Who Is a Jew? British court answers question – sort of

The questions before the judges in Courtroom No. 1 of Britain’s Supreme Court were as ancient and as complex as Judaism itself.

On the surface, the court was considering a straightforward challenge to the admissions policy of a Jewish high school in London. But the case, in which arguments concluded Oct. 30, has potential repercussions for thousands of other parochial schools across Britain. And in addressing issues at the heart of Jewish identity, it has exposed bitter divisions in Britain’s community of 300,000 or so Jews, pitting members of various Jewish denominations against one another…

By many standards, the JFS applicant, identified in court papers as “M,” is Jewish. But not in the eyes of the school, which defines Judaism under the Orthodox definition set out by Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. Because M’s mother converted in a progressive, not an Orthodox, synagogue, the school said, she was not a Jew — nor was her son. It turned down his application.

That would have been the end of it. But M’s family sued, saying that the school had discriminated against him. They lost, but the ruling was overturned by the Court of Appeal this summer.

In an explosive decision, the court concluded that basing school admissions on a classic test of Judaism — whether one’s mother is Jewish — was by definition discriminatory. Whether the rationale was “benign or malignant, theological or supremacist,” the court wrote, “makes it no less and no more unlawful.”

The case rested on whether the school’s test of Jewishness was based on religion, which would be legal, or on race or ethnicity, which would not. The court ruled that it was an ethnic test because it concerned the status of M’s mother rather than whether M considered himself Jewish and practiced Judaism.

“The requirement that if a pupil is to qualify for admission his mother must be Jewish, whether by descent or conversion, is a test of ethnicity which contravenes the Race Relations Act,” the court said. It added that while it was fair that Jewish schools should give preference to Jewish children, the admissions criteria must depend not on family ties, but “on faith, however defined.”

The same reasoning would apply to a Christian school that “refused to admit a child on the ground that, albeit practicing Christians, the child’s family were of Jewish origin,” the court said.

Even more to the root of the question is religions that consider their law superior to the law and legal system of the state. Unless you’re in a theocracy – when you can have bits of your body lopped off for offending some judge.

8 thoughts on “Who Is a Jew? British court answers question – sort of

  1. Jägermeister says:

    Let’s polarize things… Obama isn’t black enough to be called a black President. He’s the first biracial President.

  2. Mr. Fusion says:

    Why would you send a child to a school that doesn’t think he is good enough for them? It isn’t as if there aren’t any choices in the matter, parochial or not.

  3. T May says:

    The British court felt entitled to decide who is a Jew and said deciding it by birth or by applying a standard of conversion was unacceptable, plus there were other complexities in the case, of which they are woefully unaware, and they attempted to define a Jew to Jews, something I doubt they would do to a Muslim.
    This legal decision undermines the British government and monarchy. The people who should feel most uncomfortable with this decision are the Queen, the Princes, the Royal family and the Lords in the House of Lords who inherited their positions through birth. They receive public funds. According to this legal decision their positions are racist and unlawful. Either the decision needs to be reversed or laws have to be changed or passed to save the British government. The fact that royalty believes in their positions and act like royalty does not help because there are plenty of people who can do the same thing, mostly narcissists, megalomaniacs, actors, and some politicians and world leaders and very few people in life question their right to have good things happen to them and feel entitled.

  4. Mr. Fusion says:

    While my own opinion on the British Royal family is irrelevant, you are wrong.

    The Queen is paid for her duties. The bulk of her wealth comes from her personal estates.

    Prince Charles does receive a small amount as the Prince of Wales. His primary income is from his personal estates, most notably the Duchy of Cornwall.

    The Prince Consort and the Queens other children are not paid by the government and depend upon the largess of their mother / wife.

    The House of Lords are only paid for their legislative work.

    BTW, all the welfare recipients, police, fire personnel, military, hospitals, prisoners, and many others also receive public funds.

