Hundreds of Israeli college students at the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences (LSMU) medical school in Kaunas have asked for special permission to be excused from classes and exams on the High Holy Days and Jewish festivals. According to the students, the institution ignored their request.
Representatives of Jewish organizations who spoke to The Jerusalem Post said they had received complaints from Jewish students at LSMU. One student said the Jewish students were “forced to participate in classes and/or exams on Rosh Hashanah... against their traditions and beliefs.”
"The Jewish medical students are close to fifty percent of all foreign students [in the institution], this is a huge number, therefore I expect the university staff to consider our feelings and faith. We ask the university not to cause the students any conflict between their faith and medical studies."Moshe Sheinfeld, head of the Kaunas Jewish Center
There are an estimated 500 Israeli students at LSMU studying medicine, most of whom are Jewish. The Israeli group is said to make up about 50% of the overseas program.
“The university staff have said it is compulsory to participate in classes, labs and exams on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar,” one of the students said. Yom Kippur begins Tuesday evening and ends Wednesday night.
The week of Sukkot begins next week, when observant Jews will refrain from writing and other types of work.
According to recent surveys, a majority of Jewish Israelis fast on Yom Kippur, or observe at least part of the fast, and refrain from work or study. The students were told they could take the exams in the second semester, “but it always contradicts with other exams and courses,” a student said.
What's the big deal about Lithuania?
The Post has approached LSMU university and the Lithuanian embassy in Israel.
LMSU is one of the largest institutions of higher education in biomedical sciences in Lithuania and was founded more than 100 years ago. According to the university website, "Medical teaching and research are primarily based on cooperation with the largest health care institution in the Baltic States – the Hospital of LSMU, Kauno klinikos. The Veterinary Academy is the only establishment in Lithuania to train veterinary surgeons.”
Moshe Sheinfeld, head of the Kaunas Jewish Center, told the Post: “The Kaunas Jewish Center works tirelessly to help preserve the Jewish identity of all Jewish medical students during their long stay abroad of about six years... the Jewish medical students are close to 50% of all foreign students [in the institution]. This is a huge number. Therefore, I expect the university staff to consider our feelings and faith. We ask the university not to cause the students any conflict between their faith and medical studies.”