Court rules on ultra-orthodox schooling

Posted: 10th September 2012

An ultra-orthodox Jewish father has failed to convince the Court of Appeal that his ex-wife should be prevented from moving their children to schools where they will receive a more secular education.

Both parents are part of the Chareidi Jewish community and, during their 10-year marriage, they and their children observed a strictly kosher regime and would not switch on a light, catch a bus or make a phone call on the Sabbath day.

However, after studying for an Open University degree and forging a professional career, the mother has now gone her own way and is determined that her children, the youngest of whom is aged three, should have the schooling she never had.

Since the parents’ separation they have been in near-constant dispute over how the children should be brought up. At one point the mother obtained a non-molestation order against the father and she says that she has been 'ostracised' by the Chareidi community.

Three judges at the Court of Appeal rejected the father's appeal against a family court’s refusal to grant him a joint residency order and to grant permission for the mother to move her ‘very bright’ children to mainstream Jewish schools where they will study the national curriculum.

The father's lawyers had told the court that he was deeply concerned that his ex-wife would lead his children away from the ultra-orthodox community into which they were born and denigrate his lifestyle in their eyes.

He particularly objected to the prospect of his daughters attending a mixed-gender school and to his children having unrestricted access to television, cinema, certain newspapers, the internet and social networking sites.

The mother now lives with the children half-an-hour's walk away from the nearest synagogue and the father’s lawyers argued that that was a long trek for a three-year-old on the Sabbath – when use of a pushchair is forbidden to observers of ultra-orthodox traditions.

The children were thriving at their current schools and moving them away from the lifestyle that they had known all their lives would split them from their friends, who would be forbidden from associating with them, and cause them emotional harm, it was submitted.

However, the mother, who at an earlier court hearing told a judge that she had been ‘forced’ into her marriage by pressure from her family, insisted that educating the children at an ordinary Jewish school would give them ‘infinitely superior opportunities’.

She said that, since her separation from the father, members of the Chareidi community ‘cross the road’ to avoid her. However, she added that she had every intention of keeping a strictly kosher home and bringing her children up within the orthodox Jewish tradition.

Lord Justice Maurice Kay, Lord Justice Munby and Sir Stephen Sedley will give detailed reasons for rejecting the father’s appeal at a later date.