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Editorial: When Rosh Hashanah and shopping period overlap

This year Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest Jewish holidays, overlaps with shopping period.

It began at sundown on Sunday and ends this evening. While Dean of the College Maud Mandel sent an Aug. 19 community-wide email that outlined ways in which faculty members would accommodate Jewish students who missed class to attend services, Monday classes should have been canceled altogether to allow Jewish students to observe the holiday without missing a crucial day of shopping period.

Mandel wrote in her email that “since this is the first class session of the year, faculty have been asked to be lenient where possible” about students missing class, and that faculty  have been instructed “not to give away the spots of religiously observant students in enrollment limited courses.” She also wrote that in order to accommodate these students, shopping period will be extended until 5 p.m. on Sept. 23. 

Yet while Jewish students were not formally penalized for missing classes, there were still consequences to not showing up. Yesterday was the first Monday of shopping period, which means that it was the first day weekly Monday seminars were held. Jewish students who had to miss a class will now have to wait a week before they can decide if they want to take it. As such, it seems unfair to burden observant Jewish students with the stress of not being able to set their schedules for a whole extra week longer than the rest of the student body.

While Brown has not canceled classes in prior years when shopping period and Rosh Hashanah coincided, the practice is not unheard of at peer institutions. For example, classes at Dartmouth will not begin this year until Wednesday in order to allow Jewish students to observe both days of Rosh Hashanah. Moreover, many public elementary, middle and high schools school districts with smaller Jewish populations than Brown’s have canceled classes during the High Holidays. For instance, public schools in New York City, where an estimated 9.6 percent of the population is Jewish, are closed for the High Holidays.

Brown has a fairly large Jewish population, with approximately 1,000 students — roughly 17 percent of the undergraduate student body — identifying as Jewish. Even if a substantial portion of the Jewish community did not observe the High Holidays, many surely had a difficult time deciding between honoring one of the most important days on the Jewish calendar and solidifying their schedules for the semester. Such a significant portion of the Brown community should not have had to make such a difficult decision.

Ideally, no classes would ever be scheduled during any religious holiday that might cause students to miss class, including the upcoming Yom Kippur, Eid Al-Adha and Good Friday. Yet asking Brown to cancel class for all of these days is probably unrealistic. Focusing on shopping period, however, is a much more manageable and realistic goal. So we only ask that next time Rosh Hashanah — or indeed, any important holiday that affects a large part of the student body — falls during shopping period, classes be canceled out of respect.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Manuel Contreras ’16 and Meghan Holloway ’16, and its members, Emma Axelrod ’18, Noah Fitzgerel ’17 and Aranshi Kumar ’17. Send comments to


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