Bar-Ilan student booted from class for refusing to wear a kippa

University slammed for regulation requiring males enrolled in mandatory Jewish studies courses to don a head-covering

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

A lecturer at Bar-Ilan University last week kicked a male student out of his class after the student refused to wear a kippa, and the officially Jewish-Orthodox institution backed the lecturer’s decision, saying the ritual head-covering was part of the institution’s dress code — even if it wasn’t always enforced.

Dr. Haim Talbi, who teaches in the Talmud Department, told his male students that if they wanted to attend his class, they had to wear a kippa. When one of the students refused, he was sent to the department’s administrative section, where he was told that the agreement signed by all students upon admission included a clause mandating a “head covering during mandatory Jewish studies courses.”

The following week, the student returned to class, and when he again refused to comply with Talbi’s demand that he don a kippa, the lecturer asked him to leave the classroom.

On Saturday, a student at the university by the name of Zohar Ben Shatach posted on Bar-Ilan’s Facebook page, asking: “How is it possible that a lecturer kicked a student out of class because he refused to wear a kippa and the university is backing him???”

In a response to the query, posted by the page’s administrator, the university asserted that any student who signed the admission agreement “should know about” the clause mandating a head covering, and that even though “not all faculty enforce the rule… those who do so cannot be impugned.”

The original exchange was later removed from Bar-Ilan’s Facebook page, but a screen capture of the conversation was widely circulated on Tuesday, sparking a slew of condemnations.

“It’s unthinkable that a public institution funded by the state would force its students to participate in religious practices,” MK Nitzan Horowitz of the left-wing Meretz party told the Hebrew-language news website Walla.

Indeed, Horowitz continued, it was equally preposterous to demand that a religious student remove his kippa during a life sciences course as it was to force a secular student to don one during a Jewish studies class.

“I expect Bar Ilan University to treat secular students on campus with respect and change the regulations,” he said.

According to a response from Bar-Ilan, in many cases, students requested an exemption from the rule, and that in those instances it was up to the lecturer to decide whether to approve their request. In a statement, the university claimed that Talbi had offered to discuss the issue with the student, but that the student, “as an act of protest,” demanded to meet the lecturer outside office hours.

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