A judge ruled this week that JFS, a Jewish school in London, was not guilty of racial discrimination when it refused to admit a Jewish boy because his mother was not born a Jew (she was a born a Catholic but converted before he was born). The judge claimed that the kind of admissions policy in question was "not materially different from that which gives preference in admission to a Muslim school to those who were born Muslim, or preference in admission to a Catholic school to those who have been baptised."
I think this is questionable. There is nothing in Islam or Catholicism (or indeed many strands of Judaism) that requires the mother, father or child to be "born" into that religion on some kind of ethnic basis. After conversion, or reversion, whatever that person used to be is irrelevant and they become a fully paid up member of the religion who in theory at least cannot be discriminated against. I tend to agree with the parent position that the school admission code contained a test "not based on faith but wholly or partly on ethnic origins" - something which is surely against race discrimination legislation?
Of course, it may not be that simple. Unlike Islam and Christianity, which seek to convert all of humanity to their cause, Judaism tends to be a religion one is born into rather than converted to, and has a history based around the ethnicity and traditions of a people. If we considered the refusal to admit a person with a non-Jewish mother as unlawful racial discrimination, we would be attacking the Orthodox version of the religion itself.
My experience of Jewish schools is shaped mainly from the excellent nearby King David Primary School in Birmingham, on which Jeremy Jacobs has written an excellent article on here. My mum always used to tell me that they did not admit Catholics into this school, not for any religious reasons but simply because there were so many Catholic schools in Birmingham to serve the Catholic community, but they welcomed applications from other religions and not least Muslims who were more than happy to apply in the absence of any Islamic schools which only became available relatively recently. I remember going to this King David's on a visit from my Catholic primary in order to learn about Jewish traditions, although to be honest at that age we tended to be more interested in having running races with the pupils of that school during break time than learning the traditions of Passover. Boys will be boys.
The admissions policy of King David Primary probably put a seed in my mind that Jews and Muslims make natural allies, something I still tend to believe and promote today, a position which has become more entrenched as I learn more about the history of Europe and the Middle-East. While there is no doubt the issue of Israel has sullied relations between the two religions in recent years, and there have been periods of intolerance between the religions before then, I believe that these positions tend to be promoted by certain groups for short-term political gain, and are not an accurate reflection of the much more complicated relationship that has existed between the two religions.
Do people have any thoughts on this? Is King David the exception rather than the rule and do I have a warped understanding of the relationship between Islam and Judaism as a result. And is JFS discriminating racially by not allowing in children born to non-Jewish mothers even when they have converted. I would be interested to know what you think.