Jewish Schools and the Challenges of Denominationalism in England
Intra-faith contestation in educational spaces such as religious schools constitutes an issue that has received relatively little academic attention. In response, this article explores the ways in which England’s Jewish day schools have become bound up in broader debates regarding competing conceptualizations of Judaism and Jewish identity in a context of significant polarization in the Jewish community. The situation is centered on two recent developments within the Anglo-Jewish educational landscape: A Supreme Court ruling that has obligated oversubscribed Jewish schools to avoid selecting pupils based on matrilineal descent, and the establishment of a Jewish secondary school whose pluralistic approach to Judaism has been deemed antithetical to the Orthodox movement. The article argues that this pluralist school’s relative inclusiveness has been accompanied by growing exclusivity amongst many Orthodox Jewish schools, in spite of the fact that the Supreme Court ruling theoretically facilitated greater access to pupils whose self-identification as Jews had historically been denied. Furthermore, although the relationship is evolving, much of the Orthodox community remains reluctant to validate the school’s Jewish ethos. Consequently, although the school has sought to help reduce inter-denominational tensions within Anglo-Jewry, notions of Jewish ethnoreligious authenticity and perceptions of Jewish community boundaries remain highly contested.
KeywordsJewish community Jewish identity Jewish schools Faith schools Denominationalism Polarization
I would like to thank Nichola Wood and Robert Vanderbeck for their support throughout the research process, as well as the four anonymous referees for their clear and helpful comments. In addition, I am grateful to the Kluge Center at the Library of Congress for enabling me to access several of the publications cited, JCoSS for allowing me to undertake fieldwork at the school, and all of the individuals who participated in the study.
This research was supported by an ESRC Doctoral Studentship [No. ES/J500215/1].
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