Separation Anxiety: British Courts To Decide Who Is a Jew

225px-HappynewyearcardThere is an intriguing case in London where the British courts will decide who is a Jew and who decides such a question. The British have long maintained publicly supported religious schools — an affront to the separation of church and state. Now, inevitably, the state must decide who can be excluded from one of the Jewish schools run by the government. Not surprisingly, at the heart of the controversy is Lord Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, who recently blamed secularism for the decline and potential fall of Western Civilization, here. He insists that only children with Jewish mothers (recognized in Orthodox synagogues) are truly Jewish.

The daughter of David Lightman was one of the children denied entry in the Jews’ Free School, one of the many publicly supported religious schools. She was denied entry because her mother converted to Judaism in a reform synagogue rather than an Orthodox synagogue. The Jews’ Free School was founded in 1732 and is one of roughly 7,000 publicly financed religious schools..

Sacks and others do not recognize kids as Jewish unless they are recognized by the Orthodox sect. This has been a controversy in Israel for many years and has divided the Jewish population, (here). Many Jews reject Orthodox views and belong to conservative or reform synagogues.

The family of a child identified only as M lost in the initial case, but that ruling was overturned by the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals found the use of Sacks’ definition of Jewish was discriminatory and that ““benign or malignant, theological or supremacist, makes it no less and no more unlawful.” Now, the Supreme Court will decided the question.

The case reaffirms that need for separation of church and state. Such questions should not be answered by the government, which should also not be in the business of subsidizing religious education. However, rather than questioning the state support of religious schools, the court will rule on who decides matters of faith — the religion or the State. Normally, I would be very sympathetic with the religious organizations that this is no question of judges to decide. However, these organizations asked for the intermingling of the state with religion — and may now reap the costs of such a failure of separation.

200px-Sirjonathansacks225px-Tony_Blair_WEF09England seems to be moving aggressively away from separation principles with the incorporation of religious courts (here and schools in the system as well as public officials calling for more religion in society . Lord Sacks is one of those insisting that secularism is the cause of the impending loss of Europe to fundamentalism (a veiled reference to Islam). With the recent move by the Obama Administration to support the principle of blasphemy laws (here), the West appears to be moving in the wrong direction. If Sacks is concerned about Western Civilization, he may want to start with the separation of church and state.

For the full story, click here.

7 thoughts on “Separation Anxiety: British Courts To Decide Who Is a Jew”

    “WHO IS A JEW”





    Chabad Motto? If At First You Don’t Succeed, Sue the Victim

    A Chabad man serves as the hazzan of a Chabad synagogue. Several years ago, outside another synagogue after a community event, the Chabad hazzan sexually assaults a woman who is a member of the Chabad synagogue. He is eventually arrested and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of lewd conduct. He is sentenced, serves a very brief time, is given probation and community service.

    Meanwhile, the victim civilly sues Chabad, in part because she claims Chabad sheltered the hazzan. Now Chabad has sought a judgment against the victim for more than $175,000 in attorneys’ fees, and a judge is about to grant that.

    The Chabad? Las Vegas, Nevada. The Rabbi? She Harlig. The hazzan? Michael Segelstein. As Jewish Survivors notes:

    Rabbi Harlig is attempting to sue a rape victim for attorney fees. This is a rape victim of a convicted sex offender who is on the national sex offender list.

    Immediately after the arrest, Rabbi Harlig falsely claimed this victim – who worked in the synagogue’s kitchen – was not Jewish. She went to the RCA’s beit din. They investigated and found Rabbi Harlig’s claim false. The woman is the daughter of a Jewish holocaust survivor from Vienna, Austria. The beit din issued her a document verifying her Jewishness. But, during the time the beit din was investigating Rabbi Harlig’s false claims, this woman’s teenage son – a very active synagogue goer and participant – was forced to sit in the back of the synagogue. He was banned from receiving aliyot or leading services. And he was shunned by other members, as was his mother, apparently at the direction of Rabbi Harlig.

    And the man who attempted to rape this woman? He is a proud member of Chabad to this day, leading services and fully participating in synagogue life.

    A double standard? You bet it is. And that double standard is sanctioned by and orchestrated by Chabad-Lubavitch.

  2. “Now I’m just stating here the bare bones of the issue. Personally, I believe the Ultra-Orthodox position is ego masquerading as morality. I think that anyone who wants to live as a Jew and practice Judaism should be able to do so. I have known many “converted” Jews who were more pious and more Jewish, than some born to it. Make no mistake about it though this is merely the type of internecine battles that occur with all religions. They usually have little to do with either morality and/or piety.”

    Mike, that is very well put as is your complete response to the article. I disagree with you on some points, but it is well written. Prof. Turley is of course absolutely right, with his opinion that the British government should not get involved in these matters. It is ludicrous that they continue to do so. I do not know the legality of excluding someone from your private school based on religion here in the USA. I would imagine though that it is illegal. The story in England is clearly a very mean one as the school was not even a religous school. I disagree with you Mike that this issue is merely a power struggle. To say who is a jew is not the job or right bestowed on any one Rabbi or even a group of Rabbis. It a fundamental tradition that is a very important part of the religion. I will not go into many of the ramifications now as I am tired and have to get up early tomorrow. It is not a mean rule meant to exclude people. Also, your reasoning that the mother bestows the religion because of DNA testing is flawed as it is not true. That implies that the rule is no longer applicable nowadays and it’s only those whiny Orthodox Rabbis who are making a ruckus for pleasure and profit. However it is actually the Bible that establishes this rule. The Old Testament, called by religous jews the Chumash, the Mishnah and then the Talmud provide the basis for jewish and Noahide laws. These are followed by the writings of the Geonim (lit. “great ones”) and then the writings of Rabbi Joseph Karo (among others) who compiled thousands of laws into his great work “Shulchan Aruch” (lit. “A Set Table”). These were followed and preceded by many other s.

