Jewish groups intervene to allow student’s exam to be moved from Shavuot

A Jewish student at King’s College London has had their examination date moved from the Jewish festival of Shavuot thanks to an intervention from the Board of Deputies and University Jewish Chaplaincy.

Previously the student was only given the alternative of sitting the exam in August during the summer holidays, which may have penalised the student by not having option to re-sit the exam for a second time if needed. As a result of the intervention, the student will now be permitted to sit the exam next week.

University summer exams, which are being held remotely due to the Coronavirus pandemic, can cause issues for Jewish students on some campuses due to clashes with Jewish festivals, in particular Shavuot – which falls between May and June each year.

For some Jewish people, Jewish Law prohibits ‘work’ on the Sabbath and certain festivals. The traditional Jewish interpretation of ‘work’ includes any kind of creative activity, including writing, spending or handling money, operating equipment (including lights, computers and telephones), travelling (other than on foot), engaging in commercial transactions, and many other activities which may not be considered as ‘work’ in ordinary parlance. Judaism is almost unique in this having this complete prohibition about work on holy days.

Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl said: “We would like to thank Professor Ed Byrne and his team at King’s College London for showing the flexibility to amend the student’s exam timetable to fit in with their religious practice. It is so important that universities show that they are welcome spaces for students of all backgrounds and beliefs by creating flexible arrangements that allow students to take full part in campus life without compromising their religious observances. We hope that all universities allow this moving forward as a matter of course.”

University Jewish Chaplaincy CEO Sophie Dunoff said: “Every year we work hard to ensure that universities are aware of the key issues facing Jewish students during exam season. Despite the additional challenges being placed on universities due to the coronavirus crisis, I am pleased to see King’s continue to accommodate the needs of Jewish students in this area – although there remain campuses where this is not always the case. Sitting exams remotely offers the opportunity for universities to enable greater flexibility in their timetabling of exams, and we hope that such flexibility is shown at all universities once exams return to their traditional format.”

See the Board of Deputies calendar for Jewish festivals here, which includes a helpful explanation as to why exams clashing with festivals can be problematic for some students.

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