (or women) is illegal – because they share a national origin.

    Prohibiting discrimination on religious grounds gives rise to some difficult legal issues – which were canvassed when the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 went through Parliament (see for example Geoffrey Bindman (one of the UK's leading human rights lawyers) article on hate speech and the law which can be read at

    I understand why you want Judaism to be classified as a religion rather than a race – but this would have the effect of permitting all kinds of insideous anti-semitic behaviour (which would not rise to the level of stirring up racial hatred).

    In my view is is not the law which is an ass (at least as regards JFS) – but the ecclesiastical authorities of the United Synagogue.

  9. Your last paragraph is probably your starting point for the discussion of the asses or the civil law.
    But if I was the convert mother who teaches at JFS, I'd be wondering what the bus routes are like up to JCoSS, compared with JFS?! I'd buy two season tickets-one for me and one for my child reject- and go and teach there, to help build expertise for Ofsted purposes. Why stay where you aren't valued?
    And then there was World War 2, when JFS evacuated groups of their kids to farms and homes in the rural Fens-a pig breeding area. No-one's mentioning that any more, are they?! Bacon fressers? Ouch.

  10. Jeremy

    It was an appalling judgment, full stop. I have written about it here:

    That is where it begins and ends. Criticise the CRO if you want but be aware that this mess is 100% the fault of Sedley & Co for the absurd and false equivalence they have drawn between the halachic definition of a Jew and (undefined) definition in the 1976 Race Relations Act.

    It is wrong to blame anone in the Jewish Community for the mess.

    Hopefully the Law Lords will see sense. I believe they will. Lord Hoffmann certainly will, I believe.

    Best wishes
    Jonathan Hoffman (no relation)

  11. Don't Call Me Dave:
    In principle I agree with you, the divisions and petty one-upmanship within Judaism are a disaster. The Torah only recognizes differences between those Jews who do more and those Jews who do less, but does not categorize them or claim they are different denominations. The Bible is full of saints and sinners and they are all Jews.

    Here is not the place to go into the history of Reform or to apportion blame fo the split, but in practice we are as divided as Protestants and Catholics. The only real difference is that we are so small we cannot afford the luxury of splittism!! Think of how those closest to one's position are often most reviled, how Leninists hated Trotskyites, who hated Stalinists, etc. Or the hatreds within the Labour Party!! How different sects of and within Hassidisnm refuse to speak to each other!

    None so queer as folk and we Jews are pretty queer!!!

  12. Nick:
    The Judgment included these words:

    3. Meaning of "racial grounds", "racial group" etc.
    (1) In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires—
    "racial grounds" means any of the following grounds, namely colour, race, nationality or ethnic or national origins;

    A far as I am concerned, if this is what defines race they have reinvented the word and it is poppycock! Like saying men are whoever we lawyers feel like classifying as men, including dogs. It may be that according to English law if I hate Frenchmen that classifies me as a racist but if so then I reiterate, the 'Law is a ass' (and I got the quote right this time)!!!


  13. Anonymous:
    And an excellent example of both how myopic and ultimately self-defeating United Synagogue policy is!!!! But don't expect North West London to take any lessons from Ilford! They think they are a different breed! Now THAT'S racism!!!!

  14. In its ruling on who is a Jew, the court restricted itself to an interpretation of race from an earlier ruling on the meaning of race within the 1976 Act. Paragraph 31 of the judgement sets out the interpretation in the sort of detail that has so far eluded the attention of newspapers and blogs. To summarise: the intended meaning of race is described as being one popularly understood rather than one based on science, even supposing that such a scientific definition exists or is possible. There then follows a list of criteria for membership of a racial group which includes a wide range of cultural characteristics.

    The definition of who may be racially defined as Jewish according to English law seems to be pretty much exactly how the majority of non-religious English Jews define themselves although these are not how rabbis define Jews. From a secular perspective, the worst that can be said is that eating smoked salmon and cream-cheese bagels is not included in the list of potentially racially defining characteristics. The judgement makes no dent to halachah. Anyone who follows the matrilineal descent line of reasoning is free to do so. If their beliefs lead to illegal behaviour they risk prosecution, not for believing whatever they want to believe but for breaking the law as a consequence.

