(JTA) — Russia’s education ministry has agreed to provide Jewish students an alternative date for a matriculation exam that took place on the Shavuot holiday.
The accommodation was announced last week in a letter addressed to Berel Lazar, a chief rabbi of Russia.
“Students and graduates unable to take the Unified State Exam for religious reasons may be tested on June 16,” read the letter that Russia’s Ministry of Education and Science sent Lazar.
Boruch Gorin, who is a senior adviser to Lazar, chairman of Moscow’s Jewish museum and editor-in-chief of the Jewish L’Chaim paper, said that the ministry had agreed in the past not to schedule state exams on the summer holiday of Shavuot, which fell this year on June 3-5, “but they seem to have forgotten this year.”
Education ministry officials initially declined Lazar’s request for an alternative date, saying that “providing an alternative date would be illegal because of the secular nature of the education system,” Gorin said. “So Rabbi Lazar brought up the matter several weeks ago during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who asked the ministry to make the change nonetheless. Earlier this month we received confirmation an alternative date would be provided.”
Citing the Russian constitution, the ministry letter also said that the ministry “places an emphasis on the secular character of the state education as a matter of policy.”
The matriculation exam is a general test combining question on various subjects and is crucial for university admissions.
Observant Jews cannot work on Shabbat or important Jewish holidays, including Shavuot.
Russia has a Jewish population of approximately 360,000 Jews, most of whom are not observant.