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Judaism

Welcome to the webpage on Judaism.

Local Place of Worship:

Inclusion points:

Curriculum & Student Provision Specific Issues:
Source: HEA Faith Guides for HE: A Guide to Judaism

Debunking Common Stereotypes -
Anti-Semitism remains an ever-present threat for most Jews.  There is a long history of Christian anti-Semitism in Europe and the Nazi Holocaust of the 1930s and 40s is a recent and bitter reminder of the evil consequences of racial prejudice.
 
The tensions in the Middle East have not helped the situation.  Military success and the conflict with Palestine have encouraged a dislike and distrust of the Jews, particularly in the Islamic community and amongst those to the left of the political spectrum.  (This is not to say that reasoned criticism of Israeli policies is by definition anti-Semitic.)
 
There is also a long tradition of 'polite' anti-Semitism in Britain.  The characters of Shylock in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice and Fagin in Dickens's Oliver Twist are obvious stereotypes of the avaricious Jew.  Despite the long history of excellent Jewish business practice, generous Jewish philanthropy and devoted Jewish public service, stereotypes such as miserliness are hard to shake.  They even survive in the everyday language; such expressions as 'to Jew someone down' (meaning to drive a hard bargain), for example, are still in current use and are highly offensive to the community.
 
Key Sensitivities -
Although there is a huge spectrum of religious belief within the community, a general support for the State of Israel and a fear of anti-Semitism is almost universal.  The two are of course connected.  The Jewish community is still traumatised by the loss of six million of their members in the ghettos and death camps of Nazi Europe.  Many British Jews have parents or grandparents who fled to the UK to escape fascist persecution and many were forced to leave relatives behind to be murdered in the Final Solution.  The Second World War is still sufficiently recent to be a present reality for many Jews and the Holocaust remains an important source of identification for the Jewish people, even for those who have completely lapsed in their religious observance.  As the poet Dannie Abse remarked, 'Hitler was far more successful in making me a Jew than Moses ever was'.
 
Jewish students are well aware that most British people do not share their feelings for Israel and this can raise defensiveness about both their concern for Israel and their British identity.  All too easily, legitimate criticism of Israeli policy can be interpreted as anti-Semitism.  At the same time, there is no doubt that prejudice against Jews is behind some anti-Israeli feeling and all academics should be aware of this.  Among Jews themselves, the State of Israel is a source of great pride.  Israel remains the only fully democratic state in the Middle East.  The community itself is split over such questions as the necessity of a Palestinian state, reasonable boundaries and Israeli security.  Nonetheless there is a universal desire for peace.
 
It has to be said, however, that the military and political success of the State of Israel has given an opportunity to those who are instinctively anti-Semitic to express their dislike of the Jewish people while arguing that they merely disapprove of Israeli militarism.  The Jewish people are very sensitive to this and it is important to be aware, when discussing the Middle East situation, of all the sensitivities involved.
 
The Sabbath -
Jews gave the idea of a regular, weekly day off to the world. Previously in ancient times, there were irregular holidays throughout the year. According to the Book of Exodus in the Hebrew Scriptures:
 
Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days shall you labour, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work.
 
The Jewish Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, Saturday.  It begins on Friday evening at sunset and it ends a little more than 24 hours later on Saturday evening when it is dark.
 
The reason why many Jewish immigrants to Great Britain and the US started their own businesses was because they were not prepared to work (as was customary in the 19th Century) on Saturdays.  Among Orthodox Jews the Sabbath is still observed very strictly.  They do not drive cars (which means they have to live within walking distance of a synagogue).  Domestic chores are done in advance, the family spends the day together, sharing meals, entertaining guests, talking, reading, attending services and enjoying each others' company.
 
The sun sets early in the UK in the winter. Orthodox Jews will want to be home, or with their host family, by four o'clock in the afternoon.  Although the Sabbath occurs every week, it is the most important of all Jewish festivals and is regarded within the community as the crucial test of strict observance.  If someone is shomer shabbos (Sabbath observant) then they are part of the Orthodox community.  Therefore any institution which has a number of Orthodox students then it should avoid scheduling lectures, examinations or laboratory sessions on Friday afternoons or Saturday.  If this is impossible, at the very least, this difficulty should be made clear in the prospectus so that Orthodox students can look for another course.
 
In fact, the majority of British Jews are not strictly Orthodox.  Observance may vary from what is described above down to an unwillingness to accept dinner invitations on Friday evening coupled with very occasional attendance at synagogue services.  Many Jews go still further and take no notice of the Sabbath at all; they have Saturday jobs, they use their cars, go shopping and are barely aware of the customs of their ancestors.  Nonetheless educational institutions should know that some Jews still take the Sabbath very seriously and classes and other obligations may have to be scheduled accordingly.
 
Food -
The Jewish food laws, based on the Hebrew Scriptures, are highly complicated. Very briefly, only certain birds, fish and animals are acceptable as food.  All birds of prey, shellfish and animals which do not both chew the cud and have a cloven hoof are forbidden.  Even the acceptable animals must be slaughtered in a particular way by specially qualified slaughterers.  In addition meat foods may not in any way be mixed with milk foods.
 
The practical effect of this is that Orthodox Jews will only eat food which has been inspected and prepared within their own community.  They will not eat out in cafeterias or in the houses of non-Orthodox people (even Jews).  In a higher education context, they will bring their own food into the institution and will not expect to share in the student facilities.
 
