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Secular Israeli denied housing on campus at religious school

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JERUSALEM, Oct. 7 (JTA) – At a time when five Orthodox students at Yale University are battling to live off campus, a secular Israeli student is fighting for the right to live on the campus of a religious university. Earlier this month, Bar-Ilan University told Cyril Amar, a 24-year-old immigrant from France with no family in Israel, that he was ineligible for campus housing because he is not religiously observant. The university, located in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, offered to pay for nearby off-campus housing, but Amar rejected the offer. According to the university’s long-standing guidelines, all students who live in Bar-Ilan’s four dormitories must keep the laws of kashrut and the Sabbath. Male students must wear a kipah, while female students are expected to dress modestly. University spokesman David Weinberg said that Amar was given a dorm room last year on the condition that he live a religious lifestyle while on campus. “This young man knew the rules, but was not able to keep them. Shabbat and kashrut were not things he could do,” Weinberg said. In an interview with the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, Amar said, “I have the right to live in the university dormitory. Sixty to 70 percent of the student body at Bar-Ilan is secular. Why is their right to live in the dorms revoked?” Amar, who served in the Israeli army, said he made aliyah in 1992 “for ideological reasons and was prepared to pay a high personal price and move away from my family in order to live in a sovereign, democratic Jewish state. “I think it is horrible that an academic institution for higher education is not able to practice the tolerance it preaches.” Weinberg said Bar-Ilan “is and has always been a religiously traditional university,” though “about 60 percent” of the university’s students are secular. He added that accommodations on campus are limited. “Only a small fraction of our 25,000 students are able to live on campus,” said Weinberg. “There are only 800 dorm beds, so we are unfortunately forced to turn away most religious and secular students who want to live on campus.” Bar-Ilan gives dorm preference to religious students “because we want to maintain the traditional atmosphere on campus,” he said. Amar’s case stands in stark contrast to that of five Orthodox students who are contemplating a lawsuit against Yale for allegedly violating the students’ religious rights. The dispute arose after the five requested exemptions from Yale’s housing policy, which requires all freshmen and sophomores to live on campus unless they are married or over 21 years old. They asked for a waiver of the $7,000 residential fees because they believe that living in dorms where both sexes easily mingle would not conform with their religious convictions. Yale maintains that residential living on campus is an integral and important part of attending the school.

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