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JFS and discrimination [Jun. 26th, 2009|03:50 pm]
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[music |http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJCa0_jKFWw]

Clearly not the biggest story today, but the news that a Jewish school has been found guilty of discriminating against a 12 year old child interested me. The child involved had a halachicly (meaning in terms of Jewish law) Jewish father but his mother had a 'reform' conversion to Judaism, which would not be considered legitimate by Orthodox Jews, and according to Orthodox halacha Judaism is passed on through the mother.

In prioritising the applications of children who were considered to be Jewish on an Orthodox basis, JFS were said by Lords Justices Sedley and Rimer and Lady Justice Smith to be unjustly discriminating against the child, according to the Race Relations Act.

The case interests me particularly as I am Jewish (in the Orthodox sense). There are wider implications to the ruling, in terms of the boundaries between ethnicity and race (as Judaism is considered a race by law but an ethnicity by many who practise it) and the extent to which discrimination can be viewed as legitimate in admissions policies of faith schools in general. Its also highlights tensions between civil law and Jewish law.

When I first heard about the ruling I thought that it was ridiculous - this child was not, from an Orthodox view, Jewish, and could not be expected to be treated as such. I don't really agree with the argument that Judaism is a race, I feel that my religion isn't something that can be intellectually compartmentalised as a race or an ethnicity, which in my mind represent two of the flimsiest social constructs. I don't know if I can justifiably say that given as I'm an atheist who still self-identifies as Jewish, which suggests an intractable element to my religion typical of racial identities, but there you go.

Then I remembered friends of mine, who were more observant or interested in Judaism than me, who also wouldn't be considered Jewish from an Orthodox view. And I thought it was fundamentally unfair that if we were all 11 again, I'd be given more of a chance to go to a Jewish school than them. If we're going to have faith schools - and there are very strong arguments that we should not - then it is right that they should not be allowed to discriminate against non-Orthodox Jews. Those who self-identify as Jewish and want to go to a Jewish school should be allowed to do so whatever their parental circumstances.
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