Among the non-Orthodox, the situation is more complicated. In the modern world, all individuals makes their own accommodation with the  situation.  Some Jews keep kosher (follow the Jewish food laws) at home, but eat anything out. Some will only eat fish and vegetarian food.  Still others will seem to eat anything, but will avoid pork products and/or any form of shellfish. Other ignore the rules completely.  If a Jewish person accepts an invitation to a non-Jewish person's house, it is probably safe to assume that they eat most foods, but it would be sensible to avoid pork and shellfish.
 
Dress -
In a higher education context, the vast majority of Jewish students will be indistinguishable from their non-Jewish counterparts.  Their clothes will be the same; they will enjoy the same music; see the same films and watch the same television programmes.  However, the strictly Orthodox may be distinguished by their dress.  The men will wear skull caps at all times and the women may be dressed a little more modestly than their classmates (for example sleeves which cover the elbow and skirts which cover the knee).
 
Issues of Gender and Sexuality -
Traditionally Judaism is a patriarchal religion with clearly defined roles for men and women. Girls and boys are educated separately and follow a different religious curriculum.  Women are not expected to take an active part in the ritual of the synagogue and are not encouraged to spend their time studying the ancient texts. In the past, marriage and motherhood was the only acceptable destiny for a girl from an Orthodox family.
 
In the secular world, in practice, Jews are every bit as ambitious for their daughters as for their sons.  At least as many young Jewish women as young Jewish men are qualifying for the professions or going to business school and, in these contexts, they expect complete equality of opportunity.  For most Jewish students, no special arrangements need to be made for seating or class organisation.
 
However, strictly Orthodox Jews may be slightly less familiar with the extremes of youth culture than their secular contemporaries.  For reasons of modesty the girls may be reluctant to shake hands with any man and both young men and women may prefer to sit next to someone of their own gender in lectures.  Similarly, when working in pairs, very Orthodox Jewish male students may choose to work with another man and a young woman with another woman.  However, these precautions only apply to a very small group within the Jewish community and young people will probably make their own arrangements quite discreetly.
 
Of course not all Jews are heterosexual. Traditional Jewish law, as laid down in the Book of Leviticus, makes it clear that same-sex sexual relationships (previously refer to as homosexual relationships) are an abomination.  However, the non-Orthodox movements and the vast majority of Jewish young people reject this teaching and are as tolerant of gay relationships as are their non-Jewish contemporaries.  The older generation feels differently and there remains a strong desire for Jewish grandchildren.  However, in general, most Jewish parents do come to terms with, and accept, their children's sexual orientation.  This may not always be the case among the strictly Orthodox, who adhere to the traditional precepts. A gay, lesbian or bisexual strictly Orthodox Jew often has the stark choice of accepting a semi-arranged marriage or breaking away from the community.  However this trauma is unlikely to emerge in the context of a secular university or college.
 
Participation -
Although the Book of Genesis teaches that the universe was created in six days, this is only interpreted literally by the most Orthodox.  Any Jewish student who enrols for a science course in a secular university or college will expect to learn about evolution and natural selection.  The only curriculum issue which could perhaps cause a problem is that of modesty and good taste. 

Orthodox young men and women may be offended by crassly pornographic literature or visual images.  However, if they are sufficiently liberal to enrol themselves in a literature or art course, they will know what to expect and will probably accept whatever is on offer.  If they do not approve of the curriculum, they will not apply for the course, and increasingly the strictly Orthodox are not sending their children to secular institutions for this reason.
 
Recruitment and Retention -
The majority of Jewish children in the UK go to secular schools, either state or private, and apply to institutions of higher education in exactly the same way as their non-Jewish counterparts. Many of the minority who go to Jewish schools also expect to go on to secular higher education.
 
However, Jews who are in any way observant do want to be in an environment in which they will meet other Jewish students.  They often prefer to be in a town or city where there is a sizeable Jewish population or where there is an active Jewish society for the students.  In addition, the Orthodox need to be able to walk to a synagogue on the Sabbath and to be able to buy kosher food.  For these reasons it is difficult to recruit Jewish students to a remote or rural area, where there is no established Jewish population.
 
Because of the sensitivity of the situation in the Middle East, it is important that lecturers and tutors are even-handed in their approach.  In an institution which recruits a large number of Muslim students, Jews should not feel beleaguered or in any way under threat. Any excessive or offensive behaviour either by individuals or by particular university societies should be nipped in the bud.  It goes without saying that any evidence of anti-Semitism, whether expressed by staff or by students, should be immediately repudiated by the institution at the highest level and disciplinary measures should be taken to prevent any further recurrence in the future.
 
In order to retain Jewish students, it is important to be aware of the laws of the Sabbath and festivals when organising the timetable and when scheduling examinations and practicals.  In addition, lecturers should accept without question that some strictly Orthodox Jews will be unwilling to work closely with someone of the opposite sex.  In the majority of cases, such precautions will not be necessary and Jewish students will be fully assimilated into the group. 

 

Additional guidance:

Please refer to the 'Higher Education Academy Guide to Judaism' for an overview
and examples of adjustments specific to staff/student in universities:
HEA Guide to Judaism (PDF, 1,091 KB) 

Chaplaincy guidance from the Scottish Inter Faith Council, please refer to:
Judaism


 

 

Contact

Human Resources

University of St Andrews
The Old Burgh School

Abbey Walk
St Andrews
Fife
KY16 9LB
Scotland, United Kingdom

Tel: +44(0)1334 463096