Who Is a Jew? Or, the Law and Self Determination

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Catchfire Catchfire's picture
Who Is a Jew? Or, the Law and Self Determination

Who is a Jew? And who gets to decide?

Quote:
The case began when a 12-year-old boy, an observant Jew whose father is Jewish and whose mother is a Jewish convert, applied to the school, JFS. Founded in 1732 as the Jews’ Free School, it is a centerpiece of North London’s Jewish community. It has around 1,900 students, but it gets far more applicants than it accepts.

Britain has nearly 7,000 publicly financed religious schools, representing Judaism as well as the Church of England, Catholicism and Islam, among others. Under a 2006 law, the schools can in busy years give preference to applicants within their own faiths, using criteria laid down by a designated religious authority.

By many standards, the JFS applicant, identified in court papers as “M,” is Jewish. But not in the eyes of the school, which defines Judaism under the Orthodox definition set out by Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. Because M’s mother converted in a progressive, not an Orthodox, synagogue, the school said, she was not a Jew — nor was her son. It turned down his application.

That would have been the end of it. But M’s family sued, saying that the school had discriminated against him. They lost, but the ruling was overturned by the Court of Appeal this summer.

In an explosive decision, the court concluded that basing school admissions on a classic test of Judaism — whether one’s mother is Jewish — was by definition discriminatory. Whether the rationale was “benign or malignant, theological or supremacist,” the court wrote, “makes it no less and no more unlawful.”

The case rested on whether the school’s test of Jewishness was based on religion, which would be legal, or on race or ethnicity, which would not. The court ruled that it was an ethnic test because it concerned the status of M’s mother rather than whether M considered himself Jewish and practiced Judaism

Makwa Makwa's picture

I fail to see how this has anything to do with 'anti-racism' news, etc.  I am open to discussion however, before I move it elsewhere, say to 'body and soul' as I see it as a religious discussion.

Unionist

This is what happens when you publicy fund religious education and then give religious authorities a say in who benefits and who doesn't. It's also about this low-life Jonathan Sacks who purports to speak on behalf of the Jewish people. Since we already have [url=a">http://rabble.ca/babble/body-and-soul/europeans-dying-out-because-secula... thread about this joker[/url] in Body and Soul, I would personally agree with Makwa's notion - although I don't believe it's a "religious discussion". It has many more aspects than that.

 

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Well, like most stories I post, I was going to put it in culture, but I thought it might benefit from an AR perspective--self-determination and all that. I hate the "International News and Politics" section or whatever it's called, so I didn't want to put it there. Other than that, move it where you like!

Unionist

Yeah, I'm ok with any of the three. One thing I like about this story (that's "like" in a very perverse sense) is that it mirrors the kind of ugly religious and judicial debates that take place in Israel as to "who is a Jew". I firmly believe the civil authorities have no business intruding on such definitions - but once Jewish organizations succeed in getting public funds, they're sort of asking for such interference in the event of a dispute, aren't they? Mind you, I don't like the religious institutions pronouncing on "who is a Jew" either. There is no authoritative body recognized by all Jews (even religious ones) - thank God.

 

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

I wondered upon reading the story if the court was wrong when it ruled that the school's test was ethnically based because it concerned the status of M's mother. Is that a simplistic reading of the situation? But that's just a small wrangle. In the main, I'm inclined to agree with the court's decision.

oldgoat

In the absence of a better place, lets do Culture then.  I would have done International News and Politics, but not if catchfire hates it.

 

I was going to post on this a while ago, but unionist said pretty much what I was thinking.  That's the trouble with schools like this taking so much as a public nickel.  If it was totally private, then reject whoever you want.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Thanks oldgoat. I used to burn copies of the International Herald Tribune as a teenager.

Unionist

Excuse me, I should have said above "this low-life, Lord Jonathan Sacks". Respectfully.

I'll get back to this discussion later. I want to read the court's decision and figure out what the law says first. Plus I actually have that "rest of my life" thing which keeps interfering (though not often enough).

Prophit

I wonder why its necessary to engage in childish namecalling. Unionist you may disagree with Rabbi Sachs but comeon let's try to act a bit more adult and not like the loony rightwing bloggers who do this all the time. We are better than that.

oldgoat

Could you please not compare Unionist to a "loony right wing blogger".

Stargazer

Oh he's not? Innocent

 

Just joshing ya unionist. You're one of the coolest kids on the block. Cool

Jaku

oldgoat wrote:

Could you please not compare Unionist to a "loony right wing blogger".

I wonder why you didn't admonish Unionist though for his choice of language.

remind remind's picture

the distinction was unionist was not speaking about a babbler, but a public figure...

