Joined: 26 Feb 2007
|Posted: Fri Feb 15, 2008 2:07 am Post subject: London's Jewish Free School JFS 'racist' admission policy
A leading Jewish school has been accused of racial discrimination after it refused to accept a girl whose mother was a convert to the religion.
Her parents are taking legal action against the JFS (formerly the Jewish Free School) for rejecting their daughter’s application, The Times has learnt.
The girl’s father is an Orthodox Jew and her mother, who is the school’s head of English, converted to Judaism more than 20 years ago. But the Office of the Chief Rabbi does not recognise the conversion and so refuses to accept that the child is Jewish.
The couple claim that the school’s admissions code breaches race laws, because it favours children with Jewish-born mothers. Jewish custom dictates that the faith line passes through the mother.
Children from two other families who consider themselves Jewish have also been refused a place. The school insists that the preference it shows to pupils whose mothers were born Jewish is a religious rather than a racial issue.
JFS is one of Britain’s oldest Jewish schools and is the largest Orthodox Jewish school in Europe, with 2,000 pupils. It is described by Ofsted as outstanding and is oversubscribed every academic year.
Philip Hunter, the Chief Schools Adjudicator, recently ordered JFS to scrap admissions criteria designed to be used if the school ever came to be undersubscribed. He ruled that these parts of the code, which give priority to children with a Jewish father or grandparent over those with no Jewish roots, were breaking race discrimination laws.
But the adjudicator did not instruct JFS to alter the main part of its code. This means that it can still favour nonpractising children whose mothers were born Jewish over those whose mothers converted to the faith and are religiously observant.
Mr Hunter ruled that the school was not breaking race relation laws by favouring children born to Jewish mothers, saying this was Jewish law and was therefore a religious issue.
David and Kate Lightman want to force the school, near Harrow, north-west London, to change its admissions policy and admit their daughter, who is 13. The couple complained to the adjudicator and were backed by their local council, the London Borough of Brent. Another couple objected on behalf of their child and are also taking legal action.
Mr and Mrs Lightman are seeking a judicial review in the High Court to resolve their four-year battle. The couple observe Orthodox practices and want their daughter to join her friends at the school.
Mr Lightman, a former pupil at the school, said that his wife had taught there for 17 years and converted to Judaism in Israel in the 1980s, under the country’s Chief Rabbi.
But he said that Britain’s Office of the Chief Rabbi, which acts as the school’s religious authority, questioned the validity of his wife’s conversion and so had ruled that his daughter was not Jewish.
“As far as they’re concerned, she’s not Jewish,” he said. “When I was at the school in the 70s it had a much more open ethos, but now seems to have a much narrower interpretation.”
Mr Lightman, who runs a design company, said that the couple intended to take legal action, but added: “We’re a family of average means against a large, well-financed establishment. It’s been incredibly difficult for my wife teaching at the school, although she’s had a lot of support from the staff and parents.
“My daughter leads an active Jewish life and asks why she can’t go to the school. I find it hard to explain to her, other than saying there are small-minded people stopping it from happening. We will seek a judicial review on the grounds that we believe it [the admissions code] is racially discriminatory against people not born into the religion.”
Russell Kett, chairman of the JFS governors, said that the Office of the Chief Rabbi helped the school to determine whether applicants were Jewish. “The issue [of admissions criteria] has been considered by the schools adjudicator, he has given his ruling and we have complied with the ruling.”
A spokesman for the Office of the Chief Rabbi, said: “Matters of a personal status are confidential. The family concerned has not waived confidentiality so it is impossible for us to give more detail or comment.”
Most Orthodox Jewish schools use similar admissions criteria. Immanuel College in Hertfordshire says all children “require authorisation from the Chief Rabbi.” Hasmonean High School, in North London, said it adopted the same code.
A judicial review of the decision by the Jewish Free School to refuse a place to the Lightmans’ daughter will have to look not just at secular law on school admissions, but also at halacha. This is the body of Jewish law by which members of the community run their lives, and includes biblical, rabbinic and Talmudic law and oral tradition.
Mrs Lightman’s problem is not her conversion as such. Conversion in Israel, as hers was, is regarded as “kosher” around the world. The problem is the person she went on to marry.
Members of the modern Jewish community trace their descent to three of the original twelve tribes of Israel, the Cohen, Levi and Israeli tribes. Mr Lightman is a Cohen. In other words, he is from the priestly line on which special rights and responsibilities are placed under Jewish law.
Orthodox Judaism frowns upon marriages between Cohanim and converts Should a Cohen marry a convert, he forfeits his right to pass on his priestly status to any of his sons. Such marriages are valid: according to Jewish law, it is the husband who must be punished, not the wife or children. One source said that if the strict law were upheld, Mr Lightman should be whipped.
But the rabbis in Israel who authorised the conversion of Mrs Lightman have taken no action against the couple, even though they are aware of whom she married.
Legally, a convert can only be “unconverted” by the Beth Din, or Jewish court, that authorised the conversion in the first place. A marriage authorised by one Orthodox rabbi cannot be repudiated by any other. So a further complication is that among some in the community in the UK and Israel, the actions of the Chief Rabbi in Britain in refusing to accept Mrs Lightman’s conversion as valid are seen as an insult to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.