    {As an aside, there is a very funny (and true) legend in a jewish school I went to that one of the students was informed by the rabbis one day that according to Halacha, the traditional, comprehensive jewish code of law, he was not really jewish. Legend has it that his way of dealing with that situation was to party hearty and he immediately headed for the nearest McDonalds. Lol!}

    Here is a link to a reputable site that breaks it down Talmud style:

    I will not blame anyone if they don’t get it; the Talmud is notoriously hard to decipher. I have difficulty with the Bible itself, which is supposed to be easier.

  3. “It is only loosey goosey reform judaism”

    John J.
    It is also Conservative Judaism that is being dissed. I happen to be a lifelong Conservative Jew and consider it to be superior to Jewish Orthodoxy when it come to allowing women to be part of ritual and a Rabbinate that is not restrictive on a sexual basis.
    Orthodox Jews may feel differently, but having grown up in a large Orthodox family (both sides)my view of Orthodoxy and hypocrisy is somewhat more jaundiced than yours.

  4. Jonathan:

    You make a huge mistake here. Britain does not have the separation of Church and State. It has a State Religion for crying out loud. The entire peace of the country is based on the settlement of the Glorious Revolution which is why no one who is Catholic or marries a Catholic can become King.

    Secondly, you are missing something. If anybody can be Jewish those schools could be swamped by Muslims bent on their destruction.

    Third, the most telling point in your confused item is that the school has existed since 1732. So, for longer than this Country has been independent of Great Britain, they have been running a Jewish school with Governent approval or support? Given the history of Europe this is to be lauded not derided.

    Finally, you have a point about the Government deciding who is a Jew but I note it has not been a problem in the past. It is only loosey goosey reform judaism and multi-culti modern Britain that now makes this a controversy.

    I’m sure all they need is a lesbian, atheist rabbi to settle the question. Jeesh.

  5. Dredd,
    Paul has nothing to do with this. This is simply another in the ongoing battles within Judaism of the Ultra-Orthodox, represented by Rabbi Sacks and the other larger members of the Jewish Community. By Jewish law being considered Jewish, from a religious perspective, is matri-lineal. This is because until DNS knowing that a woman gave birth was the only actual proof available.

    Judaism has never emphasized proselytizing. This is because Jewish belief is that people of all faiths who behave righteously are equally beloved by God. For pious Jews one takes on the burden (yoke) of following the 613 commandments as laid out in the Torah. This is considered very hard and unnecessary for non-Jews, since God loves all humans anyway. The afterlife does not play a the same role of importance for Jews as it does for Christians and Muslims. Jews believe that we are the “chosen people” in that humanity’s mission is to heal the world and the Jew should aid in this by setting an example living God’s 613 commandments. In fact traditionally non-Jews who want to be converted are to be discouraged with the explanation that they could live righteous live following the Noah-tic Law and the Ten Commandments.

    The argument, which has come about with the success of both the Conservative and Reformed Jewsih Movement is one of power and authority. Orthodox Jews claim that only their conversions are acceptable, whereas Conservative and Reformed Jews believe theirs are just as valid. This battle is ongoing in Israel, the US and presumably Great Britain. Lord Sacks may be called Chief Rabbi, but that is really only a term recognized by non-Jews and those followers of his Orthododox tradition. In truth knowing Jews I would say that he doesn’t even have recognized full authority over England’s Orthodox Jews.

    Now I’m just stating here the bare bones of the issue. Personally, I believe the Ultra-Orthodox position is ego masquerading as morality. I think that anyone who wants to live as a Jew and practice Judaism should be able to do so. I have known many “converted” Jews who were more pious and more Jewish, than some born to it. Make no mistake about it though this is merely the type of internecine battles that occur with all religions. They usually have little to do with either morality and/or piety.

  6. Uh oh … is a battle raging between the Tanakh and Paul of Tarsis … or is power tripping at the bottom of this?

    A read of the Tanakh indicates that Jews are the descendants of Judah, who was one of the sons of Israel.

    Paul expanded upon the theme to remove it from a DNA thingy into a conceptual thingy when he said “he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, but he is a Jew who is one inwardly”.

    Technically the Levites of the tribe of Levi, not Jews of the tribe of Judah, would be the only one’s qualified to answer “who are Jews”, because the Levites were the official priests and judges.

    Paul also said “nothing is spoken concerning priesthood for Judah” when he indicated Christ was not of the Levitical priesthood (Heb 7:14).

    Christian judges doing levitical judgments is a strange brew.

  7. “The Court of Appeals found the use of Sacks’ definition of Jewish was discriminatory and that ““benign or malignant, theological or supremacist, makes it no less and no more unlawful.” Now, the Supreme Court will decided the question.”


    This sounds like double speak and England has gotten itself in a battle it cannot win and most certainly make everyone happy. Hopefully they do not sell out to the highest solicitor.

    What is interesting that at the time that the Jewish schools were being created in 1732, this was about the same time that the abolitionist movement was gathering steam in many of a country’s including England.

    In reading, not that I have done much. Many Jews were being systematically offered an option to move from there original country of origin, England accepted a number of them.

    So it does not surprise me in the least that they would have created a separate school system for the Jews to go to as they would not be welcomed Freely at other institutions of learning which were only offered for the “Talented Poor.”

    I do think Ollie, that this is another fine mess you have gotten us into.

    The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 (citation 3 & 4 Will. IV c. 73) was an 1833 Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom abolishing slavery throughout most of the British Empire

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