Britain’s most successful Jewish school told the supreme court today it had discriminated against a 12-year-old boy on religious rather than racial grounds.
Lord Pannick QC, representing the JFS, told nine judges and a standing-room-only crowd that the school denied the boy a place because the chief rabbi regarded his mother’s conversion to Judaism as invalid. The court heard the JFS had twice the number of applicants to places, so children whose mothers were recognised as Jewish by the chief rabbi were prioritised. The boy, known as M, did not fall into this category. Pannick told the court: "The chief rabbi is not involved in some kind of sham. He is only interested in the application of religious law."
Some of the judges questioned why M and his father, who kept kosher, said prayers and attended synagogue, did not qualify as Jewish. One said: "M would be regarded as Jewish by almost everybody as Jewish. The people who don’t regard him as Jewish are the Orthodox community."
The chief rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, heard some of the proceedings before leaving for his introduction in the House of Lords as a life peer. He listened attentively during his 40-minute visit, sometimes with his head in his hands, as he heard the defence argue that the issue at stake was religious status and not observance.