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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Jewish religious wars

The Jewish people can be their own worst enemies. It is difficult to grasp how anyone could be so pig-headed, power hungry and selfish, but it is a fact. Fanatic and self-important rabbis are shaming the Jewish people and the Jewish religion, and preventing people from getting a Jewish education rather than bringing them closer to Judaism.
Ami Isseroff

 Last update - 11:00 06/03/2008       
U.K. Jewish school sued for barring pupil over conversion
By Anshel Pfeffer and Saul Sadka, Haaretz Correspondent
A British couple is suing the largest and oldest Jewish high school over the school's refusal to accept their son as a student because his mother did not convert in an Orthodox ceremony.
The case, now before the High Court in London, has attracted wide media attention in the U.K. and is a source of contention in the Jewish community.
Most of the 1,900 students in the Jewish Free School (JFS), founded in 1732, do not come from Orthodox homes. Nevertheless, the school is identified with the central stream of British Jewry, the United Synagogue, which accepts the authority of the London Beth Din, or rabbinic court. The London rabbinic court is considered more strict on matters of conversion than rabbinic courts in Israel.
The parents, who have remained anonymous, describe as racist and illegal the school's refusal to accept their son because his mother was converted to Judaism in a Conservative ceremony. They say this is racist and illegal because the school receives government funding.
Other couples whose children were refused entry by the JFS have also joined the suit.
One of the parents, David Lightman, father of 14-year-old Maya, said his wife underwent an Orthodox conversion in Israel 20 years ago, and although they keep a kosher home, go to synagogue every Saturday and are very active in the community, the London religious court said she had not been sincere in her conversion because he is a Cohen (descendant of a priest), and according to Jewish law should not marry a convert.
"Fundamentally it is running a racist admissions policy. You could eat bacon every day and have no problem but a religiously practicing Jew cannot attend," Lightman told Haaretz last month.
"There is a small cabal at the top that has Anglo-Jewry by the throat and holds the Chief Rabbi in the palm of their hands," he added.
"[Chief Rabbi] Jonathan Sacks won't speak to us, we are very much pawns in this situation," says Lightman. "I am an ex-pupil, my sisters attended the school, my wife is head of English yet they will not take my daughter," he says.
According to Rabbi Danny Rich, chief executive of the Liberal Judaism movement in Britain, "the acceptance policy of the school is discriminatory and motivated by political considerations. They are trying to shore up the beth din and the United Synagogue establishment, while 35 percent of British Jews belong to Reform and Liberal streams. JFS is state-funded and should serve the entire Jewish community."
A spokesman for the school declined to respond during the hearing. But in a position paper the school released, it said no discriminatory policy existed and argued that according to British law, it was within its rights to prefer certain students in keeping with rules set for the school by Britain's chief rabbi.
The British Department of Education responded that "the ministry does not intervene in internal school policy."
What is really going on is a power struggle between the British Chief rabbinate and its Israeli counterpart," says Geoffrey Alderman, an academic involved in the case. "The Chief Rabbi wants the London Beit Din to be the only body competent to convert British people anywhere in the world. Mrs Lightman is merely a pawn in this dispute," he adds.

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