Bolsonaro Signs Law Excusing Jewish Students from Exams, Classes on Sabbath

January 14, 2019

2 min read

Recently-inaugurated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro signed a new law, which allows Jewish and non-Jewish students to skip school exams and classes for religious reasons.

Only a matter of days after taking office, Brazil’s new president enacted legislation that will permit students to be absent on any date, in which according to their religious beliefs the exercise of activities is prohibited. For Jewish students this means the Sabbath – and there have been instances of university exams being scheduled on a Saturday with students made to sit in a proctored classroom from 1:00 p.m. until 7 p.m. so that they could start the test after sunset without the possibility of cheating – and also festivals such as Pesach (Passover) ,Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles).

“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 the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA). “It is yet another important victory for the Jewish community and all those involved in this struggle, including the [Seventh-day] Adventists,” he said.

The law only becomes effective after 60 days, and states that students must alert university and school authorities regarding their absence on religious grounds ahead of time. Missed exams and classes must be provided on an alternate date or replaced by written assignments or research activities.

Bolsonaro himself is not Jewish, but the law provides further evidence of Bolsonaro’s his closeness with the Brazilian Jewish community. He is fervently pro-Israel evidenced in different ways; his burgeoning relationship with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which was cemented by the latter’s arrival in Brazil for Bolsonaro’s inauguration – the first official visit by an Israeli prime minister; and his avowed intention to move the Brazilian Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move he confirmed last week. In addition to his pro-Israel statements, Bolsonaro announced in late October 2018 that he would close the Palestinian Embassy in Brasilia, claiming that it was not actually a country.

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