A Jewish Free School in Brent, N.W. London, has denied a 12 year-old Jewish boy a place in the school because his mother isn't recognized as Jewish by those responsible for the school's admission policy.
The boy's father is Jewish but the mother converted to Judaism under the ministrations of a Progressive rather than Orthodox synagogue - a conversion not recognized by the UK's Office of the Chief Rabbi. On these grounds the child was refused admission.
Anyone familiar with British law is likely to have a problem with this. The child wasn't signing up for religious training, he and his parents were interested in a broad based educational program. Moreover the JFS, the Jewish school in question, is a comprehensive school funded by the British taxpayer.
Discriminating against a Jewish child from a Jewish family on the grounds that his mother isn't 'Jewish enough' is fairly outrageous given the anti-discrimination provisions in the UK. It amounts to a form of ethnic-based discrimination.
The British Appeals Court hearing the case also had a problem. It has handed down a ruling that the use of such criteria for selecting students is a breach of the Race Discrimination Act.
The judges on the case said that: "The requirement that if a pupil is to qualify for admission his mother must be Jewish, whether by descent or by conversion, is a test of ethnicity which contravenes the Race Relations Act."
The court ruling was attacked by Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, who is threatening to take it all the way to the House of Lords in an effort to get the ruling overturned. He claims this is necessary so that Jews can be "be true to the Jewish faith."
Who said Jews can't be true to their faith? That is their right. But an educational institution funded by the British taxpayer is hardly the environment to be applying what can only be described as a matrilineal litmus test to determine whether or not a student is acceptable.
There are a number of very cool Hebrew schools in N. America that welcome children of all faiths and teach the kids mutual respect in addition to offering top-notch academic programs. Sequestering students in narrow ethnic/religious based institutions in this day and age may produce academic results, but not necessarily well rounded adults.
Related Guardian article here.