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1 Adar II 5760 - March 8, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Australian Court Supports Orthodox School for not Accepting Reform Convert

by Victor Kleerekoper and Yated Ne'eman Staff

Some stories never go away, even after the referee has given his decision. Such a case is that of Carmel School in Perth, Western Australia and the Goldberg family where the mother is a Reform Convert who sought to have the Orthodox school accept her son for enrollment.

Although the case was taken by the parents to the Equal Opportunities Tribunal of Western Australia and dismissed, it keeps on being dragged out by leaders of the Reform or Progressive movement, both in Australia and Israel.

The case started in February 1996 when the Goldbergs sought to enroll their son at the school.

After visiting the school and completing the enrollment procedures, the Goldbergs were handed a letter stating specific religious restrictions which would be placed on their son because he was not really Jewish and therefore prohibited by halacha from participating in some school programs.

The Goldbergs were aided and abetted in their case by the local Reform rabbi, Joshua Aronson, whose own children were also not accepted into the school because of questions about their Jewish status.

Perth is a community of some 4000 Jewish souls which is rapidly growing, thanks to a steady influx of South African Jews.

It has three Orthodox synagogues, one Reform congregation, a Jewish day school and an old-age home, as well as its own sporting complex and community center. The Carmel Jewish Day School is an Orthodox school that accepts all Jewish children in the community regardless of whether they come from Orthodox, Conservative or Reform homes. The major part of the student body comes from non-Orthodox homes. The only line drawn is around the Jewish community; it does not matter whether the family is Orthodox, Conservative or Reform. However, if the child is not Jewish then he cannot be accepted in the full school program.

Mrs. Goldberg, the mother of the boy who was the subject of the discrimination case, was born and raised Greek Orthodox and became a "Jew by Choice" having "converted" by the Reform.

The Equal Opportunity Tribunal handed down a 46 page document in which it dismissed the family's complaint.

It ruled that while the school had been discriminatory, it had "acted in good faith according to its own particular view of who is a Jew and what the doctrines of Judaism require of its adherents"

The findings said: "It is the nature of religious freedom that what is thought to be important is essentially a matter for those concerned with the traditions of the faith to determine, rather than outsiders. The educational institution is excused from liability if, in good faith, it is generally upholding the religious cause it seeks to advance."

The tribunal gave a similar ruling in its decision on the question of family status, but declined to make any decision as to whether Judaism was a religion or a race.

It also declined to comment whether it considered non- Orthodox or Progressive Jews as adherents to the Jewish faith, describing the question as "an issue for another day."

Commenting on the decision at the time, Gary Goldberg said that both the school and the tribunal had accepted that his son had been discriminated against and had relied on the defense provisions within the Equal Opportunity Act which allowed then to act in good faith.

"We feel we have been vindicated by the fact that they have admitted they had discriminated against our son. It's time now to get on with our lives.

"We had hoped that by taking this case to the tribunal there would be sensible debate within the Jewish community on the question, and hopefully we have achieved that," he said.

Carmel School spokesman barrister Julian Sher said the school was pleased with the decision and appreciated the fact that Australians were free under the law to practice their religion, and that their denominational schools had the right to conduct their affairs according to their religious tenets.

"The decision came out the way we thought it would. The tribunal basically had to rule on three specific things: religious discrimination, family status and racial discrimination, and it acknowledged that in each instance the school had acted in good faith."

While most sections of the community thought this matter was closed by the tribunal decision, it was again brought very loudly and strongly to the fore at the annual conference of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the lay roof body of the Australian Jewish community, that was attended by representatives of each Australian State Jewish Community Council and various other Federal roof bodies including the Asian, Australian and New Zealand Union for Progressive Judaism.

The AANZUPJ delegate attacked the head of the Council of Western Australian Jewry for the way he had singled out the Perth Reform rabbi Joshua Aronson for criticism for the way in which he acted in stirring up the Goldberg case and keeping it boiling.

Richard Block, the president and chief executive officer of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, said in a telephone interview that he understood that Orthodox institutions have the right to set criteria for themselves but in that particular situation where Carmel is the only Jewish day school in Perth, they missed an opportunity to be a force for Jewish unity in the community.

Community leaders noted that the school's approach of admitting all Jewish students has been a tremendous force for unity for many years, and in fact 90% of the student body is from non-Orthodox homes.

The the Vaad Horabbonim Haolami Leinyonei Giyur headed by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth of Antwerp sent a strong message of support for the courageous stand of the Carmel School in not allowing a non-Jewish child to enter the school in the face of community and international media pressure. The Vaad spokesman said that the Perth school's decision should set an example for Jewish schools worldwide to establish proper criteria for determining who is an authentic Jew when admitting students to their schools. The Perth school was mekadeish sheim Shomayim after the Reform manipulated the situation to divide the community and to besmirch the Orthodox school and thereby create a chillul Hashem to the secular world.

Victor Kleerekoper is senior writer on the Australian Jewish News.

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