    How much better it might have been had our dear religious leaders woken up sooner. What's to be next? Will they wait to fight their sexist corner in court or come round to the idea that if they want organisational policies for the C21st, ignoring women qualified to do more than bake a cake does not make sense. Suggesting 'Jews know best' about either how to define who is a Jew or how to run a school is patently not true.


  15. Re: "Like saying men are whoever we lawyers feel like classifying as men, including dogs."

    Yes, that's how it is, that's how the law works. It has defined 'race' so there is now a legal definition of race which happens not to accord with your understanding. How is this different for example from rabbinical definitions of 'hygiene' which do not accord with my understanding and have no consistent scientific basis?

    Don't you say that this is halacha so to the best of our ability and notwithstanding any unintended insult to our intelligence or plain confounding of common sense, we have to go along with it?

    I don't think it's possible to have it both ways, uphold 'the law' (any variety) or don't but don't ask for logic as well.


  16. Jonathan Hoffman:
    Thanks for your comments. I've read your piece on HarrysPlace and I agree the judges have got their knickers in a twist.

    But still, this whole issue would not have arisen had not the London Beth Din and the Chief Rabbi who, though technically their superior is in fact their poodle, had not created the unnecessary and highly questionable barriers to entry in the first place. Their excessive strictness, zeal, is symptomatic of an ongoing shift to the Right that a centrist community ought to be resisting.

  17. luzrose:
    It is ironic that the JFS was set up to Anglicize poor Jewish immigrants from the east and, in fact, used never to have any Jewish religious dimension. Now it's pushing a right wing position both educationally and for entrance that is simply kow towing to fundamentalism. Don't get me wrong–I am delighted it now offers serious Jewish education, but the swing of the pendulum is symptomatic.

  18. "Their excessive strictness, zeal, is symptomatic of an ongoing shift to the Right that a centrist community ought to be resisting"

    There I agree with you. But a lot of people are using the Sedley Judgment as a stick to beat them with. There are plenty of vaid sticks without using invalid ones. Eg the United Synagogue allowing two HOs to kick a Rabbi out with no semblance of democracy (Woodside Park). Eg the failure to allow women to be trustees of the US.


  19. Jonathan:
    Indeed there are plenty of other sticks! Nevertheless, the way the Beth Din, which is technically the servant of the United Synagogue (its full name is The Court of the Chief Rabbi, after all) too often deals, bludgeons, bullies on so many issues, including this one of conversion, only underlines the abuses of religious power. The only counterbalance is to find other ways of standing up to bullies.
    I have no doubt they genuinely believe they are doing God's work (and of course one must differentiate between Dayanim), but then so did Torquemada and the Ayatollahs.

    Since no one has the guts to stand up to them one can only hope against the odds that one day Dayan Binstock takes over.

  20. HS:
    That's precisely why I started with 'The Law is A Ass.'

    Yes, the law must be upheld; but the interpretation of the law can range from strict to lenient. The legal effect of this judgment is to allow the law to decide who a Jew is. Perhaps the Lords will see sense. But either way the rabbinate that set this up and refused earlier mediation (see Dr. Alderman) should take the blame.

  21. Jeremy,

    Please see paragraph 31 and 32 of the transcript (and maybe also publish my earlier post). I cannot find anything wrong with either the legal definition of ethnicity or the logic that identifies discrimination. I think that protesting that the English courts are in some way mistaken, high-handed or given to ill-considered judgements is part of the same culture that is responsible for this case arising in the first place. This judgement may have any number of effects but these do not include allowing the English courts to decide who is a Jew. That was already decided in the 1976 Act which was drafted after considerable consultation. There is nothing in the description of ethnicity (para 31) that a reasonable minded person can find objectionable.

    The definition of who is a Jew varies according to you, me, my dear aunt Esther, the JFS and all the rest but none of these definitions are relevant to the English courts. In an English court there is only one definition that counts and that is the one legally defined by English law. How does a Beth Din operate? By taking into account every individual interpretation or by using argument supported by legal definitions?

    The Anti Defamation League records examples of Torah being taken out of context by way of proof for anti-Semites. That is what one expects from people desperate to make a baseless point, partly because it is much easier to do that than read the whole thing. (In my not yet published post) I repeated the citation of Lord Fraser in Mandla v Dowell-Lee [1983] 2 AC 548 who described the intended meaning of racial belonging to have a popular meaning rather than that membership of a particular racial group should depend upon scientific proof. The reasons for drawing such a distinction should be obvious. I can't understand what objection you have or what Michael Jackson's lyrics have to do with any of this.


