By Elliot ZELMANOVITS, English Language and Literature at the University of Leeds.
Last week, my friends and I went out for a meal to celebrate the end of exams. It had been a long day, we’d all worked hard so we were pretty ready for some good grub.
On ordering my usual selection, one of my friends turned to me and asked “do you mind if I order chicken, I know it’s not kosher but I can’t really be bothered anymore”.
Now, being a person who fiercely lives by the motto ‘live and let live’ it was no question that I wouldn’t mind. “Of course not”, I told my friend.
It did, however, make me stop and think.
Since coming to university in September, the number of Jewish students who have, in some way, lowered their personal standards of practice has seemed to have risen.
Whether this means clubbing on Friday night, eating non-kosher meat or simply picking up a pen on Shabbat when it was never dreamt of previously.
The bottom line is: there is definitely an increased awareness amongst Jewish students that is making Jews on campus think about the ways in which they to express their Judaism.
Nowadays, there is a Jewish presence on almost every university campus.
Up and down the country UJS, JSoc, Chabad, Aish, Chaplaincy and various other Jewish centres all work to provide Jewish students with opportunities for Jewish growth and expression. Whether this be a Friday night dinner, a kosher food outlet, or a guest speaker, it’s safe to say Jewish student life in the UK is truly thriving.
So with thousands of Jewish students arriving on campus each year and the amount of opportunities for Jewish interaction and engagement constantly expanding, why then has there been an increase in the amount of Jewish students lowering their level of Halachic practice?
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer that everyone has the right to practice and believe whatever they choose. But with this influx of people challenging what they have always known to be ‘common knowledge’, it is important to question: why the sudden change?
Whilst attempting to find evidence for this claim, one Jewish student said about Friday night clubbing: “it’s not that I don’t care about Shabbat, it’s just not something I think about when all my friends are going out”.
Surely this suggests purely a peer pressure epidemic? Does this mean then that Judaism is more about doing things together rather than alone?
Another person told me: “I’ve always kept kosher and never really thought about why I do it. I’d never eat pork or anything like that, but now I’ll have maybe a non-kosher chicken burger every now and then”.
Well, perhaps then, people’s reasons for not wanting to continue with certain practices run deeper than just simply peer pressure?
Maybe it’s a good thing that more people are thinking about their personal lifestyle choices? Maybe we should be thinking about ways to reintroduce people to Judaism and encourage them to find their feet again?
Or maybe it’s just best to see what lies ahead?
Whilst these questions may remain, for the time being, unanswered, one thing is for certain: the way in which Jewish students practice Judaism on campus is changing, and, whether for good reasons or bad, it’s definitely something to think about.