Monday, 29 June 2009

Who is a Jew ?

Last week the Court of Appeal issued an extraordinary judgement in the case of E v JFS School [2009] EWCA Civ 626 where it decided that it was better qualified than the Chief Rabbi to decide whether or not a particular youth was jewish. This decision reversed an earlier High Court judgement [2008] EWHC 1535/1536 (Admin).

The essence of the case was that JFS School (formerly the Jewish Free School) is a faith school which selects students who are Jewish and it accepts the decision of the Chief Rabbi as to who is or is not Jewish. E's mother converted to Judaism in a reform synagogue and that conversion is not recognised as valid by the Chief Rabbi who only accepts conversions through Orthodox Synagogues. For this reason E was not accepted by the school as being Jewish because Orthodox Judaism accepts descent through the mother (matrilineal descent) and since E's mother was not accepted as being Jewish neither was he.

This may be regarded as a pretty hard set of rules but it is one which has been applied by Jewdaism for some 3000 years during which period Jews have survived the Pharaohs, Assyrians, Seleucid Greeks, Romans and the Nazis so you would have thought that the Jews had earned the right to decide these questions for themselves well not in modern Britain they're not. The Court of Appeal decided that the policy was "racist" and therefore it must be overturned and they, the Court of Appeal were entitled to overrule the Chief Rabbi and decide that E was in fact Jewish.

I frankly find this decision dangerous, if a religion cannot even decide for itself who its members are then what real freedom do religions have left ? What I find more worrying is that during the High Court case the Counsel for E relied upon the
Nazi Nuremberg Laws in support of her proposition that E should be regarded as Jewish (I am not making this up see paras 286 to 301 of the High Court decision). The question I ask is this if the Court of Appeal is deciding that it can say someone is Jewish even though other Jews do not regard them as such then isn't this similar in principle to what the Nazis were doing ? Under the Nazis "Jews" who were Christians were still regarded as Jews and sent to the concentration camps. The lessons of history are that once the state starts defining who people are we are into dangerous waters indeed.

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