  22. From Dr. John Marks

    I agree with almost every word that Jeremy Rosen has written, but there is one serious error. I accept absolutely that the bigoted United Synagogue Ecclestical authorities have done enormous harm to Jewish education and the Jewish community through their handling of potential entrants to the JFS.

    With the exception of women who are “orthodox converts “in the opinion of the United synagogue, , a tiny minority within the Jewish community, the offspring of those whose mothers are not themselves the offspring of a “halachically Jewish” mother are barred from the school. The criteria used is purely biological – it depends on the the genetic rmaterial of a parent and child. That can only be described as racial.

    It is not the judges who were stupid – they are followed clear logic. It is the reactionary ecclesiastical authorities that allowed this situation to develop who are.
    The newest United Synagogue sidur re-iterates the third century adage that for Jews “the Law of the land is the Law”. They have a problem!!


  23. HS:
    Indeed, I find any definition of a Jew other than the halachic one to be problematic and ambiguous. In the context we are discussing, the religious definition is the only one that makes sense! The problem is then only with interpretation, excessive strictness, and bloody mindedness!

  24. Jeremy

    Your reply to message struck a chord. There was a letter in last week’s Jewish News from a resident of Golders Green (with a PhD noch!) who wrote: “They [non orthodox Jews] should live with the consequences of their choices. One consequence is that their religion and Orthodox Judaism are now radically different, with the gap between them rapidly increasing. Indeed, morally and theologically Orthodox Jews have more in common with Muslims, and even Catholics, then they do with progressive Jews.

    We should cease the pretence that the Jews are still one religion and one people. Perhaps then we can live together in peace and tolerance.”

    The irony will not be lost on most people of the writer’s somewhat hypocritical use of the world “tolerance”!

    What I find most upsetting is that under the schools preferred admissions policy, members of Neturei Karta would qualify to get in, but the son of a Reform convert does not. Where is the sense and justice in that?

  25. I'm afraid when it comes to people, power, and clergy, there is neither rhyme nor justice!

    On a tangent, if the Knesset passes a law demanding loyalty for citizenship I trust they will refuse citizenship rights to Neturei Karta!!!

  26. Rabbi Jeremy Rosen makes one key basic error. JFS and United Synagogue schools do not deny places to children who are not halachically Jewish. The question here is one in which there are insufficient places for halachically Jewish children. Here, the schools discriminate in favour of the halachically Jewish. There is unfortunately always discrimination against children when a school has insufficient numbers of places to satisfy all applicants.

  27. Fair Comment:
    While I don't disagree with what you say in principle, in fact they ARE disqualifying conversions on various grounds that are debatable, and had they chosen not be extra strict this whole business could have been avoided, as Geoffrey Alderman, who tried to mediate, wrote in the JC.

  28. Again, you are not dealing with the basis of this Court case, which has nothing to do with the disqualification of conversions. If you agree in priciple, you should support the United Synagogue. Bringing up other irrelevant cases, and maligning the institution, does not help your readers to understand the importance of this case and the need to have the judgment overturned.

  29. You agree with Fair Comment 'in principle' and you find find 'any definition of a Jew other than the halachic one to be problematic and ambiguous'. Yet you disagree with Fair comment's point that in the case of oversubscription, halachic conversions should be preferred. This is not consistent.

    Additionally, your justification of the admission policy at Carmel is opaque
    'It was my policy when principal of Carmel to accept children from homes where one parent was not Jewish, if I was convinced the parents and child really wanted a Jewish education and would be prepared to rectify the status issue at a later date, and so long as everyone was aware of the present status'.
    How was this fairly applied? Which criteria did you use to decide how they would 'rectify the status' and did this mean they had to agree to undergo a Halachic conversion in the future?

    Finally, although it is obvious that casual insults of the Rabbinate go down well with your audience, even you should think before comparing the Dayanim with 'Torquemada and the Ayatollahs. This is plainly disgusting.

