Brazil's New President Signs Law Allowing Jewish Students to Skip School for Religious Reasons

The law allows students of all faiths to be absent on any day in which work is prohibited. Jewish students have previously had difficulties balancing Shabbat and academic exams

Marcus M. Gilban
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New Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro delivers a speech, January 7, 2019
New Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro delivers a speech, January 7, 2019.Credit: AFP
Marcus M. Gilban

A new law in Brazil allows Jewish and non-Jewish students to skip school exams and classes for religious reasons.

The students are permitted to be absent on any date in which, according to their religious precepts, the exercise of activities is prohibited, according to the legislation. For Jewish students, it means Shabbat and holidays such as Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

“It’s a legitimate demand from the part of the Brazilian population that keeps the Sabbath,” Fernando Lottenberg, president of the Brazilian Israelite Confederation, told JTA on Monday. “It is yet another important victory for the Jewish community and all those involved in this struggle, including the Adventists.” The Seventh-day Adventist Church, like Judaism, has Saturday as its Sabbath.

>> Brazil – and its Jewish community – battle for the soul of Latin America’s biggest democracy

Effective in 60 days, the law was signed Thursday by Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing non-Jewish politician who is ardently pro-Israel and a friend of many in the Jewish community.

Absences must be requested in advance. Missed exams and classes must be provided on an alternative date or replaced by written assignments or research activities, according to the law.

In 2016, some 76,000 Sabbath-observant applicants of Brazil’s annual national high school exam were confined to classrooms between 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday in order to start the test after sunset without the possibility of cheating.

In 2017, the exam was moved from Saturday and administered on two Sundays following a lengthy campaign by Jewish groups and members of other religions.

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