Students taking exams (illustrative)
Students taking exams (illustrative)Flash90

Russian Jews faced tough decisions this month, after matriculation exams were scheduled for both Shabbat and the upcoming holiday of Shavuot. 

In Russia, the Or Avner network of Jewish schools faced a religious dilemma: how would they administer the tests - which are mandatory by law - to the observant student body?

The Chief Rabbi of Russia, Rabbi Berel Lazar, appealed directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin over the issue

Putin clearly expressed that Jewish religious practices should be given consideration, and asked the Minister of Education and Science Dmity Livanov to handle the issue.

The response - while ultimately in the Jewish community's favor - was somewhat lukewarm.

"Chief Rabbi," the official response read, "the Ministry of Education and Science has considered your request about changing the testing dates and announces: the Russian Federation is a secular state (under section 14 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation), and [the Ministry] emphasizes the policy of the secular nature of the state education."

Ultimately, the Ministry acquiesced. 

"But, in light of the inquiry, students and graduates who are not able to access the state exams for religious reasons will be allowed to take state exams on June 16 [after the Shavuot holiday - ed.]." 

Jewish groups and students have welcomed the response, locals say, despite the remark about Russia's state-sanctioned secularism.