Lawyers help student avoid Shabbat exams

By Simon Rocker, May 23, 2008

A student has been allowed to take one of his final exam papers a day early to avoid sitting it on Shabbat, after lawyers intervened with his university.

Hertfordshire University had initially refused Joel Raivid, 21, a BSc psychology student from Edgware, Middlesex, permission to sit the exam on the Friday before its scheduled Saturday slot.

He was told he would have to wait until several weeks later and take it in the re-sit period in late June or early July.

But after solicitors Mishcon de Reya began legal proceedings, the university agreed to make special arrangements for him.

Mr Raivid said the situation had been resolved only nine days before he actually sat the paper a fortnight ago. “I am pleased it was sorted out,” he said. “When it was coming near the exam and it didn’t look like I’d be able to take it, it was becoming very stressful.”

Anthony Julius, from Mishcon de Reya, said: “The only reason that Joel found it difficult to sit the exam as scheduled was because he is an observant Jew. Under the Employment Equality Regulations 2003 and the Race Relations Act 1976, the university’s original decision to make him sit the exam during the re-sit period was discriminatory. 

“Scheduling the exam on a Saturday put Joel and other Orthodox Jews at a particular disadvantage when compared with other students.”

After sitting the exam on Friday, Mr Raivid was chaperoned by Rabbi Gavin Broder, the London region student chaplain, and spent Shabbat at the rabbi’s Golders Green home to ensure that he had no contact with other students.

Mr Raivid is now planning to do a master’s degree in occupational psychology — although he has rejected a place to pursue it at Hertfordshire.

A spokesman for Hertfordshire University said it “has 30,000 exam sittings at the end of the academic year, so it is important that this process is managed effectively.

“We are continually seeking best practice and our research suggests that chaperoning individual students overnight is not common practice in the sector. However, we made the decision to accommodate his needs in the way requested, following expert advice. The university is continually reviewing exam practices and procedures to better serve our students.”

Mr Julius commented: “By failing to accommodate the religious beliefs of students, universities will discourage people with closely held religious beliefs from entering higher education in Britain. In a multicultural society, it should be of great concern to us that those of faith increasingly feel that university is not ‘for them’.

“Anti-discrimination legislation and the consequent shift in attitude have done much to prevent discrimination in the workplace. It is now time for those in education to enjoy similar protection.”

Last updated: 10:09am, May 27 2008