Unionist

Prophit wrote:

I wonder why its necessary to engage in childish namecalling. Unionist you may disagree with Rabbi Sachs but comeon let's try to act a bit more adult and not like the loony rightwing bloggers who do this all the time. We are better than that.

First of all, it's SACKS, as I said, not SACHS, as you claimed.

Secondly, he was named by the Queen as "Lord Sacks of Aldgate" a few days ago. So I can call him Lord Sacks if I want.

Thirdly, what an arrogant fool, this Lord and Pope, trying to define whose mother is Jewish and whose isn't. The child of a Jewish mother (including a mother who converted to Judaism) is universally recognized as Jewish. He says, "you didn't follow my ritual dunking, you ain't Jewish!!!". Fuck His Royal Lordship.

Oh, he doesn't just tell Jews what to do. He has [url=good">http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article6904463.ece?token=... advice for Muslims too[/url]:

Quote:

The Chief Rabbi has called on Muslims to get used to living as a minority in Britain and to learn to separate religion from power.

Lord Sacks said that neither Muslims nor Christians had yet learnt the lessons inflicted on the Jewish people by the Babylonian exile.

“One of the great advantages of being Jewish is you know how to sing in the minor key,” he said. “We have had 26 centuries of experience ever since the Babylonian exile of living as a minority in the midst of a culture that does not share our views. Christianity and Islam have not had that experience.”

On reflection, perhaps "low life" was too charitable a description of this pompous supercilious ass-kisser of the British monarchy.

Now, would anyone be interested in knowing how I really feel about Lord Sucks?

 

Jaku

Thanks for proving my point.

Unionist

Jaku wrote:

Thanks for proving my point.

Glad to help. I know how much difficulty you have proving your own points.

By the way, if you're talking to His Lordship any time soon, remind him that Hitler murdered anyone who had one Jewish grandparent - yet His Holiness wouldn't stoop to allow someone of such questionable heritage into His "Jewish" schools.

For babblers not familiar with the habits of the real "self-hating Jews", there is tonnes of material out there - [url=here">http://jta.org/news/article/2009/07/07/1006367/new-rules-have-diaspora-c...'s a typical horror story[/url] out of Israel, where they are very very picky about whom they accept as a "Jew", unless of course the directive comes from the U.S. to open the floodgates to hundreds of thousands of Russian immigrants, etc.

 

Prophit

My point was very simple and it seems to have soared over most peoples heads. We gain much more credibility using civil language than we do sounding like bullies.

remind remind's picture

Quote:
By the way, if you're talking to His Lordship any time soon, remind him that Hitler murdered anyone who had one Jewish grandparent - yet His Holiness wouldn't stoop to allow someone of such questionable heritage into His "Jewish" schools.

this point is huge  as far as i am concerned....my dad's parents and grandparents, hid who they were, just because of their experience with pogroms, and in the past i found myself not wanting to admit i have Jewish heritage, in case at some point in the future Jews again become the target.

This should not be...ever a consideration for anyone...but it was...and sometimes still is.

Stargazer

I found the language very offensive. here he reports:

The rules also mandate 350 hours of classes and hands-on practice for converts in the Diaspora (modeled on standards set in Israel for its official conversion institute) and bar any convert who has a non-Jewish relative living in Israel and anyone whose stay in Israel was previously deemed illegal for any period of time.

Even more disturbing is this:

Rabbi Uri Maklev, a Knesset member from the United Torah Judaism party, said through an aide that the rules are meant to protect Israel from those who seek to wrongfully enter as inauthentic Jews.

“We want to safeguard the quality of the Judaism," Maklev said. "There may be many who would like to join, but there are certain standards that need to be maintained and that seems to be the intention of these criteria. Even if one person gets into the country under false pretenses that is a problem, as it can affect generations down the line.”

Racial/Ethnic purity. Where did we hear that before? Oh yes...the man whose name shall not be mentioned.

Unionist

Prophit wrote:

My point was very simple and it seems to have soared over most peoples heads. We gain much more credibility using civil language than we do sounding like bullies.

We're among friends here (mostly). I can speak my mind freely. Do you actually believe that I speak this way in public? Or do you have some lingering respect for this aristocrat who is trying to decree who is a Jew and who is not?

How about just setting your concerns about language aside momentarily and let us know what you think of what Chief Rabbi Sacks has to say?

 

Star Spangled C...

Unionist wrote:

 The child of a Jewish mother (including a mother who converted to Judaism) is universally recognized as Jewish. He says, "you didn't follow my ritual dunking, you ain't Jewish!!!". Fuck His Royal Lordship.