    This decision, if you had of read it, is NOT about deciding who is a Jew. It is about how the school’s admission process is applicable to current British law. The Court decided it was based upon ethnicity which is illegal.

  5. T May says:

    Regarding Mr Fusion’s answer: The Jewish test for thousands of years was whether the mother was Jewish. That was what the school applied. The court ruled that deciding whether someone was Jewish if decided by birth was racist or ethnicist and that the test would have to be practice. Not only did the Queen, Prince Charles Prince William, the Royal family and some of the Lords in the House of Lords get their positions from birth, but inheritance laws for everyone are also brought into question by this decision because one is a son or daughter based on birth and the default position of the law if someone dies without a will is that the property goes to family. An inheritance is something one inherits. For Jews being born a Jew is an inheritance that one gets from one’s mother. Being a Cohen is an inheritance one gets from one’s father if one’s father is a Cohen. This British legal decision is arrogant in that it presumes to think it has the wisdom to change the Jewish religion as it has been practised for millenia and the fact that they do it on the island of England which has a monarchy and a government with a House of Lords shows the lack of wisdom of the decision. Judaism allows for conversion and it has rules for conversion. In this case the rules of conversion were not met. The orthodox school applies an orthodox standard. That is not a surprise. This is similar to a family who adopts a child. In order to inherit a child has to be adopted legally and meet the standards. I have known a woman who took in a child when the mother abandoned the child and 7 years later the mother showed up which was unexpected by the woman and she discovered that she had zero standing to fight for the child. The House of Lords has Lords who inherited their position while also having some Lords who received their positions due to achievements. The Lords who became lords though achievement have nothing to worry about.

  6. Humans made by Hashem says:

    Who is a Jew question can be used for bad reasons.

    “WHO IS A JEW”





    Chabad Motto? If At First You Don’t Succeed, Sue the Victim

    A Chabad man serves as the hazzan of a Chabad synagogue. Several years ago, outside another synagogue after a community event, the Chabad hazzan sexually assaults a woman who is a member of the Chabad synagogue. He is eventually arrested and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of lewd conduct. He is sentenced, serves a very brief time, is given probation and community service.

    Meanwhile, the victim civilly sues Chabad, in part because she claims Chabad sheltered the hazzan. Now Chabad has sought a judgment against the victim for more than $175,000 in attorneys’ fees, and a judge is about to grant that.

    The Chabad? Las Vegas, Nevada. The Rabbi? She Harlig. The hazzan? Michael Segelstein. As Jewish Survivors notes:

    Rabbi Harlig is attempting to sue a rape victim for attorney fees. This is a rape victim of a convicted sex offender who is on the national sex offender list.

    Immediately after the arrest, Rabbi Harlig falsely claimed this victim – who worked in the synagogue’s kitchen – was not Jewish. She went to the RCA’s beit din. They investigated and found Rabbi Harlig’s claim false. The woman is the daughter of a Jewish holocaust survivor from Vienna, Austria. The beit din issued her a document verifying her Jewishness. But, during the time the beit din was investigating Rabbi Harlig’s false claims, this woman’s teenage son – a very active synagogue goer and participant – was forced to sit in the back of the synagogue. He was banned from receiving aliyot or leading services. And he was shunned by other members, as was his mother, apparently at the direction of Rabbi Harlig.

    And the man who attempted to rape this woman? He is a proud member of Chabad to this day, leading services and fully participating in synagogue life.

    A double standard? You bet it is. And that double standard is sanctioned by and orchestrated by Chabad-Lubavitch.

    • Mr. Fusion says:

      I noticed you posted the exact same comment on other blogs.

      Your big mistake here is confusing two entirely separate legal issues.

      Sue the perpetrator that injured her. She didn’t. She sued someone else that had nothing to do with the assault. That begs the question of why someone else should have to pay big bucks on lawyers to defend them self for something they didn’t do.

      Your double standard is demanding Chabad be held accountable but not the victim.

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