The highest court in England last week weighed in on the admission policy of a private Jewish day school (“JFS”) in London.  Here is the coverage by the New York Times. The decision maintained that giving a yea or nay to a child based on their heredity rather than religious practice violates the country’s discrimination laws.

Although there has been no similar ruling from Canadian courts, this may be relied upon in future litigation in our side of the Atlantic.

The policy of JFS was to:

admit up to the standard admissions number children who are recognized as being Jewish by the Office of the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregation of the Commonwealth (OCR) or who have already enrolled upon or who have undertaken, with the consent of their parents, to follow any course of conversion to Judaism under the approval of the OCR.

The OCR recognizes as Jewish a child born of a Jewish mother or a mother who converted to Judaism under an accepted rabbinic authority within Orthodox Judaism. The plaintiff’s mother, in this case, converted to Judaism under a rabbinic authority not recognized by the OCR.

The heredity-as-discrimination argument was the cover for what ultimately amounted to a dispute between different Jewish denominations regarding the definition of Jewishness, yet another forum for the long-standing “Who is a Jew?” debate. Perhaps for this reason, the court went out of its way to emphasize that the policy was not “racist” in the manner in which the term is often thrown about. The decision forces JFS – and by extension other Orthodox schools – to be more open to children of other Jewish denominations.

The ruling marks a clear entrance by the British judiciary into the affairs of faith-based schools, which are funded publically, more so than in any province in Canada. JFS, like other such schools, has to take public funds along with the likelihood of judicial intervention. Faith-based schools in Canada may want to re-evaluate their admission policies in light of this decision.