Yes, the child of a Jewish mother, including one who converted, is universally recognized as Jewish. That's not the issue and you know it. Not all CONVERSIONS (indeed, most) are not "universally recognized" by any means. Orthodox institutions, for the most part, will only accept conversions overseen by an Orthodox beis din.

The example of Hitler wanting to include anyone with a trace of Jewish blood in his genocidal plans is also a complete non-sequitar. Baruch hashem, Hitler doesn't get to decide who qualifies as Jewish anymore and chas v'shalom we should ever place authority of halachic authority in the hands of Hitler, yemach shemo.

Sorry, the in-laws are speaking Hebrew and it's contagious...

Unionist

Star Spangled Canadian wrote:
Not all CONVERSIONS (indeed, most) are not "universally recognized" by any means...

Yes, I realize very well that there are sectarian fanatics who try to dictate who is Jewish and who is not. That was my whole point about "ritual dunking".

Quote:
yemach shemo ...

I prefer, yimach shemo v'zichro, but then, these are acceptable variations within the Jewish family, right?

Now, did you have a view on the subject matter of the thread - including what Rabbi Sacks is saying?

 

oldgoat

Quote:
Do you actually believe that I speak this way in public?

.
You don't? Well I'm disillusioned.

Star Spangled C...

Unionist wrote:

Now, did you have a view on the subject matter of the thread - including what Rabbi Sacks is saying?

Not particularly strong ones, given that a) I'm not Orthodox b) am not British and c) have no interest in sending my son to this school.

I think this situation illustrates the key challenge with government and religion getting involved with each other, namely that when you accept government financial support, government feels entitled to interfere in religious practice. Obviously, government should play no role in interpreting the Torah but since they're footing the bill, it practically invites them to.

That said, I think the horror some have over "government funding religious schools" - for example what we saw in the last Ontario provincial election - overlooks the fact that government already funds plenty of religious institutions - and I don't jsut mean Catholic primary and secondary schools. There are public universities like St. Francis Xavier. There are hospitals with various religious affiliations and paid clergy on staff. At the public hospital where I work, for example, there's an Orthodox rabbi who is on staff - his main job being the supervision of the kosher food we order for patients who request it. So, here is a public hospital using taxpayers money to pay a rabbi to ensure compliance with religious dietary laws...and, frankly, I have no problem with it. I also don't think that because the government is funding kosher food, they should get any say over Jewish law.

Stargazer

So what about this statement?

“We want to safeguard the quality of the Judaism," Maklev said. "There may be many who would like to join, but there are certain standards that need to be maintained and that seems to be the intention of these criteria. Even if one person gets into the country under false pretenses that is a problem, as it can affect generations down the line.”


 

Star Spangled C...

Well, I DO agree that "certain standards need to be maintained" as I'm sure would people of any religion - that conversion to a religion can't just be a matter of signing a form or something. Now I'm not familiar with what the standards employed by the rabbinate in Britain or in Israel actually are. My understanding (and I'm certainly no rabbi or scholar) are that women have to immerse in a mikvah and men must immerse in a mikvah and also undergo a circumcision (and some say Judaism gives women a raw deal!) I would assume that BEFORE these processes take place, whoever is supervising the conversion would ahve the potential convert undergo a period of study and adopting different practices and then evaluate them to make sure they're ready.

Jaku

Unionist wrote:

Prophit wrote:

My point was very simple and it seems to have soared over most peoples heads. We gain much more credibility using civil language than we do sounding like bullies.

We're among friends here (mostly). I can speak my mind freely. Do you actually believe that I speak this way in public? Or do you have some lingering respect for this aristocrat who is trying to decree who is a Jew and who is not?

How about just setting your concerns about language aside momentarily and let us know what you think of what Chief Rabbi Sacks has to say?

 

Unionist, Babble is not a closed room. It is as public as it gets.

Prophit

Unionist wrote:

"We're among friends here (mostly). I can speak my mind freely. Do you actually believe that I speak this way in public? Or do you have some lingering respect for this aristocrat who is trying to decree who is a Jew and who is not?

How about just setting your concerns about language aside momentarily and let us know what you think of what Chief Rabbi Sacks has to say?"

Well in fact places like Babble are very public Unionist. As for Rabbi Sacks, I am not a practicing Jew so I have very little to say. I just believe in using civil language to make a point. I have always felt that people resort to abusive language when they are unable to articulate. I know you are more than capable Unionist . However when you and others here who have a good facility with language resort to gutter words you lose me and I would argue many others.

remind remind's picture

"gutter words"?

oldgoat

Excuse me, but how about we get back on topic here.  I'd normally say take it to rabble reactions, but theres really not much to take. If anyone doesn't like unionists expressive style they can skip past his posts.  Also, if you think that's gutter talk, you ain't seen the gutter in my neighbourhood, bucko.

