Friday, December 18, 2009

What is a Jew?

December 18, 2009

The new British Supreme Court has ruled on a case regarding admission to a well known London school called JFS, formerly the Jewish Free School. A child whose mother is a Jewish convert and whose whole family is observant in a progressive synagogue was denied admission to the school which comes out of an Orthodox Jewish Tradition. The school sets its definition of a Jew by that of the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations in the Commonwealth, and Orthodox group, which says that a Jew must be born of an Orthodox Jewish mother.

The majority of the judges ruled that this is discrimination based on ethnic identity rather than religious belief under English law and since the school receives state funding (even though it is allowed to favor Jewish applicants) they have to follow non discriminatory admissions practices. Some judges suggested that the law might need to be changed to accommodate JFS concerns.

Others who have been denied admission (even when they have a close relationship with the school) ask why it is that an atheist whose mother happens to be Jewish should be preferred over the child of an observant convert. This is a reasonable question

One place where this kind of issue affects us is when we are trying to balance our desire to be hospitable with our desire not to be ‘used’ by people seeking a wedding at All Saints’. Some people want to meet all the requirements for ‘membership’ without any interest in the spirit of what it means to be an active participant in this community of faith. Others insist that their active participation means that their adult children who live elsewhere have a ‘right’ to be married at All Saints’. Our desire is to be generous and inmost situations we are happy and able to accommodate all kinds of circumstance. Where it gets tricky is when those desiring to be married start acting as though they have rented the church, the clergy and the staff along with their tuxedos. In the end we do plenty of ‘non member weddings’ but find that there is no rule or standard that ensures the kind of attitude that makes for a happy occasion for all concerned.

There are of course other places where ‘membership’ is an issue. Why should an active baptized member of the congregation who, for whatever personal reason chooses not to seek confirmation or reception into this branch of the church, not be able to vote in a vestry election, let alone offer him or herself for office?

I’m sure the Supreme Court ruling will complicate things for JFS in some way but suspect that no clear standard of membership will really achieve what they want, human beings being what we are.

You can read about the case here

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