British and American Courts Threaten Jews’ Independence

 Orthodox Jews in Britain and the United States fear that recent court cases are taking away their right to define who is Jewish and will destroy Jewish identity. Despite a recent British ruling against a Jewish school deciding who may enroll, the courts have allowed Muslim “Sharia” courts to act independent of British law. The British Court of Appeals in December overturned a lower court decision and ruled that a Jewish school violated the British Race Relations Act by not accepting a child whose mother did not convert according to Jewish law. The judges in effect took over the power from religious authorities to define who is a Jew. Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, wrote in the London Jewish Chronicle, ”Any discrimination, regardless of motive, between Jew and non-Jew, unless specifically exempted by law, has now been held to contravene the 1976 Race Relations Act.” On the Chief Rabbi’s website (, he wrote:

“You do not have to be an expert in jurisprudence to realise that, as one of the judges put it, the court’s decision “leads to such extraordinary results, and produces such manifest discrimination against Jewish schools in comparison with other faith schools, that one can’t help feeling that something has gone wrong.”

He added, “We must now work with Parliament and the Equality and Human Rights Commission to do what several of the judges advise, namely to seek legislative remedy. In doing so we will find support from across the political community. We must proceed together as a community, using the principle that ‘on matters that affect us regardless of our religious differences, we will work together regardless of our religious differences.’” While non-orthodox leaders praised the ruling, David Frei, registrar at the London Beth Din, told that non-Orthodox movements are a “deviation from authentic Judaism”. He added, “There is no such thing as more Jewish, any more than there is any such thing as more British. You are either Jewish or you are not. In the eyes of Orthodoxy, there is no more point in a non-Orthodox convert keeping mitzvot than there is for the pope to do so. Neither is considered to be Jewish.” In the United States, the National Council of Young Israel (YI) has filed a legal brief in the United States Supreme Court on behalf of a coalition of minority religious groups – including Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and African American and Hispanic Christians – to defend the right of religious organizations to remain autonomous and to choose their members and leaders.

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