There are other Jewish schools where Mrs Lightman’s daughter would be accepted with no problem. The difficulty for her is that, if she accepts that her Jewish status is halachically open to question because of whom she married, the status of her children and all their descendants within the community is also an issue.
The only answer for them would be themselves to convert and then, of course, not to marry a Cohen.
Then there is the biblical precedent used by would-be converts to Judaism for many centuries past. Judaism is not like Christianity. It has been known for rabbis to change their minds on teachings, but it is not done without a lot of debate and argument, and always involves a “development” of an existing law rather than a direct reversal.
The Bible describes how a woman called Ruth, a Moabite, fell in love with Boaz and said: “Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” Ruth’s son, Obed, was father to Jesse, who was in turn father to the great King David. There is no record of any school refusing admission to Obed or Jesse because they were descended from a convert, and the legitimacy of David’s subsequent Jewish line is beyond question.
Joined: 25 Jul 2005
Location: St. Pauls, Bristol, England
|Posted: Sun Jan 05, 2020 12:21 am Post subject:
|Jewish school racially discriminated against boy, court rules
This article is more than 10 years old
Supreme court says London comprehensive broke law by refusing to admit 12-year-old it did not recognise as Jewish
Jessica Shepherd and Riazat Butt
Wed 16 Dec 2009 16.09 GMTFirst published on Wed 16 Dec 2009 16.09 GMT
The Jewish Free School, Harrow
The Jewish Free School in London. Photograph: Graham Turner
Judges today ruled that one of Britain's most successful faith schools had racially discriminated against a 12-year-old boy who was refused admission because the school did not recognise him as Jewish.
In a landmark legal decision, supreme court judges found that the Jewish Free School, a comprehensive in north-west London, had broken the law by refusing to admit the boy, a practising Jew known as M.
It had denied him a place because it has twice as many applicants as it can take and prioritises children whose mothers are recognised as Jewish by the Chief Rabbi.
M's mother converted from Catholicism to Judaism under a non-Orthodox authority, meaning the Chief Rabbi does not recognise her as Jewish. He only recognises children as Jewish if he recognises their mothers as Jewish.
The boy's father took the school to court, claiming racial discrimination. In June the court of appeal ruled in his favour, saying the school's policy amounted to racial discrimination because it prioritised applications from children with Jewish mothers.
The school appealed, taking the case to the supreme court. Critics said today's ruling would mean secular judges are deciding who is Jewish and who is not.
The ruling will lead to children who apply to one of the UK's 50 Jewish schools having to sit religious practice tests to ensure the schools are not discriminating against them on ethnic grounds.
It is also likely to lead to a revision of admissions policies at faith schools.
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Lawyers said it was the most controversial ruling since the supreme court was created in October.
The judges ruled, by a majority of five to four, that the school had "directly discriminated against M on grounds of his ethnic origins" and was in breach of the Race Relations Act.
Reading out the judgment, Lord Phillips, the president of the supreme court, said: "The supreme court has dismissed the appeal by the governing body of JFS.
"The majority held that JFS had directly discriminated against M on grounds of his ethnic origins."
Phillips said the judges did not consider the Chief Rabbi to be racist. The judgment "should not be read as criticising the admissions policy of JFS on moral grounds, or suggesting it was 'racist' in the pejorative sense", he added.
M's father, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said: "I believe it's important for people to know that the same Race Relations Act that provides such valued protection for Jews, as well as others, from ill-judged or misguided prejudices also provides for the fair and equal treatment of all children within our education system.
"It is very important to see that this essential protection was not mistakenly discarded by divisive views which can naturally occur from time to time within all communities.
"The Jewish community, which has long endeavoured to enshrine fairness and care for others, will be relieved at heart that this minor discord will be put aside and that we, like all God's children and people of true feeling, can pull together again and work to make a better and fairer world for all."
The United Synagogue, which represents Orthodox Jews in the UK, said it was "extremely disappointed" with the ruling.
It said the decision "interfered" with the "Torah-based imperative on us to educate Jewish children, regardless of their background".
"Essentially, we must now apply a non-Jewish definition of who is Jewish," Simon Hochhauser, the synagogue's president, said.
Trevor Phillips, the chair of the Equality and Human Rights commission, said the verdict confirmed that "no school will be allowed to discriminate based on the ethnic origin of an individual".
The British Humanist Association said the court ruling should trigger an investigation into all state faith schools' admissions policies.
"There's absolutely no reason why what is essentially a public service should be denied to any children, whatever their beliefs or the beliefs of their parents," Andrew Copson, the association's director of education and public affairs, said.
Rabbi Jonathan Romain, the chair of the Accord Coalition, which campaigns for inclusive education, said he hoped the ruling would serve as a "wake-up call", prompting faith schools to stop discriminatory policies.
The chairman of governors at JFS, Russell Kett, said the supreme court judges had suggested "there may be a defect in the law by not allowing the school to give admission priority, when oversubscribed, to those who are Jewish in Orthodox law".
One-third of England's state schools are faith schools.
"The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic poison which alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung