When a person converts to Judaism, under the auspices of any branch, shouldn’t they be seen as Jewish by all? Does one branch of Judaism hold a monopoly over conversion?
In the United Kingdom, a recent court decision declared the admittance policies of the Jewish Free School, the oldest Jewish high school in Britain, to be unlawful. According to Ha’aretz, the school had refused entry to the school of a British couple’s son because the student’s mother “did not convert in an Orthodox ceremony.” This, despite the fact that she did convert in a Conservative ceremony.
The court found that the school may discriminate on religious grounds, but this crossed a line because it waded into the waters of ethnicity. The court said: “…eligibility must depend on faith, however defined, and not on ethnicity.” The court is right – the family is obviously Jewish, they are raising a Jewish family and they want a Jewish education. It’s not up to the school, which receives government funding, to decide if the child is adequately Jewish.
This is similar to the conversion issue in Israel, where religious authorities have put into limbo the status of thousands of Jews-by-choice who they feel haven’t kept an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle. And as we have argued before, those who have chosen Judaism shouldn’t be forced to choose one particular brand of Judaism – and they absolutely shouldn’t be called into question for deciding on a particular level of observance.
Actions and deeds should be enough to demonstrate if someone is indeed living a Jewish life. What should it matter if the mother converted under an Orthodox or Conservative ceremony – or any other branch for that matter? She is now Jewish and wants to promote Jewish continuity. By rejecting the family, the school is sending a message that not all Jews are welcome, only some are welcome. It’s hard to imagine a more damaging message to send to all those in our midst – particularly the unaffiliated – who might be contemplating deeper engagement in the Jewish community.