Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism · news · race/racism · religion

British think Judaism is Racist?

Sorry, I’m a little late on getting to put together this roundup of the latest news articles on this case. This little video from Aish reminded me that my inbox was overflowing….

“We don’t understand being a Jew! How can we? We’re not Jews!”

The British response to all this nonsense about Judaism being racist.

“The Anglo-Jewish School Case, Revisited” (Interfaith Family)

“‘Who is a Jew?'” (National Post) U.K. case sparks holy debate

“A religious motive will not excuse discrimination on racial grounds,” said the court. “It appears to us clear (a) that Jews constitute a racial group defined principally by ethnic origin and additionally by conversion, and (b) that to discriminate against a person on the ground that he or someone else either is or is not Jewish is therefore to discriminate against him on racial grounds. The motive for discrimination, whether benign or malign, theological or supremacist, makes it no less and no more unlawful.”

“Who Is a Jew? Court Ruling in Britain Raises Question” (NY Times)

Incredible to me, really, that the NY Times just realized any of this was going on!

“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.”

“Board fights ‘racism’ label in JFS hearing” (The Jewish Chronicle of London)

“No Holds Barred: The British determine who is a Jew?!”

Shmuley Boteach weighs in:

“The Jews are first and foremost a people and only secondarily a faith. We were the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob before we received the Torah at Mount Sinai and began practicing Judaism’s tenets. Peoplehood comes first, and is completely independent of any kind of religious affirmation. Jewishness is not something that can be lost, and not something that can be renounced.

Being a people does not make us a homogeneous ethic group. There are black Jews and white Jews, European Jews and Asian Jews. Converts of every ethnicity can of course join us at any time. But in so doing they are not adopting a faith but a people. They do not become merely practitioners of the Jewish faith but part of the Jewish family. A convert is transformed from an outsider into a Jewish brother or sister. But the process must of course have standards. To be a British citizen is not an arbitrary act. It takes approximately 10 years of residency. Likewise, my Australian wife’s naturalization as an American citizen took many years of residency, and she had to pass a test of American knowledge.”

“We Jews cannot have it both ways” (Jerusalem Post)

“”M” is the child of an halachicly Jewish father and a mother who had undergone a non-Orthodox conversion. The father applied for his son to be admitted to the Jews’ Free School (JFS), an extremely prestigious and heavily oversubscribed taxpayer-aided “faith” school in north London. The United Synagogue’s chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, refused the application on the ground that he – Jonathan Sacks – did not regard the mother as Jewish.

The Court of Appeal ruled that, in so doing, he and the school breached the 1976 Race Relations Act, the protection of which Jews enjoy by virtue of having long ago been categorized as an ethnic group entitled to its protection. Quite simply, in refusing “M” a place at the school, Sacks (said the Court of Appeal) relied on an investigation of “M’s” parental descent, rather than on a judgment of his – or his parents’ – religious practice. “M” was, therefore, the victim of ethnic (and not religious) prejudice.

The 1976 Race Relations Act has been of immense benefit to Britain’s Jewish communities, enabling British Jews to bring successful actions against, for example, employers who refuse for whatever reason to employ persons of Jewish identity. But we Jews cannot have it both ways. We cannot say that we will invoke the act when it suits us, but when it doesn’t, demand the right to ignore it and to be shielded from the penalties it invokes.”

“British Jewry’s Self-Inflicted Wound” (The Forward)

“For the most part, the Jewish community quietly acquiesced in the United Synagogue’s admissions practices until 2005, when two women who had Orthodox conversions in Israel tried to get their 11-year-old children accepted into London’s Jewish Free School. As Orthodox converts, the women should have easily met the chief rabbi’s criteria. But while the chief rabbi is celebrated as a leading Modern Orthodox thinker, his beit din, or rabbinic court, insists on imposing Haredi halachic standards on a British Jewish community whose practice and belief is largely traditional, rather than strictly Orthodox.

The chief rabbi, apparently under pressure from his beit din, refused to certify either woman as Jewish. There were “procedural irregularities” in the conversion of Helen Sagal, he said; and Helen Lightman — herself a teacher at JFS — could not have been a “sincere” convert, because her husband, whom she married under Orthodox auspices in New York soon after her conversion, was a kohen. (According to Halacha, kohanim are not allowed to marry converts, although such a marriage is valid if a fait accompli.)

Communal leaders were taken aback by the court’s interference in an internal Jewish row. It was particularly jarring in that the court’s ruling seemed to imply that the traditional definition of Jewish identity is racist. Indeed, Rabbi Tony Bayfield, head of Britain’s Movement for Reform Judaism, said that even though his movement deplored JFS’s admissions procedures, he was behind the United Synagogue in this matter “100%.””

Most of these articles fail to mention that it was not just a non-Orthodox family suing, it was also the family of an Orthodox convert whose conversion was not accepted by the Chief Rabbi of Britain which makes the issue not just non-Orthodox vs. Orthodox but very much so about conversion.

4 thoughts on “British think Judaism is Racist?

  1. I'm (or I *was*) a big fan of Rabbi Sacks (I like his commentary in my new Koren-Sacks siddur and other things I read of his), so his rulings on these conversion issues are very disappointing to me. Do Orthodox converts (and the children of female converts) have to live the rest of their lives worrying that their (or their mother's) conversions will be revoked?


  2. My husband says only half in jest that the good thing about my conversion being Conservative is that no one is going to take it away from me. I have to wonder if it will become a tainted lineage thing like mamzerim, with nth generation Jews who are considered to be of “gerim lineage” (and discriminated against) due to a single distant maternal convert. I was listening to some Mechon Hadar lectures talking about sources (medieval, I think) that discuss cases of ” 'gerim' with two Jewish parents” who were actually Jews by birth who were descendants of converts.


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