JFS ad­mis­sions to be chal­lenged in court

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY LEON SY­MONS

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.”

PHOTO: JOHN RIFKIN

JFS pupils at the Ken­ton cam­pus

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