There has been a fair amount of interest around the world in a British Court of Appeal ruling that it was unlawful to pick pupils according to whether or not their parents were Jewish. The ramifications for this with respect to the identity of Orthodox Jewish schools are significant, and the case will now advance to the House of Lords.
In Australian news coverage the AJN ran a feature about this incident. In their coverage they noted that this issue had not been tested in the Australian courts. That is a completely incorrect statement. Many people will be aware that Carmel School had a court case over a decade ago with a judgement that asserted the right of the school to operate in accordance with its Modern Orthodox brief.
It is ironic that at the time of the Perth case little support was forthcoming from other jurisdictions. It is also interesting that the precedent set by the WA decision has not been picked up by those advocates for the school concerned. Judgement in the WA case was based on the clear constitution of the school, and its right to manage its operations in accordance with halachic authority.
Back in England, the office of the Chief Rabbi has proposed a compromise solution.
This may ease the tension in the short term, but will not satisfy the clear dilemma that the issue poses. Criticism of the court in the UK has been based on the notion that a secular legal system should not impose religious definitions. The UK Court of Appeal has determined that parental descent is a matter of ethnicity, not religion, and therefore a breach of Race Relations legislation.
Once again the basis of Jewish identity is misunderstood by the external observer and arbiter. Judaism is a pure blend of religion and ethnicity, and the two cannot be separated. This is especially so when the objective of such separation is to feign some type of fake Jewish pluralism – an admission ticket on false pretences.
Jewish identity is not just about religion, in the sense that ideological belief itself is not sufficient to secure Jewish title. Conversely, observance and practice of Judaism itself is also not sufficient to render a person Jewish. The element of birthright or conversion is just as necessary.
This Wednesday night the WA lawyers and jurists are hosting an education seminar about this court case. Rabbi Marcus Solomon, who successfully defended the Carmel School against similar litigation will present on the parallels of the two cases and provide a legal insight into the right of the courts to impose a definition of “Who is a Jew”. It is a fascinating and relevant topic. If you are nearby this presentation will be well worth attending.