New American Reform Responsa
73. School Ceremonies on a Jewish Holiday
QUESTION: A private school, which has a fairly large number of Jews enrolled, has planned its graduation on Shavuot. They have mandated the attendance of all students. How should we deal with this situation? (Ned Deutsch, Boston MA)ANSWER: Let us begin by reviewing the past records of conflicts between Jewish children and education authorities. Our children began to attend government schools in the nineteenth century. In Eastern Europe the hostile government school legislation met vigorous opposition. Western European legislation was not hostile and most families complied especially as the schools opened new economic possibilities. There were times in the last century when it was unavoidable for Jewish children in public schools to avoid classes on shabbat, as the school week extended for six days. David Hoffmann, the Orthodox rabbi of Berlin, permitted students to attend school on shabbat, carry books to their class, etc., as this was the only way in which students could graduate from these schools and qualify themselves for a decent livelihood (Melamed Lehoil Vol I #58). They were to modify their conduct on shabbat and observe shabbat in every way which remained possible; special shabbat afternoon services were instituted for them. There were occasions when this was absolutely unavoidable. Our situation in contemporary America is different. Both private and public schools have regularly made special provisions for Jewish students. If a private school like the one in question seeks to enroll Jewish students then it must also be sensitive to the Jewish calendar. Jewish agencies provide both private and public schools with Jewish calendars so that such conflict may be avoided. In this instance the Jewish students should indicate that they will not attend graduation if the graduation ceremonies cannot be moved and they expect future graduations to be held on a day other than a Jewish holiday. I am sure that the authorities sensitive to religious issues and to bad publicity which may result from a mass protest by Jewish students will excuse the Jewish students or move the graduation. Perhaps, a special graduation ceremony for the Jewish students can be arranged if the graduation cannot be moved. In any case, a firm stand should be taken.April 1987
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