I used to bristle whenever I would hear people describe the Jews as a “race.” Not a nation, not a people, but a “race.” The fact that one cannot convert to a race (no matter how much I may want to be Nepalese, it’ll never happen) never seems to deter them from this bizarre notion. Hitler y”s called us a race. We all know what that led to.
And now a UK Jewish school admissions policy is “racist,” a court rules. “Racist” here is used interchangeably with “religious” by English courts. A 12-year-old kid whose mother converted via the Progressive movement in England was denied admission to the school, which only accepts students who are halachically Jewish. A high court judge got the definition right—that it’s based on religious, not racial grounds. But that ruling has been struck down in an appeal to another court that rules that (according to the child’s lawyer) “It is unlawful for a child’s ethnic origins to be used as the criterion for entry to a school. Such a practice is even more unacceptable in the case of a comprehensive school funded by the taxpayer.” On a good day, I don’t think most people in the world understand the Jews, and here Jews by birth and Jews by choice are being called separate races and ethnicities by a court of law. In what appears a terrible miscarriage of justice, the British court system has seen fit to interfere with a religion’s right to define itself.
And yet. On the one hand, I’m applauding Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s eloquent defense of the school’s admission policy. But on the other hand, as an American who remembers the media hoo-hah surrounding the attempt by a woman in 1995 to gain admission to the Military College of South Carolina (aka the Citadel), I’m also brought up short in my support of the school’s policy. A school that agrees to accept federal funding is also, whether it likes it or not, agreeing to accept federal intervention in how it runs itself. It must comply with federal laws, and in the case of the Citadel, that involved the requirement to provide equal access to women in the traditionally all-male institution (discrimination on the basis of sex being prohibited by federal law).
As tempting as it is for religious schools to accept government funding to help defray their exorbitant costs, this is where accepting that funding gets sticky. If this Jewish school in the UK accepts government funds, it becomes subject to the laws of the land, including the right of the not-so-pro-Jewish courts to meddle in its admissions policies (not to mention call it racist). And the same will go for Jewish day schools in America if, as many Jews who support vouchers will find out, they too decide to let the government get involved.