  30. Fair Comment – I am sorry that you don't understand the fundamental issues of English law that underpin the court case – and which made their finding inevitable. English law does not prohibit discrimination on religious grounds (with some very limited exceptions). However it does prohibit discrimination on grounds of "colour, race, or ethnic or national origins". The courts have consistently held – for very very many years – that Judaism falls within this definition (which is not surprising as virtually all Jews in the UK are "Jewish" because their mother is Jewish). And they are regarded as Jewish by the Jewish community irrespective of their personal beliefs. As far as we Jews are concerned, Lewis Wolpert (for example) is Jewish, even if he doesn't believe in God and is an officer of the British Humanist Association. On the "duck" test (if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck) – Judaism has all the hallmarks of "ethnic origin". The fact that there are a few converts does not subvert the ethnicity of Judaism, precisely because there are so few converts. This is in contrast to (say) Christianity or Islam, where to be regarded as a Christian or a Moslem, your beliefs, rather than your parenting, are essential – and both religions actively seek converts.

    If you overturn this judgment – it will be on the basis that Judaism is not within the definition of race, colour, ethnic or national origins. And if that is the case, the law will then no longer protect Jews from anti-semitic activities.

    Beware the law of unintended consequences.

  31. To characterise concern about intermarriage as "myopic" is ironic.
    Many parents send their children to JFS simply because it is a good school. But a substantial proportion – perhaps a mjaority – want their children to attend a Jewish school.

    I doubt that the school will choose to respond to the ruling by excluding non observant Jews. The admission criteria would then be such that the intake will rapidly become non Jewish. The school would become Haberdasher – esque.

    The race relation act is an absurd piece of legislation, outlawing discrimination against Jews but not Moslems. It inteferes with individual choice to an excessive degree. I do not believe that shouting "yid" should be any more of a crime than shouting "fat boy" or "baldy" – (i.e. – a straighforward public order offence – without the racially aggrevated title). We must learn to bear out own little peckel without excessive resort to the law

  32. Jeremy

    From the sidelines, I admit to having been crowing, sorry. It looks like one myopically legalistic group has run up against another, more powerful, myopically legalistic lot. I suppose we can agree, it's an unpleasant spectacle. The case is reported in this week's Solicitors Journal, I think for the piquancy rather than because it's really that legally interesting.

  33. Anonymous:
    Shutting a Jewish child up in a protective box is a very dubious way of guaranteeing anything, unless a child is going stay in that box for the rest of his or her life, and even then, as the recent book 'Flipping Out' illustrates, it's no guarantee. The idea that mixing with half-Jewish or non-Jewish children will lead directly and in itself to intermarriage is faulty.

    If one is going to mix or work or relate to non-Jews or non-religious Jews, one needs to be educated and strong and committed enough to mix freely and still stay within Judaism.

    The fact that a significant number of children at the JFS are from totally non-religious backgrounds and obey nothing of Judaism at all represents just as big a threat, if not greater, than a half-Jew living a religiouis life in terms of closeness to God, surely! And that is why Charedi parents would not dream of sending their kids there.
    But anyway God is not involved, but protectionism.

    But, yes indeed, I agree the Race Relations Act IS ridiculous and as I said earlier many Muslims I know resent it too. The Race Relations Act in the UK should simply be an act against any incitement against any group, leave vague and arguable terms such as race, religion, or ethnicity out of it.

    And here's the problem of Who Is A Jew. Whether it is Hitler, or lehavdil, the Knesset any attempt to define Jews other than religiously is absurd, in my view, and doomed.

    I do indeed accept halchic definition. Though I also accept a wider usage of 'Jew', too, in other contexts. My gripe is with the way some authorities apply it.

    Once again, I believe community schools should belong to the community. I love Charedi schools from manty points of view. But they do not claim to be for the community. The JFS is, or was until the limitations forced on it from the Orthodox rabbinate forced the JCoSS onto the scene.

    I do want to clarifty one other issue. It might in one way be unfair of me to excoriate the United Synagogue, which is rather like the Synod of the C of E on which it was modelled, a law organization, but since the Beth Din and Chief Rabbi are the ecclesiastical authorities of the United Synague I'm afraid the organisation is fair game.

  34. NickA – I'm afraid that you do not understand the points of this case. Th Race Relatiions Act prohibits(currently subject to carve-outs such as charities) discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity. Under English law (cf Mandla case), the child in this case is without doubt ethnically Jewish. So how could discrimination against this child be based on his ethnicity – as defined in law? Because of over-subscription at JFS, he is unfortunately being discriminated against solely on the basis of a purely religious law defining the staus of Jews.