Unionist

Ok, ok, I repent.

I'm sorry I called him Lord Sacks. I will try not to do it again (no promises, just best efforts). I didn't realize how offensive some would find it.

I would also like to express my appreciation to Jaku and Prophit for having posted a total of six (6) times in this thread without ever once being drawn into the actual substantive discussion. I admire their forbearance and will seek to emulate it.

Now, back to correcting spelling errors and writing style...

 

Makwa Makwa's picture

As a child of a Jewish man and an Aboriginal woman, I was led to understand that both cultures believed in matrilinial (trying desperately to spell liniage or lineage or something.)

Unionist

You're right for the Jews, Makwa, as I mentioned in post #14 above:

Quote:
The child of a Jewish mother (including a mother who converted to Judaism) is universally recognized as Jewish.

The paternal line isn't considered relevant.

 

Star Spangled C...

I believe Reform judaism will consider a child Jewish even if only the father is Jewish.

Interestingly enough, when it comes to the status of a child WITHIN Judaism (Kohen, Levi, Yisroel), it is wholly dependent on the father, not the mother.

Jingles

Quote:
Well, I DO agree that "certain standards need to be maintained" as I'm sure would people of any religion - that conversion to a religion can't just be a matter of signing a form or something.

Why not? 

What kind of "standards need to be maintained"? Skin color? Education? Wealth? Prison record? I'd like to know what "standard " needs to be met to be allowed to believe in one particular fairy tale over another.

Quote:
men must immerse in a mikvah and also undergo a circumcision (and some say Judaism gives women a raw deal!)

Ya. Men have it so much worse that women. Especially the parts of (all) religions which tell women that they worth less than men, that they are only useful as walking incubators and milk dispensers, that they shouldn't be seen in public, but if they are they must display the proper subservience to men, that they cannot fully partake in the rights and traditions of the religion's power elite because they menstruate, and that their bodies are the property of men. 

BTW, why does God hate foreskins? Did he catch his in a zipper once?

Star Spangled C...

Wow. Where in the Torah does it say all that? Have you actually read it? Or just bashing Judaism based on what you think it says?

Unionist

Star Spangled Canadian wrote:

I believe Reform judaism will consider a child Jewish even if only the father is Jewish.

Hey wow! That would make my kids Jewish! How do I convert from Atheist to Reform? And after that, how do I break the news to them?

Quote:
Interestingly enough, when it comes to the status of a child WITHIN Judaism (Kohen, Levi, Yisroel), it is wholly dependent on the father, not the mother.

The Jews are a wise people. That's why we left the purely ornamental yichus to the father's side. It takes so little to make men happy.

ETA: As for Jingles' comments about subservience of women, he is absolutely correct. Don't just read the Torah. Have a peek at the Talmud, and particularly the Shulchan Aruch. Invisibility and "purity" of women is a running theme.

 

Star Spangled C...

I haven't learned much Talmud but I've learned a good chunk of Shulchan Aruch, which is based on Talmud. "Purity" certainly IS arunning theme but applies quite strongly to men as well. One could even argue it applies more strongly for men who are Kohanim and strongest of all for the Kohain Gadol.

Unionist

Oh get serious. Tzniut is everything but the burka. And you're right, men can't go near "unclean" women, which I guess makes them "equal", right? And sticking the women behind a mechitsa in shul is equality too - like the blacks and whites were equally forbidden to marry each other in South Africa? Or the rich and poor are equally forbidden to sleep under bridges (ref. Anatole France)? Except that the woman can't be seen by anyone except her husband. No such invisibility applies to the Male of the species.

Don't know how many examples you'd like, but we could continue in this vein for a long time. All these religions treat women like shit. A few modern inventions are the exception to that rule.

 

Unionist

Back to the thread topic - the newly-formed British Supreme Court has joined in the chorus, in a narrow majority:

[url=Jewish">http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/dec/16/jewish-school-loses-appe... school loses appeal[/url]

First impressions:

1. This is what happens when a xenophobic fanatic like Sacks dictates "who is a Jew" according to his own prejudices.

2. This is what happens in a society where fully one-third of publicly funded schools are religious. Ultimately, the decision must be made whether religion or money talks louder.

In any event, none of this bodes well, either for the U.K. or for Jews. The U.K. could consider cutting off all funding to any educational institution based on any religion, ethnicity, etc. The problem would be solved overnight.

 

Caissa

Interesting that it was a 5-4 decision. I wonder whether there was a dissenting opinion presented.