First of all, apologies for not blogging in several months (again). In my defence, I had exams, more exams, and then scary pupillage interviews.
Secondly, what I am about to say is very likely to annoy a lot of my fellow Jews who might be reading this. So again, apologies in advance. Take it in the spirit of healthy debate; it's certainly not meant as an attack on Jewish schools or Jewish identity.
But in a nutshell: I think the court got it right this week, when they ruled that a Jewish school's admissions policy was unlawful. Having said that, I'm not quite convinced I agree with their logic; I would come to the same answer for different reasons.
JFS, a Jewish school in London, had refused to admit a boy on the grounds that he "wasn't Jewish". The boy practised the Jewish religion, but from the perspective of orthodox Judaism, that isn't enough. To be considered Jewish, either you must be the child of a Jewish mother, or you must undergo the orthodox Jewish conversion process. The boy's mother had converted to Judaism in a progressive ceremony, not an orthodox one. Through orthodox eyes, this meant that she wasn't really Jewish - and therefore, neither was her son.
The Court of Appeal decided that this was racial discrimination - he was being denied a place because of his parentage. That doesn't entirely ring true, because you don't have to belong to a particular ethnicity to be Jewish. Anyone, of any racial background, can join the Jewish religion, and the worldwide Jewish community is very ethnically diverse.
My real objection to the JFS is that they were applying the orthodox criteria for Jewish status, when they should really have focused on the boy's own religious beliefs. JFS is a publicly-funded Jewish school, and should therefore be prepared to take anyone who practises Judaism, in any branch of the faith, whether orthodox or progressive. Orthodox Jews are quite entitled to decide who can be a member of their synagogues, and take part in their worship. However, no one grouping within British Jewry should have the right to set the legal standard for Jewish status in the British courts.
There is a wider debate about whether we should allow faith schools at all; I don't want to get into that minefield right now. I would simply argue that if we are going to allow schools to prioritise students of a certain religion, the sole criteria should be the student's own religious beliefs, and not the criteria set by a particular religious authority (such as the United Synagogue) - because that would mean giving away control of admissions policy to an unaccountable religious grouping with its own agenda. Admissions policy should be a public matter.
(Incidentally, I blogged about this issue last time it was in the courts a year ago: you can read my original article here.)