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December 16: “Who Is a Jew?” in a British Day School

December 16, 2015

JFS+2The Supreme Court of Great Britain found on this date in 2009 that the Jewish Free School in Northern London, which is financed by the state but permitted to give admissions preference to Jewish applicants, could not deny admission to a student based on Orthodox definitions of “who is a Jew”? The plaintiff was a 12-year-old boy, denied admission, whose parents were Jewish but whose mother was converted in a non-Orthodox synagogue. “The case rested,” according to Sarah Lyall in the New York Times, “on whether the school’s test of Jewishness was essentially based on religion, which would be legal, or on race and ethnicity, which would not be. Five of the nine Supreme Court judges who heard the case ruled that J.F.S.’s policy directly discriminated on the basis of ethnicity.... Britain has nearly 7,000 publicly financed religious schools. The ruling will have repercussions for all the country’s Jewish schools,” some fifty in number, “whether private or public, and may also affect Sikh and Muslim schools.”

“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 plaintiff’s father