EDIT: I’ve rewritten the final few paragraphs, my thoughts on all this, and apologize for any confusion.
Bond posted a while back about a court case where a British court was asked to rule if a Jewish school was being racially discriminatory when it rejected a student who did not have a Jewish mother:
The case in question concerns a 12-year-old boy, referred to court documents simply as “M,” whose application to London’s Jews’ Free School was rejected on the ground that his mother’s conversion to Judaism was not overseen by Orthodox rabbis. The case has forced a reexamination of whether Judaism is a religion, a race, or an ethnicity.
M’s father took the school to court claiming racial discrimination. In June, the court of appeal ruled in his favour. It said the school’s policy amounted to racial discrimination because it prioritised applications from children with Jewish mothers.
And, ultimately, the supreme court ruled (5 to 4) that the school had “directly discrimintated against M on grounds of his ethnic origins.”
Looking back at Bond’s post at Dear Diaspora, I think I see her point: Judaism is both a religious and tribal identity, and attempting to separate the two speaks to a certain amount of cultural imperialism.
At the same time, I agree with the imposed culture. I feel like if you want to view Judaism as both of those things, to interweave the religious with the tribal, you need to then take the bad (that discriminating based on that tribal identity is racist) with the good (acknowledging the long tribal history and lineage of the Jewish people).
Now, in all fairness, I don’t think Bond is trying to discriminate at all – she goes out of her way to say that she simply recognizes the “logical necessity of disregarding non-Orthodox conversions” for Orthodox Jews, even if she doesn’t agree with their position.
For what it’s worth, I also agree on that logical necessity. From the perspective of Orthodox Judaism, the position that this child was not Jewish (or not as Jewish) as children born to Jewish mothers makes sense. But I’m going to take things a step beyond saying “Yes, it makes sense.”
Being logical and internally consistent doesn’t remove the racism inherent in the school’s viewpoint or mean it’s anything I think is worth supporting. I’m going to say that race is a genetically ridiculous concept, and not one we should be trying to uphold. That using millennia-old religious documents to justify racism is still, well, racism.
When originally participating in the discussion surrounding Bond’s post at Dear Diaspora, I let my own struggles with the religious aspects of Judaism get in the way of expressing my dislike of Orthodox Judaism specifically, for what I perceive to be sexist and racist practices. (And I’m an equal-opportunity dislike-er of orthodoxy of any stripe.) I don’t think that protecting religion in the name of cultural relativism should take precedence over the stated goals of egalitarianism within a society, whether the religion is Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or whatever. I do think that it’s desirable and necessary to tread very carefully in determining when and how to make that call, and I’m glad the decision isn’t mine.
But I do think the British supreme court made the right call in this case.