  35. So there you have it. Rabbi Rosen believes that the Charedi system of segregating and giving preferential education to those who satisfy religious rules against those who don't, is better than providing education to all Jews.

    Education, regardless of practice or faith, has everything to do with God. It's based on His commandments Ve'shinantam Le'Vanecha (command to the Community to teach its children) and VeHigad'ta LeBincha (command to the individual to teach the Torah to his/her child.) These commands are not qualified by reference to faith or practice. The hope at JFS and US schools is that Jewish children with little or no practice or faith will, through education, embrace our religion more fully. The Charedi method has no basis in Halacha. It is the very social engineering exercise (keeping observant children away from non-observant in case, Chas VeShalom, they are invited to each other's homes or, worse,fall in love) that he so fully excoriates in his main blog.

    His cheap attacks and jibes against the Chief Rabbi and the Bet Din (comparing them to Torquemada and the Ayatollahs)are based on bigotry – not the facts of this case.

  36. In my previous response, the reference to the second of God's Mitzvot to teach Jewish children (as found in the Shema) should read, Ve'Limadetem otam et B'neichem and not Ve'Higadta Le'Bincha. The principle remains that the Community's and individual's requirements to teach Jewish children are unqualified.

  37. NickA:
    I have to spring my own defense. I think I do understand the issues; I just think the law, even if it gets it right in its own terms, can get it wrong objectively, because the very terms are partly sociological and not just legal.

    As you say, to try to define Judaism in a nice Hegelian perfect formula won't work. See Wittgenstein on 'Uses of Words', as opposed to definitions. And equally, to say anyone who quacks is a duck, does not stand up philosophically.

    What I have learnt from this exchange is that lawyers, rabbis, and sociologists look at the world very differently and often speak different languages too!!!


  38. The Bochur:
    Let me explain. In the case of oversubscription I would, as a teacher, indeed rather choose a half-Jewish child totally committed to studying Torah, observant and positive, than an anti-religious, totally unobservant, disruptive kid who was technically Jewish in the very sense the judges use!

    At Carmel we had, under my father as well as me, non-Jewish and half-Jewish children. I expected from them positive participation (here is not the place to argue about the halachic issues of expecting a non-Jewish boarder to keep Shabbat) and I made sure that everyone was aware of the child's religious status, after discussing it with the child himself or herself. It might surprise you to learn that one such family was actually introduced to Carmel by Lord Jakobovits.

    To me, rectification meant and means that if they want to become part of the observant Jewish community they will, if they freely choose to, convert under an Orthodox Beth Din, as practising Jews. I regarded the issue as an opportunity to talk about ethics, chessed, ahavat haGer in both meanings, and sensitivity in dealing with others of different backgrounds–a problem most schools must tackle but often do not!

    And finally, the point I was making about Torquemada was that many bad things are done in the name of religion and by religious humans absolutely convinced they are right and doing the work of God. That seems obvious. To deduce from that that I equate a Dayan with Torquemada in every respect, is if I may say, either vindictive or childish.


  39. Fair Comment:
    Sadly, the court case did indeed come about because of the disqualification of conversions, otherwise it would never have arisen.

    I should be happy to support any religious institution if I experienced its ecclesiastical authorities as representing a more benign and tolerant expression of Torah.

  40. Fair Comment:
    But ethnic Judaism is meaningless outside of lawyers! It's closer to Hitler's definition than the Torah's. Don't bandy the oversubscription line. If the school were genuinely a religious school in the full sense, rather than a denominational one within Judaism, then it would give priority to children who actually wanted a religious education. Satmar or Bais Yaakov would turn away lots of applicants who are halachically Jewish but whose values are not theirs. What the JFS is saying is that, regardless of religious commitment, if you don't pass OUR test you're out. C of E, for example, does indeed apply religious tests (of course you will argue it's easier for looser religions, let's see how well that goes down with the law), so should we, within the wider and more inclusive framework of Judaism that our community actually is.

  41. Rabbi Rosen states:

    "Sadly, the court case did indeed come about because of the disqualification of conversions, otherwise it would never have arisen."

