University Implements New Shabbos Key Policy


princeton-unversityJonathan Dec of the Daily Princetonian reports: Jewish students who do not use electricity on the Sabbath recently received metal dorm keys to use from sundown on Fridays to sundown on Saturdays. Since religious restrictions prohibit the use of electricity on the Sabbath and on Jewish holidays, in past years prox access machines have been left unlocked for the first 10 minutes of every half hour each Sabbath to allow students observing the holiday to enter their dorms without swiping their proxes.After a student expressed concern with the safety of this system last spring, the University re-examined the policy over the summer and decided to discontinue it. Over the last few weeks, students have been given metal keys to their dorms, and the University installed corresponding manual locks on the doors.

Still, some Jews cannot carry personal items like keys outside on the Sabbath, presenting an obstacle to the new policy. To comply with this restriction, the University has integrated the keys into articles of clothing, in which they play a functional role. Men receive belts with the key as the buckle, while women receive keys on a necklace. Clothing is exempt from the religious restrictions.

Zahava Stadler ’11, president of Yavneh, the Orthodox on-campus student group, said she thinks the new system is an improvement over the old one because students no longer have to wait to enter their dorms.

“I think it’s understandable that the University would be concerned about security with the old system,” she said, adding that the University’s new system is a “very familiar solution.”

“We’re joining a long history of Jewish communities,” she added.

Other colleges have formulated different solutions to the problem of dorm access on the Sabbath and holidays. At some universities, like Penn, NYU and Columbia, a security guard at the front desk of a dorm has a list of all the students who observe Sabbath, temporarily eliminating the need for an ID card. At other schools, telephone wires render the campus an “enclosed space,” within which it is acceptable to carry objects, Yavneh treasurer Jeff Mensch ’11 said. At Princeton, Mensch explained, neither solution is feasible, since there are no security officers in the dorms and the telephone wires are underground.

Yavneh maintains a list of the students who need dorm access on the Sabbath, compiled after room draw at the end of every year.

Rabbi David Wolkenfeld, the educational director of the Jewish Learning Initiative, said he worked closely with the University to change the policy, meeting with senior representatives from the departments of Facilities, Housing and Public Safety. At these meetings, they discussed a variety of logistical issues, such as ways to notify students of the change in policy and ways to program the prox access machines to allow students to open the doors manually.

“I’m very pleased with the collaboration that occurred,” Dean of Religious Life Alison Boden said in an e-mail. “The [Center for Jewish Life] (CJL) staff advised all partners as to the requirements of Sabbath observance, while the other units brought their expertise on matters of security and public safety, the mechanics of various lock systems, etc.”

Both Stadler and Wolkenfeld said they appreciated the cooperation of the University.

Wolkenfeld said he valued the “major financial and time commitment” on the part of the University, adding that he was “very pleased with the willingness of the University to go the extra mile to ensure that our needs are met.”

“I think that a serious effort was put in on the part of the University,” Stadler said. “They created jewelry for me.”

The CJL ordered the men’s belts online, while the University lock shop produced the necklaces. Boden said it was “their first request ever for jewelry design!”

{The Daily Princetonian/Noam Newscenter}


  1. What an amazing story.. keeping in mind that 50 years ago, Princeton, a bastion of WASP perochialism, maintained quotas limiting Jewish enrollment. And now they accomodate Shabbos observance.