Next Saturday night and Sunday will be the fast day of the Ninth of Av (Tisha b'Av), the most significant fast in the Jewish calendar after Yom Kippur as it is the date upon which both the First and the Second Holy Temples were destroyed.
On Monday, Hebrew University of Jerusalem announced to its staff that the university would be closed on Tisha b'Av, in order to show respect for the day of mourning. In response, Prof. Amiram Goldblum of the university's medical faculty sharply condemned the decision, writing, "Unbelievable -- a shameful submission to the religious and to the Jewish religion in the State of Israel. Sickening."
Goldblum later added, "I thought Hebrew University had divested itself of religion, and that this was a university of both Jews and Arabs. I don't recall the university ever closing for Muslim or Christian festivals. Perhaps we should change its name to 'Jewish University'? That would fit in well with the rampant racism in this country."
Channel 12 News invited Goldblum for an interview, during which the professor explained that he was "opposed to the university's decision to obligate me to suffer on the Ninth of Av -- without being able to enter my laboratory at the university, make progress with my research with my students (some of whom won't be there due to religious reasons, and that's fine with me). My problem is solely that of being coerced into doing things."
He added that, "The university won't only be shutting down its study halls and so forth on that day -- it plans to shut the pool and the gym as well. I could understand them shutting the cafeteria in order not to offend those who will be fasting, but who am I offending if I want to keep fit? The only times the university shuts down entirely are on festivals and Jewish holidays. 22 percent of the population of Israel are non-Jews, but there isn't a single Muslim or Christian holiday when the university is entirely shut. They have study breaks on Christmas and for Eid al-Fitr, but the rest of the university remains open on those days."
Approached for comment by Channel 12 News, Hebrew University issued a statement saying: "The Hebrew University respects the religious holidays and special events of all faiths, groups, races, and sectors. The day of Tisha b'Av is a significant component of Jewish identity and is therefore significant for the University as well, and we treat the day in the appropriate manner every year."