JFS admissions to be challenged in court
EUROPE’S LARGEST Jewish school’s policy of admitting only children who are recognised as being Jewish by the Office of the Chief Rabbi is to be challenged in court.
The legal challenge follows the result of an inquiry into JFS’s admissions criteria by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator, in response to complaints by two sets of parents, one of whom has chosen to remain anonymous. The parents were supported by Brent Council.
The adjudicator, Philip Hunter, said in his report that the main admission policy, whereby only halachically Jewish children are accepted, did not break the Race Relations Act 1976 because it was a religious rather than a race issue.
However, Dr Hunter admitted that the question of whether the policy contravened the Act was “a very difficult one” that had to be decided by a court. His office’s spokesman said later that such a determination was “outside the normal expertise or competence of a schools adjudicator”.
But Dr Hunter ordered the school to remove immediately two criteria for under-subscription that favour applications from children with one Jewish parent or one or more Jewish grandparents, saying that they “may conflict with the prohibition on indirect racial discrimination”.
The parent who was ready to be identified, David Lightman — whose wife Kate is head of English at JFS — said: “We are all delighted that the adjudicator saw the admissions criteria as confusing and unfair. His decision on under-subscription was a significant victory for us. But his ruling on the main admission policy was illogical and perverse.
“I will now seek a judicial review of the decision not to remove the main policy, because the basic problem still remains: the child of an atheist family, whose mother was born Jewish, would take precedence [for admission to the school] over a family whose mother was converted by a foreign rabbi but who keep kosher, go to shul regularly and contribute to communal life.
“That fundamental issue has not been dealt with. I will not rest until it is and I have justice for my family,” said Mr Lightman.
A spokesperson for JFS said it was “greatly reassuring” that the determination of the criteria for admission had been confirmed as being a religious, not a racial matter, “and the authority of the Office of the Chief Rabbi to determine the Jewish status of our applicants has been confirmed”.
The school, he said, would respond to the adjudicator appropriately.
The Lightman family’s case first came to light in August 2005 when their daughter, Maya, was turned down for a place at JFS.
It was the second case that year where the London Beth Din questioned the conversion of mothers who had been converted in Israel.
The first case involved Helen Sagal, who applied to JFS for a place for her son, Guy. After a six-month battle, Mrs Sagal was told by Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks that there were “irregularities” in her Israeli conversion that meant it would not be recognised.
In the case of Mrs Lightman, the Beth Din said she had entered a “forbidden” marriage because Mr Lightman is a Cohen. Members of the priestly caste are not permitted to marry converts.
Mrs Sagal told the JC this week: “I gave a witness statement to the Lightmans’ solicitor and I would be happy to continue supporting them at a judicial review. For us it wasn’t just about getting my son into school. It was about being accepted as Jewish.”
JFS pupils at the Kenton campus