    Er, wrong. The case was that of a child of a mother who converted in a non-Orthodox Bet Din. The London Bet Din did not disqualify her conversion, and she and her husband have never disputed the non-Orthodox nature of her conversion. That was the mother's choice. Other cases were introduced in the High Court and the Judge ruled that in these cases the Bet Din had acted fairly. They were irrelevant to this case and played no part in the Court of Appeal.

    By obfuscating this case with anything you can throw at the US, the Chief Rabbi and the Bet Din, your arguments become increasingly self-defeating and your point of view is becoming increasingly difficult to understand.

  42. 'And here's the problem of Who Is A Jew. Whether it is Hitler, or lehavdil, the Knesset any attempt to define Jews other than religiously is absurd, in my view, and doomed'.

    That at least clarifies you standpoint
    The Carmel policy is difficult to understand. Your initial argument was that you accepted children

    'if I was convinced the parents and child really wanted a Jewish education and would be prepared to rectify the status issue at a later date, and so long as everyone was aware of the present status'.

    Now you add

    'To me, rectification meant and means that if they want to become part of the observant Jewish community they will, if they freely choose to, convert under an Orthodox Beth Din, as practising Jews'.

    Such an admissions procedure seems to be totally subjective and far worse than any used by other schools. In selecting a child you let them in if you were sure they would later 'rectify' themselves (itself a rather unpleasant term to use if rectify means to set right or to correct by removing error)
    For some reason you also found it necessary to
    make sure that everyone was aware of the child's religious status, provided the child agreed.
    Therefore you admitted children if they guaranteed later 'rectification' (although you seem unsure of this), tell everyone their 'status' (which you clearly regard as being non-Jewish) and sit back awaiting their Jewish flowering under your tutelage. The courts would have a wonderful time with these criteria.

    The comparison between the genius, Torah-studying, well behaved child who isn't Jewish and the halachically acceptable delinquent psychopath is flawed. What about two applicants who are both equally qualified except that one is halachically Jewish and one is not. Which would you accept then? If the halachic Jew (which you consider to be the only definition of Jewish), then your response is no different than JFS.

    With regard to the Torquemada analogy, we all know that religious fanaticism exists and can be cruel. By invoking it here you explicitly make the comparison that the Rabbinate is fanatical and cruel. Sadly your blog is riddled with supposedly sharp observations meant to be sardonic but which are just offensive. You can do this as someone with no responsibility but who snipes from the sidelines.

  43. Fair Comment:
    Let me concede for the purpose of this debate that I know nothing about the case or about English Law or even abot Judaism.

    I am afraid you are either intentionally or otherwise missing the main point, and what's more, you seem to think that hectoring will get you somewhere. I'd expect that of establishments that try to cow their members, stifle dissent. The sort of tactics I have often seen used in Anglo Jewry. You remind me of the time I was told that I must not allow a Massorti Rabbi to speak under the Chupa because it might give people the wrong impression!!! Thank goodness I wasn't in the United Synagogue.

    The primary facts I am concerned with are that the JFS is NOT a true Jewish community school of the sort that exists in Toronto, Johannesburg, Sydney, and Melbourne for example, but one whose policies are dictated by an autocratic and not very open-minded Beth Din. (I should of course, and do, differentiate between Dayanim. Make Dayan Binstock Av Beth!)

    A school is not an ecclesiastical authority, but because its policies do indeed make questionable ecclesiastical decisions on occasion it is divisive for really very illogical and silly reasons.
    The result has been the uneccessary and costly JCoSS to meet those precise needs that the JFS is not allowed to.

    Your insistence on taking my crack about Torquemada the way you do, makes me wonder whether you might not benefit from a day with Ali G.

    Shabbat Shalom

  44. Anonymous ("To characterise concern about intermarriage as "myopic" is ironic."):
    I agree with your comments and of course I am concerned about intermarriage, but primarily because it weakens the attachment to one's people. Sadly, too many parents who do nothing to strengthen Jewish commitment and are Jews only socially at best, go crazy over the very mention of marrying out. I used to shock my congregants by telling them that I'd rather marry a non-Jewish girl who cared about God, ethics, and morality than a Jewish girl who did not! Of course that did not mean I intended to, or approved of intermarriage!!!! I was simply trying to make the point that it's not so much the act that is the problem (pace Ezra, of course) as the consequences. If one really cares about marrying out, live a more positive Jewish life!

