British Jews Fear Clampdown on Religious Practices

British Jews

British Jews may be compelled to reconsider their future in the United Kingdom in the wake of growing criticism of religious practices such as kosher meat, circumcision and Judaic studies.

David Frei, British-born barrister and registrar at Beth Din religious court in London since 1999, recently warned of an increasing trend of anti-religious sentiment in the country that has possibly stemmed from record levels of atheism or terrorist attacks across Europe, which have caused individuals to turn against their own faith – irrespective of whether they followed Judaism, Christianity or Islam.

Frei fears that the British government would soon respond to public opinion and clamp down on religious freedom in the United Kingdom. He also believes that the Orthodox Jewish community would resist any such attempt to legislate against their religious traditions, including yeshivas, kosher meat and circumcision, all of which are mentioned in the Torah.

“I think there are genuine fears at the moment in any number of areas – including circumcision and ritual slaughter – that the state may one day take a more interventionist role and it is very disturbing. At one point or another Jews will have to evaluate their future in the country if this was to happen,” Frei said. “There is a very secular wave that is washing over this country at the moment. There is no question that fewer people than ever before believe in God. The opinion polls will show you that 30 or 40 years ago, the vast majority of people believed in God and now the vast majority don't.”

Beth Din has functioned in the United Kingdom in some form or the other for approximately four centuries. It continues to officiate in cases of Jewish divorce, which is significantly different from a divorce procedure under British civil law. Beth Din has so far been rid of the scrutiny that Sharia has faced for many years now, with critics saying Islamic divorces discriminate against women, who unlike their male counterparts, have to abide by a Sharia divorce court procedure after seeking permission from their male relatives. Muslim men on the other hand are allowed to divorce their wives verbally.

It is believed that Jewish divorce law too discriminates in a similar manner, with a husband being required to give his consent to a divorce, which otherwise cannot move forward. This practice is believed to have given rise to the new phenomenon of “chained women” in Britain today, with women finding it impossible to get married a second time, as their estranged husbands refuse to grant them a divorce.

However, Frei explained that Jews ought to know what they are getting involved in at the time of an Orthodox marriage.

“People are voluntarily taking upon themselves additional restrictions because they believe in it. The reality is that if you are a religious Jew, the way that you think marriage is performed is platform X and divorce platform Y. And what is wrong with that? That is a restriction that [they have] taken upon [themselves].

That is what you believe in, your value system. That is not a threat to any society,” he said.

In this as well as in other practices, such as Judaic studies, circumcision and kosher meat, the registrar said that it is not in the government’s purview to impose rules on the personal religious choices of its citizens.

“The purpose of the state in my view [is] not to impose cultural values on a minority which has its own cultural values and which does not clash, fight or inflict violence on anybody else. We are a law-abiding community. We are people who have given a full and valued contribution to British society, so why should the state come barging in and tell us what we can and can't do in terms of matters of personal religious belief,” he said.

With regards to religious studies, Frei said that hostility had already stemmed from the increase in Islamist extremism and terror attacks across Europe. He also said that this link is not completely justified.

“Very shortly after the most recent attacks in Paris, the first letter I read was about chucking out religious schools and I thought is there any evidence that any of these terrorists had ever actually attended a religious school? I don't think so. They are better off asking to shut down the internet, because that is causing it rather than religious schools,” he explained.

Photo Credits: Jerusalem Post

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