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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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What The JFS Decision Means For UK Jews


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Since the principle of interference by secular courts in Jewish life has now been established, it is secular judges who are the final arbiters and authority on what is Judaism and Jewish practice. Rabbis are now only performers of religious ritual. Regardless of any practical consequences, this development is the most worrying and profound of all for people accustomed to living in a free society.

The best option is to change the law, as the judges indeed advised. Given the current political situation and with new elections due by early June, the only immediate choice is to add an amendment onto the “Equalities” Bill going through Parliament. But the Board of Deputies, the main representative body of Anglo-Jewry, will not do this because the non-Orthodox are opposed. The United Synagogue, the main Orthodox body, will not go it alone.

The only immediate legal option is to piggyback onto one of the amendments the churches are seeking, or perhaps get the churches to introduce an amendment that in reality would be for the Jews. Given the politics of the Anglo-Jewish community and the desire of the Board of Deputies and the United Synagogue to avoid a communal split, either of these would be useful.

Without a law change, some sort of fudge to cover over the chasm in the community is likely. Principled action is not something for which Anglo-Jewish leadership has historically been known. Whether waffling is necessary to avoid a split within the Jewish community is beside the point. This ruling has opened a Pandora’s box that can be closed only if one side or the other backs down, or if the British government and courts refuse to get involved any further, or if the Orthodox will openly defend the Torah.

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