Jew-niversity: Meet the Orthodox Jewish students who don’t study on Shabbat

You must be Hava Na’giggle


Let’s be honest, when deadlines and exams are approaching all of us have at some point wished that there was an extra day of the week.

But imagine having one less day to work on. When all studying is forbidden. And the use of electricity is an absolute no-no.

And on top of that, two weeks near the beginning of term are also pretty much work-free.

Throw in a few more rules in about what you can and can’t eat.

And, hey presto, you’re some of the way to knowing what it’s like being an Orthodox Jew at university.

It’s not easy. That’s for sure.

Monicaaaaa, Monicaaaaa. Have a happy Hanukkah!

Keeping Shabbat, the holy day on Saturday, can be a “snag” – according to Yoni Stone, a first year at Oxford University.

He said: “Doing no work for a day does mean it has to be squeezed in at some other time.”

And it can also cause some troubles with the timetabling of lectures and exams.

Ayelet Persey, a first year Historian at Birmingham, occasionally has lectures on Friday afternoon which she cannot attend because they clash with Shabbat.

The timing of “the day of rest” can be a pain: “I’m often in a rush to complete all my work and studying, especially if it’s in for a Monday morning.”

The rest of the week isn’t always that much easier.

Ethan, 19, enjoys long walks on the beach, watching the sun rise and reading therapeutic religious texts.

Ethan Ezra, a first year Classicist at Cambridge, told us: “It can be hard motivating oneself to pick up a Talmud (a Jewish text) when you have three essays due, but it’s something I see as almost therapeutic.”

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – which are BNOJCs (Big Names on the Jewish Calendar) – tend to fall in mid-September.

Jack Cohen, a Philosophy student at UCL, explained: “The start of the year is usually a bit of a problem as the number of festivals on which I don’t use electricity or do university work come thick and fast.

“It is often the case that the first two weeks of term are all but a write-off.”

Yoni also found the holy days to be disruptive to his start of term: “It was massively challenging and did involve me sacrificing some of the observances I otherwise would have kept.”

Yoni refused to sacrifice this religious observance at his Oxford Christmas Bop

Having to eat Kosher food can also make student life difficult. David Gross, an Economics student in London, said: “I cannot eat non-Kosher meat so eating out with friends was always hard.

“Also, both last year in halls and this year in a flat, I have had to keep all my stuff separate and have to store two sets of everything for meat and milk in order to follow the Kashrut dietary laws.

“I also miss out on any shared cooking which is a shame.”

Living arrangements are very frequently affected by a student’s religious dietary needs.

Ollie Anisfeld made the decision to ditch halls and move into an apartment with some other Jewish friends.

He co-shared so that they could “Kosher” their kitchen.

Unlike Ollie, Ayelet Persey moved into Hillel House, a fully Kosher hall of residence for Jewish students, in Birmingham.

The halls are affectionately referred to as a “Jewniversity.”

Hillel House, where you can ko-share with other Jewish students.

Queen’s College and Jesus College, in Cambridge, also provide students with a Kosher kitchen, with some corridors being almost exclusively Jewish.

While Orthodox students certainly have a tougher time at university than us un-religious sorts, the universities are often very considerate at accommodating to their students’ needs.

Yoni remarked that the Oxford University chaplaincy happily rescheduled his exam on a Jewish holiday.

Similarly, Birmingham University have a particularly strong reputation for moving exams if they happen to fall on a Jewish holiday.

The circumstances might not be ideal…but that’s just how they Jew it.