Jews’ Free School

Case Name: R(E) v. The Governing Body of JFS

Contributing Authors: Heather Miller Rubens, Peter Danchin, Louis Blond

Synopsis: This module contains the text of the judgement by the UK Supreme Court in the Jews’ Free School case, as well as a study of the case by Heather Miller Rubens and a companion article by Peter Danchin and Louis Blond.

Summary: A complex historical and normative relationship between Christianity and secularism can be seen to continue to define the modern contours and shape of the public sphere and the right to religious liberty itself. Assertions of claims of right by Muslims and other religious communities have thus made visible both the historical contingency and cultural particularity of these norms and forms of legal ordering in Europe. The case study by Heather Miller Rubens and accompanying article by Peter Danchin and Louis Blond vividly illustrate how these tensions and antinomies both animate and underpin the judgments of the U.K. Supreme Court in the Jews’ Free School case.

Introduction to JFS: follow this link for a more complete introduction to the Jews’ Free School Case

Case materials

The text of the judgement of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in the racial discrimination claim brought against the Jews’ Free School, a historically significant major center of Jewish secondary education in London.

Heather Miller Rubens discusses the complexities of Jewish identity, and the role of religion and religious denomination in the Jews’ Free School case. The author analyzes how religion has been defined, and continues to be defined in legal contexts in the United States and Europe, and the difficulties facing judges in cases involving religion.

Peter Danchin and Louise Blond examine the legal history of state neutrality toward religion, and the legal history of the universal character of human rights. The authors discuss the Jews’ Free School case as a clash of claims to individual and collective freedom.

Background on Religious Tradition

Chesler’s personal narrative of attempts to reconcile children produced by egg donation with Jewish legal constructions of motherhood. Chesler receives a wide range of opinions from rabbis on the appropriate Jewish response to in vitro fertilization.

Reading Question: Who occupies the role of mother, and even the number of mothers a child born of IVF has, is contested by Chesler’s sources. How many ways does the article provide for conferring the status of mother upon an individual? On what basis is each provision offered? (ex. Through the intention of the birth mother, or in order to obey the prohibition against suppressing parental identity)

Satlow provides an expansive view of the development of Judaism, examining communities and scholars operating in many different times and places around the world. This is a valuable resource for dislodging  isomorphic or static conceptions of Judaism.

  • Isaac Bashevis Singer, In My Father’s Court (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1991).

Memories of the author’s father’s rabbinical court in early twentieth century Warsaw.

Legal Context

When a Polish Jew turned Carmelite Monk invokes his Right of Return to the state of Israel he is rejected. Dissent explores the complexities of Jewish identity and its entanglement with Israeli law. Brother Daniel meets many of the requirements for determining Jewish identity, but attitudes toward Christianity and Catholicism impact his application.

McCrudden approaches the Jews’ Free School case through a discussion of the evolution of the attitudes of British courts to religious freedom, those attitudes themselves being nested inside of changing public conceptions of multiculturalism and equality as constitutive of British identity.

Media Response