Why rabbis are putting students in quarantine


Orthodox university students whose exams clash with Shavuot will have to spend the festival in “quarantine” with their rabbis to avoid contact with colleagues taking the tests.

Because Shavuot falls on two weekdays this year, University Jewish Chaplaincy — a network of 17 rabbis and rebbetzins across the country — has had to make arrangements for students in more than 100 universities which meet exam regulations.

For some students that means signing affidavits swearing not to communicate with anyone taking the same exams. But some exam boards demand more drastic action.

Rabbi Harvey Belovski, the CEO of University Jewish Chaplaincy, said his chaplains work “incredibly hard for months” negotiating arrangements with universities, and arranging military-style logistics of picking up and dropping off students to exams, as well as making room for them in their homes.

The rabbi will be taking in Yehudah Gaffin, a King’s College London fourth-year medical student, at his home in Golders Green during Shavuot, in a so-called “quarantine” arrangement.

Mr Gaffin said the situation was “not ideal” and that his university could have been better prepared for the exam clash.

He will have to report to Rabbi Belovski’s house at the same time his exam is due to start on the morning of Wednesday May 31, and will stay there until Friday morning, when the rabbi will escort him to the King’s campus so he can take the exam.

Even then Mr Gaffin will have to sign an affidavit affirming he did not communicate with his fellow medics.

The 23-year-old from Edgware said: “It has taken several months to get this sorted out. I’m not especially pleased about it but I know Rabbi Belovski well, so it’s not as if I will stay with a complete stranger; it will be fine. I’ll be relaxed.

“I signed up to medical school — this is just part of it.”

A total of 35 students around the country will be “quarantined” for at least part of Shavuot. The figure would have been higher, but for the Chaplaincy, which ministers to 4,000 Jewish students nationwide, negotiating with universities to move exam dates.

Rabbi Belovski said: “This is a particularly challenging year for observant Jewish students whose exams fall over Shavuot. Logistically, it been incredibly complex. We have built relationships with these universities over many years. It’s easier with some than others.”

Dental student Simon Stern, 32, will also stay with Rabbi Belovksi, until Wednesday afternoon after sitting two Royal College of Surgeons (Edinburgh) exams back-to-back on Tuesday — before his fellow students are scheduled to take the papers.

Mr Stern, a father-of-two from Hendon, said: “I had terrible visions of not being able to take the exam. After all that work, spending every Sunday for years studying, and after my wife looking after the kids while I did that, that would have been terrible.

“It is not the way I imagined finishing my last exam, as nice as Rabbi Belovski is. I thought I would be able to celebrate with my family, who have been with me every step of the way.

“But without the chaplains I’d be completely stuck. They are fantastic.”

Rabbi Belovski said a “shout out” should go to Rabbi Gavin Broder who, as the London regional chaplain, is responsible for 45 students, 10 of whom he will have to “quarantine” this Shavuot.

Rabbi Broder said he will have to call on the kindness of some of his “very nice neighbours” to house the students. The co-ordination of pick-up and drop-off points at four different universities was an especially difficult task, he said.

“It’s also a lot of work for my wife — making sure beds are available for all the students,” he added. “But we get there in the end. It’s important the students know they have my support.”

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