Observant Jewish students struggle as finals week approaches

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By Hallie Kay
For Mitzpeh
@TheHallieKay

 

Finals are just around the corner, and students all over this university are beginning to prepare: making study guides, going to office hours and hunkering down for the weeks ahead.

For observant Jewish students, this time may be difficult.

Many observant Jewish students at this university keep Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. Strict observance often means that Saturdays are spent attending evening and morning services, as well as refraining from technology and engaging in other work. As a result, they lose critical study time to work from Friday afternoon until Saturday night each week.

“Part of observing Shabbat in the most traditional sense is not doing any work at all, which even means not writing on a piece of paper to get homework done,” Avia Sinai, a sophomore Letters and Sciences student, said. “For math classes especially it can become very difficult because you really can’t study for it without writing out equations and doing the problems on paper.”

Spending time away from technology may also put students who use laptops and the internet to study at a disadvantage.

“I do not typically study on Shabbat because the majority of my studying requires electronics,” Sara Edelman, a sophomore business management and history major, said. “It is a little frustrating at times to have to push everything off until Sunday, but everything ends up getting done.”

Sara Edelman stays on top of her work and types up her class notes in the library. Hallie Kay/Mitzpeh.

Issues can also arise when exams are scheduled on Saturdays, which pose difficulties for students who refrain from writing on Shabbat in their observance. The university has created a policy to accommodate these students.

“The school is really understanding when it comes to religious obligations conflicting with tests and assignments,” Keren Pickholz, a sophomore government and politics major, said. “If a student has a final scheduled for a Saturday, he or she can just submit a signed religious exemption note, easily obtained from UMD Hillel, and the teacher will accommodate an alternate day and time that works for both of them.”

Students can also fill out a “Holiday Exemption Letter Request,” which grants them an excused absence for other religious-related absences. It can be found in the section entitled “Holidays” on the UMD Hillel website.

“In my experience, professors have been really understanding. Some don’t even require the note, they just tell you to email them a reminder and they’re always super willing to come up with a workable solution,” Pickholz said.

Some observant Jews see the day of rest not as a loss, but a blessing.

“I don’t think observant students who don’t study with technology or at all on Shabbat are at a disadvantage,” Pickholz said. “I really believe that having that day where you’re forced to put all the work away and focus on other things facilitates a peace of mind that can be just as valuable in educational performance as an extra day of hitting the books.”

Sometimes, it is merely a matter of staying on top of work and making sure it all gets done before Shabbat begins on Friday nights. Many students will finish their work even earlier to prepare an evening meal and set up for Shabbat.

“Obviously it comes with its challenges, but I just know that I have to prepare beforehand, whether that is printing out my notes or filling out a study guide before,” Sinai said.

For many observant students, the struggle to keep Shabbat during finals is worth it to preserve the strong ties and communities that they have at home.

“I do feel like some of my shomer shabbat [Shabbat observant] friends feel disadvantaged that they cannot do work on Shabbat,” Edelman added. “I also feel that way sometimes too, but I know Shabbat is something so sacred to us that it is ultimately worth it.”

 

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