Jewish Religious Observance

This guidance aims to raise staff awareness around Judaism and to deliver guidance for supporting staff and students practicing the Jewish faith at the university. It provides practical information on the significance of Jewish festivals and holy days, what they involve and what arrangements we have in place on our campus. It also includes contact details of relevant staff and additional resources for more information, advice and guidance.

It is important to remember not all Jewish people practice the same level of religious observance so each of their requests should be dealt with on a case by case basis, as what is suitable for one individual may not be suitable for another.

The Equality Policy Unit has also developed a religious festival & events calendar.

Contents of this page


Purpose and significance

For a fully observant Jewish person, Halacha (Jewish law) provides a central model for how to lead an affirmed spiritual life. This means that it is not possible for an observant Jewish person to waive, for example, observance of the Shabbat (Sabbath). However, in most cases reasonable adjustments will mean that there is no conflict between observing Jewish laws and festivals, and fully contributing as a student or member of the workforce.

Key points

  • One of the most common workplace or study place adjustments for Jewish employees and students concerns working on the Shabbat (Sabbath) and during festivals. The Jewish Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest. It starts Friday afternoon, about one hour before dusk and lasts for approximately 25 hours, until after dark the following day. As daylight hours vary, the beginning and end times of the Sabbath also vary throughout the year. Jewish law requires Jewish people to refrain from various actions of ‘work’ on the Shabbat. In the winter months, this could affect teaching staff or students with classes or exams on Friday afternoons, as well as on Saturdays. For someone working a Monday-Friday standard working week, Shabbat observance requires leaving work early on a Friday afternoon (this varies throughout the year). For employees needing to complete a set number of hours in a week, this can easily be made up by working earlier or later on other days of the week to compensate.
  • Please be mindful that as the Shabbat requires a minimum time for preparation, many students and staff might need to leave one to two hours before dusk on Friday afternoon. Similar restrictions exist for major festivals (see Major Festivals), the Judaism prohibits various activities including but not limited to writing, drawing, the use of electrical devices, the use of telephones, the use of public transport, driving, and any commercial transactions.
  • Jewish festivals can normally be easily accommodated. Festivals may be taken as annual or unpaid leave (this should be in accordance with the University’s annual leave policy) and consequently should cause little disruption as they are taken in short bursts rather than in long blocks.
  • Some observant Jewish men and women may have specific requirements regarding their dress. Some Jewish men always cover their heads with a yarmulke, kappel or kippa (‘skullcap’). Some observant Jewish women will wish to dress modestly, which may include not wearing trousers, short skirts or short sleeves. Some married Jewish women will also cover their hair, with a scarf, hat or wig
  • Observant Jewish people pray three times a day, in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening. This can take place in a variety of locations including the workplace. As a manager, designating a room for prayer or a quiet space is good practice. Jewish people also observe five days of fasting throughout the year. Managers are advised to demonstrate empathy, sensitivity and understanding in support of those who are fasting.
  • Jewish people who observe the dietary laws are required to eat only Kosher food and consequently may refuse foods labelled ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’. Good practice is to always ask staff and students about their dietary requirements when food is being provided.
  • Jewish students and staff will take personal responsibility for managing their religious observances. Since there are varying levels of religious observance, an individual’s requirements should be discussed with them on a personal basis.

What provision is the University making?

The University has many Jewish students and staff. We are very keen to provide a safe and inclusive environment, facilities and arrangements to ensure that they are able to practice their faith alongside their studying, working and living on campus. The arrangements we have in place are:

  • Prayer and contemplation facilities are available at various locations on or near campus. The main Jewish prayer area currently available is at the Jewish Chaplaincy, Hillel Student Centre, 2 Springfield Mount, Leeds, LS2 9NE. Opening hours are from 9am-6pm daily. For additional information please refer to the EPU’s online Prayer and contemplation guidance.
  • The University’s Chaplaincy Team offers support to staff and students.
  • The University’s Jewish Chaplain, Rabbi Yochanan and Jodie Pereira offer talks, information, advice, guidance and support. They can be contacted on 07815 108 260 or 07791 292 948 or at yochanan@mychaplaincy.co.uk or jodie@mychaplaincy.co.uk
  • Advice, support and guidance is also available to managers, staff and students from the Equality Policy Unit at equality@leeds.ac.uk

Students, staff and visitors may also find the following organisations of interest for  further information :

Major Jewish festivals 2020-21

  • Rosh Hashannah (New Year): 18 – 20 September 2020. Two festival days (one day for Progressive communities).
  • Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement): 27-28 September 2020. One festival day.
  • Sukkot (Tabernacles): 2 – 9 October 2020. Sukkot begins on the evening of 2nd October and ends on the evening of 9th October – 7 festival days.
  • Hanukkah: 10-18 December 2020. Eight day celebration.
  • Pesach (Passover): 27 March – 4 April 2021. Two sets of two festival days separated by four semi-festive days (two sets of one day for Progressive communities).
  • Shavuot (Pentecost): 16-18 May 2021. Two festival days (one day for Progressive communities).
  • Rosh Hashannah (New Year):  6-8 September 2021. Two festival days (one day for Progressive communities).
  • Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement): 15-16 September 2021. One festival day.

Guidance for line managers working with Jewish staff

Staff will manage their own Jewish observances. Practices may vary between individuals due to health, travel and other personal circumstances. Individual staff members may make different types of leave requests, for example, to work half-days and/or shorter working weeks to enable them to observe the Shabbat or other religious festivals. Others may request more flexible working arrangements. Requests should be managed in line with all existing University HR policies.

Managers are advised to demonstrate empathy, sensitivity and understanding to balance supporting our staff to manage their religious commitments alongside ensuring we meet all our business needs. Managers may otherwise wish to consider meeting times over these periods which enables the contribution of most staff.

The calendar of major Jewish festivals will be useful when planning activities like staff development, away days and in drawing up work schedules/timetables. Managers will be able to anticipate significant dates that staff may want to take as leave. It is the responsibility of line managers to find out from staff, what their religious practices are so the University can begin to assess how well any particular needs they might have are being met.

Guidance for staff working with Jewish students

Students will manage their own Jewish observances. As a member of staff please refer to this document when setting dates for exams, core assessments, field trips, arranging placements, time-tabling key lectures, arranging interviews, seminars and other programme activities. In general, please be mindful that scheduling any of these activities on Friday afternoon/evenings and weekends may conflict with Jewish students’ observances. In such a case, every effort should be made to provide alternatives upon request.

Consulting with students who study in your department will be important to establish the extent of their religious observance. This can form the basis of significant religious dates to avoid, as far as it is possible, when developing programme timetables. It would also be an opportunity to find out whether students have other religious or cultural needs and how well these are currently being met within the faculty.

The University has further guidance on responding to requests for flexibility from staff and students on the grounds of religion.