This is a guest post by Jonathan Hoffman
Jonathan Romain had an appalling piece in CiF last Wednesday about the Supreme Court’s JFS judgment.
If a rabbi writes about the JFS judgment (which was about the right of the school to give preference to halachically authentic Jewish children – that is, children whose mother is halachically Jewish or who have converted in an Orthodox way, recognised by the Chief Rabbi) you’d maybe like to know whether he was an Orthodox or non-Orthodox rabbi. Well, Jonathan Romain never tells you that he is non-Orthodox, either in his article or in his bio on the CiF site. And if that author says he is a member of an organisation that is ‘concerned about how faith schools operate’, you’d maybe want to know a bit more. For example if that organisation wanted to abolish faith schools completely, you’d maybe like to know that. The Accord Coalition, of which Jonathan Romain is the Chairman, is rather coy about saying this: we read on its home page that it “takes no position on the desirability or undesirability of state-funded faith schools.” But go to its declaration of aims and you find this as the first “aim”:
Operate admissions policies that take no account of pupils’ – or their parents’ – religion or beliefs.
No equivocation there then.
For Romain, the JFS judgment was the first salvo in a battle that he hopes will end with the death of faith schools. No wonder we get such hyperbole from him:
It is no exaggeration to say that the supreme court has just saved the Jewish community from itself. Or, rather, from the more right-wing exclusivist tendencies that unfortunately seem to exert much greater sway than they deserve to.
And no wonder accuracy takes a back seat:
….and just as most people regard Anglicans, Catholics, Baptists, Methodists and others as all Christian, so most Jews regard each other as fellow Jews.
That’s really not correct. A Jew who attends a Liberal synagogue has about as much in common with a Chassid from Stamford Hill as he does with Her Majesty The Queen – possibly less.
And then Romain believes that the Judgment has implications for other religions:
This applies to other religious schools – whether Christian, Muslim or Hindu – which are controlled by one strand of the faith and can deny access to children of other groups within it.
It really doesn’t. Those faiths are not regarded as a ‘race’ under the UK’s Race Relations legislation. Judaism is – and that was the problem.
As I argued after reading the Appeal Court judgment, it turned on ‘false equivalence’: the Judges said that what is sauce for the Race Relations Act goose, must be sauce for the school admissions gander: they said that Jews are correctly treated as a racial group for the purposes of the Race Relations Act but that means that a school admissions policy that relies on the Orthodox definition of Judaism (matrilineal descent or Orthodox conversion) is illegal. But the definition of a Jew for the purposes of the Race Relations Act is much wider than the biblical one which the Chief Rabbi and JFS have. It is invalid to equate the two.
Romain descends into arrant nonsense:
Whether one is religious or not, many will agree that state-funded faith schools should serve not just themselves but also the community around them. JFS was adopting an approach that breached that sense of inclusivity and fair play…. [The Judgment] will also serve as a wake-up call to all state-funded faith schools to honour their responsibilities to wider society.
Utter drivel. JFS was not failing to “serve … the community around it” or ”to honour its obligations to wider society.”
It simply fell foul of Sir Stephen Sedley’s zeal (and that of his two Appeal Court colleagues) to use his judicial office as an instrument of social engineering.