The Sceptic Blog

Random thoughts of a random chappy

The who is a Jew crisis – whose fault?

with 2 comments

1. The British Jewish community is now in serious trouble, its right to have schools for Jews threatened on two sides. The High Court is about to decide whether JFS can apply its admissions criteria by reference to exclusively orthodox criteria of Jewish status. And the government has recently changed, and is currently in the process of a critical examination of the application of, the laws of selective admission as they relate to faith schools.

2. The surest way to resolve both crises is to determine whose fault they are.

3. In typical style the British Jewish community has already offered a number of possible public answers to that: the Chief Rabbi, the London Beth Din, the parents of the children challenging admissions.

4. In other words, everyone except the rank and file of the British Jewish community: but it is we who have brought this on our selves.

5. A reform leader went on the BBC Radio 4 this morning to explain that the JFS crisis is because orthodox rabbis do not recognise “all” decisions of the reform, so that “technically” the child is not Jewish.

6. An orthodox rabbi was asked to reply to that – so he said “Judaism is not a democracy – you have to abide by the rules.”

7. Which is the point. When judges or Ministers examine our community to see these selective rules in application, they will see that we enforce them strictly only against people on the outside looking in. Once a person is accepted as “technically” Jewish, they can eat what they like, do what they like, and nobody regards them as beyond the pale of the community. But the product of a reform conversion, who may observe more of the rules of kashrut than 90% of our community, who may pray to God more often than 95% of our community, is dismissed as unworthy to mix with our children because of being not Jewish.

8. This attitude is halachically sound, but spiritually bankrupt. While we as a community hold our own rules of religion in apparent contempt, why should we expect judges or Ministers to accord respect to any of them?

9. In the tochahah warnings, God warns that if we behave as if the world is without a ruler, He will allow the world to carry on as if it were. Here too, if we behave as though being Jewish is a matter of mere genetics, God will show us the emptiness and futility of that approach.

10. So the only real answer is, as always, nachpeso derochienu venoshuvo – to sort out our own communal behaviour. If we can live in a way which gives the impression that the rules of the Torah and the rabbis are worthy of respect, perhaps others outside the community will be encouraged to follow suit.


Written by Daniel Greenberg

March 16, 2008 at 8:02 am

2 Responses

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  1. i admire your belief that if we could communally attain a higher spiritual level then these sort of problems would not occur. however, this perhaps side-steps the current problem. there is a very awkward problem in that people who are regarded by themselves and some sections of the community as jewish, are not halachically jewish in the eyes of the london beth din (and orthodoxy more generally).

    coming to an orthodox school is just one area that can bring things to a head. other areas being marriage, burial and so on. the school issue is so high-profile because we have orthodox jewish schools that are state-funded and so they have to adhere to secular rules as well as their religious principles.

    i think that the underlying failure is that of the jewish institutions in this country to work together in a close and friendly fashion – even if not always in agreement. this is something that the institutions have spectacularly failed to do. who’s fault is that? well, of course the blame lies with all of us for not ensuring that the institutions act in the way that they should. so maybe i agree with you after all.


    March 17, 2008 at 11:34 am

  2. If all the jewish institutions worked together, we would have the Sanhedrin and be in, “Yerushalayim Habnu’a”.


    May 29, 2008 at 2:55 pm

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