A kid with a mother who was a convert to Judaism was refused entry to a Jewish high school. Using Orthodox classification, it was decided that since the mother wasn’t converted in an Orthodox synagogue, neither she nor the kid qualified as Jewish.
The family sued, and lost, but the court of appeal found that the matter may raise issues of race discrimination.
As the The New York Times reports:
The case rested on whether the school’s test of Jewishness was based on religion, which would be legal, or on race or ethnicity, which would not. The court ruled that it was an ethnic test because it concerned the status of M’s mother rather than whether M considered himself Jewish and practiced Judaism.
“The requirement that if a pupil is to qualify for admission his mother must be Jewish, whether by descent or conversion, is a test of ethnicity which contravenes the Race Relations Act,” the court said. It added that while it was fair that Jewish schools should give preference to Jewish children, the admissions criteria must depend not on family ties, but “on faith, however defined.”
There are obvious ramifications for other schools, particularly Catholic and Islamic schools, which have their own version of “who’s who”.
The highly volatile nature of this dispute in the Jewish community, however, is now a part of the cultural landscape.
(For the benefit of non-Jews who aren’t aware of this controversy, the differences between liberal and Orthodox Jews on this subject occasionally make the Democrats and Republicans look like identical Siamese twins. This is a very hot, emotional issue.)
The outrage factor is pretty well defined by this quote:
“How dare they question our beliefs and our Jewishness?” David Lightman, an observant Jewish father whose daughter was also denied a place at the school because it did not recognize her mother’s conversion, told reporters recently. “I find it offensive and very upsetting.”
Another quote in the article from Rabbi Danny Rich states that 40 per cent of American Jews wouldn’t qualify as Jewish under the Orthodox definition.
The Orthodox position is based on interpretation of Judaic law, and is strictly traditional. This view has remained unchanged despite many clashes with liberal Jews and incidents in which the definition has been called into question.
What’s obvious is that nothing has been achieved in terms of depolarization. There’s no indication of any middle ground or compromise scenario. It remains a major split in a community which can reasonably be said to have seen its share of problems over the millennia.
After 5000 years, an identity crisis?
Doesn't quite ring true, somehow....