…but who is a rabbi? A recent British High Court decision making it illegal for a Jewish school that favors Jewish applicants to base its admissions policy on whether one’s mother is Jewish, while correct in outcome, completely misunderstands the entire controversy:
“One thing is clear about the matrilineal test; it is a test of ethnic origin,” Lord Phillips, president of the court, said in his majority opinion. Under the law, he said, “by definition, discrimination that is based upon that test is discrimination on racial grounds.”
The decision, by Britain’s highest court, brings an end to a case that has exposed deep divisions among Britain’s 300,000 Jews and forced the judiciary to consider an ancient question at the heart of Judaism: Who is a Jew?
This case had nothing to do with who is a Jew, but who is a rabbi. That is, are non-Orthodox conversions recognized by the state? (An aside: this also is a constant, ongoing battle in Israel). This a compelling argument for a strict separation of church and state. If someone privately wants to believe that someone else isn’t Jewish, that’s his right (hell, this is a cttage industry for the American Likud). But the decisions of religious prelates shouldn’t be used to decide educational access.