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British Court Demonstrates Cultural Arrogance

November 11, 2009 – 3:30 pm17 Comments
Leon Trotsky - never practised Judaism, but universally recognised as a Jew

Leon Trotsky - did not practise Judaism, but universally recognised as a Jew

By Anthony Frosh

By now you may have read or heard about the British Supreme Court ruling against a Jewish Orthodox school. The court has ruled that the school is not permitted to define who is a Jew based on ethnicity or birth for the purposes of school admissions, but rather must determine who is a Jew based on religious observance. As you can read in this article in the New York Times, the court has even ruled that the school must introduce a “religious practice test.”

There are many complex issues here. Galus Australis has already published an article on “Who is a Jew?”, as well as articles on the future of Jewish schooling. It is not my intention to go over that ground, nor do I intend to discuss the merits of the plaintiff’s and defendant’s respective cases.

Regardless of whether one feels that the child should be admitted to the school (and I am sympathetic), I am troubled by the reasoning that the court used to arrive at its decision.

This is clearly a case of the court projecting a Western “Christian” perspective to define what it is to be a Jew. A Christian, from a Western perspective (although probably not from a Lebanese or Iraqi perspective etc,) generally means one who practices Christianity, or maintains a Christian theological position.

However, this is not akin to being a Jew. From a Jewish perspective, being a Jew refers to being part of a tribe or ethnic group, and is not so much related to religious practice. Of course, the Jewish tradition has always allowed for those who wish to take on Jewish practices to join the tribe (through the conversion process). However, the court has completely failed to recognise this focus on people-hood in the Jewish tradition.

All this might lead one to ask: Will I be granted British citizenship based on the situation that I know plenty about cricket, enjoy eating fish & chips, listen to The Beatles, can speak English with a Hugh Grant accent when necessary (ok, it’s arguably more like Lord Lindsay from Chariots of Fire), and romanticise the colonisation of over half the world? The answer is a resounding no. However, someone who can claim none of these things, but has a British parent, can look forward to receiving their British passport in the mail after filling out a relatively short form.

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