It won’t look like King Edward I’s Edict of Expulsion in 1290, of course. But the practice of the Jewish religion could be suppressed by law de facto in the United Kingdom. That is where the Jewish Free School case may lead, gradually, by slow erosion rather than swift violence. The implications of the Appeals Court decision, in the view of the British government, could be the abolition of all Jewish schools, independent as well as state-funded. That is the opinion of the UK government, as reported by the UK press. A few Jewish schools would survive in the Charedi world. But the point is that Judaism cannot exist as a religion without Jewish schools. Unlike any other religion, Jewish practice centers around Torah learning, not as academic scholarship but as an existential act that unites all Jewish generations in the eternal moment of revelation at Mt. Sinai. If Jewish schools are forced into a narrow, defensive stance, Jewish live in England will be truncated and stifled.
And the implications of the Appeals Court decision, in the view of the British government, would be the abolition of all Jewish schools, independent as well as state-funded. That is the opinion of the UK government, as reported by the UK press.
An Oct. 28 article in the London Evening Standard reports the judgment of a member of the British Cabinet, Children’s Secretary Ed Balls, that the recent court ruling against the Jewish Free School could result in the destruction of faith-based schools in England:
Faith schools could be stripped of the right to select pupils on the basis of their religion, the Standard has learned.
The Government fears that a landmark court case means 100 state and private Jewish schools are breaking race laws by choosing pupils who conform to their beliefs. Many Christian, Muslim and Sikh schools could also be forced to give equal priority to non-believers or pupils of other faiths.
Lawyers acting for Children’s Secretary Ed Balls are urging the highest court in the land to protect the centuries-old tradition of schools educating children on religious lines. The minister’s warning comes in a submission to the Supreme Court in the case of JFS, a Jewish school in Brent, which is fighting to overturn a ruling that it broke the Race Relations Act.
If the judges refuse to support JFS, formerly the Jews’ Free School, hundreds of other faith schools could be forced to abandon religious selection in its current form. Mr Balls’s statement to the Supreme Court, seen by the Standard, says: “The case raises issues of considerable public importance.”
State faith schools in London achieve some of the best exam results. Many receive far more applications than they have places and so select pupils from the same religious background.
JFS is oversubscribed and gives priority to children who are deemed by the Chief Rabbi to be Orthodox Jewish. The 2,000-pupil school rejected a 12-year-old boy, known only as M, because his mother had not converted to Judaism in an Orthodox synagogue.
In June, the Court of Appeal said such a decision was “a test of ethnicity which contravenes the Race Relations Act”. But the school argues that it is central to whether a child is seen as Jewish. The case goes to the heart of whether being Jewish is a religious or a racial matter.
Mr Balls said the ruling hits admissions policies of 38 Jewish schools. “It is also likely that the admissions arrangements of approximately 60 Jewish independent schools are unlawful,” he added.
The Appeal Court ruling suggested JFS’s admissions policy indirectly discriminated on racial grounds as most people defined as Jewish by religion were also Jewish in ethnic origin. This was wrong and may have “wide ramifications”, Mr Balls said.
No Jewish schools, no Judaism. It is not just a matter of maintaining Jewish identity, although we know that every study of Jewish identity shows that it is founded on Jewish day schools. It is in the nature of the religion itself. The Appeals Court, to be sure, made a mockery of “faith” criteria in its claim that an ethnic definition of Jewishness was “racist.” Judaism’s first tenet of faith is that God chose Abraham and his physical descendants and gave them special commandments to fulfill; a Jew is someone who believes in the Election of Abraham and thus in the defining nature of physical descent from Abraham. But leave aside the absurdities: the view of the UK government is that all Jewish schools will be prevented from selecting Jewish pupils on the basis of Jewish criteria—which is tantamount to abolishing the Jewish religion.
The practice of our religion itself is centered upon Talmud Torah, the learning of the written and oral Torah given by God to Moses at Mt. Sinai. Through Torah learning we partake in the single, eternal moment when God revealed himself to the Jewish people. Torah learning is the highest form of communion with the God who descended from heaven to reveal himself.
Of course, Jewish education could survive even this legal assault in some limited form, for example, by conducting instruction in Hebrew (or Yiddish and Aramaic) in highly specialized yeshivot to which non-Jews never would apply. But in this case, the Modern Orthodox center of English Judaism would collapse, as observant Jewish families would be unable to give their children a secular as well as a religious education. A small group of Charedi would remain with religious schools, along side the flabby mass of soon-to-be-former Jews in the so-called liberal synagogues.