    Of course there are no guarantees. Sons and daughters of great rabbanim and rebbes have married out. But desperate measures like artificial segregation, certainly don't work!


  45. re The Bochur:

    Once more into the breach dear friends…

    I believe community schools should be community schools and anyone who wishes to be stricter may set up a school to meet those criteria.
    Where a school is oversubscribed and it has to use criteria, I do not think those criteria should be based on one specific denomination's own standards. But if a school claims to want give a religious education, I think it reasonable to choose someone who is more interested in receiving one. I realize this is not the halachic criterion but then given the nature of Jewish life in a post-Enlightenment era other criteria should apply and halachic Jews who care will make their own choices, as indeed they do. As it is, oversubscribed schools apply their own selection based on a range of criteria.

    Having said that, I do not understand or agree with the judgement. But I don't want to go there again.

    The Carmel experience-yes, of course, where there are status issues concerned houseparents need to be fully in the picture, after all they know who non-Jewish children are too. And yes, of course it's subjective.

    And finally, why the heck do you think I have always chosen to work outside the establishment? Precisely because I value the freedom to sound off and sometimes go over the top. Every healthy society needs alternative and provocative voices, and religion in particular with its tendency towards control and conformism needs a free spirit with an occasionally acerbic turn of phrase. My contribution is to serve that role while still being committed to the halachic process in my persopnal life and delighting in the positive things Orthodoxy has to offer.

    But I will, I'm afraid, continue in my gadfly role, frankly because I am free to enjoy it. And if others enjoy or prefer being establishment figures, I accept there's a need for that too, but not me. And that is precisely, dear Bochur, why I find Manhattan such a welcome relief after Anglo Jewry!!

    Shabbat Shalom,

  46. Boys(I say that as we girlies can't usually be bothered to bicker so, although it is interesting and provocative)-One man's views will always provide the oxygen of another man's challenge.But every value system nonetheless needs its gadflies. It's healthy. And like his views or not, it's Jeremy's site, and we are his guests on it. It's nice here. It's comfortable.

    Now. My point is this. All civil laws have a shelf life. They need to be reviewed, updated, rewritten, evaluated. It's cyclical. But the cycles aren't standardised and the Govts differ in hue and policy. Those reviews aren't always timely.
    The governing primary legislation that underpins this case is in parts quite aged now. It's started to look a bit antiquated alongside say ECHR or the various EU anti discrimination directives that have come into force over the last few years. Old and new end up looking and being dysfunctional.
    Whatever the longlasting internecine scraps might be, it's probably time for the rest of us to provide a more supportive civil legislative structure for you.

    And now for a piece of diversity in action-it's Saturday morning and I'm off to wash the breakfast dishes.

    Sorry -may have pressed the button twice!

  47. Luzrose:
    Thank you so much for your support, even as you were washing your dishes!
    But your comment about the nature of legislation and its need for constant revision is so important. In this context I guess we should be grateful to the stuffed shirts for forcing the issue!!

  48. Jeremy,

    I don't get it. You are an Orthodox Rabbi. The simple fact is there is a fundamental halachic problem with a reform conversion. As an Orthodox Rabbi (however liberal) surely you cannot sanction counting somebody non-Jewish in a minyan or allowing a marriage between someone non-Jewish and Jewish. Since according to Halacha a Reform Convert is not Jewish, the problem starts.
    You cannot gloss over that without denying orthodoxy.
    The petitioner in this case was not challenging a specific conversion but rather the premise that only the OCR/Orthodoxy can define "who is a Jew". How can an Orthodox Rabbi accept a pluralist definition? You puzzle me

  49. Rabbi Mordechai:

    I draw a complete distinction between halachic definitions of Jews, in which I accept the halachic definition, and on the other and the social /national definition of Jewry, in which I am inclusive. My precedent for this is that fact that many opinions in Chazal were favourably disposed to the Shomronim (Cutiim), even if they were not halachically acceptable. And at the same time, even within 'halachic' Judaism Chazal made a distinction between the Am Haaretz and the Chaver.

    There are different types of Jewish schools. Religious ones are of course very strict about halacha and rightly so, and I would expect them to adhere to halcha absolutely to the level of the chaver. But communal schools are for the wider, more national community which we Jews, small as we are in number, actually need to keep part of the community.

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