Monday, April 30, 2007

Congressional Letter on Bar Exam, Tisha B'av, and Laptops

From Congressional sources -

This letter is about to be sent from all members of the New York Congressional delegation to the New York State Bar Association. Kudos to Reps. Towns and Weiner, in particular, for bringing up an important issue for the many religious Jews who will be at a harsh disadvantage in taking this year's Bar Exam. It will be interesting to see if this forces the Bar to figure out a better solution. Here's what is about to be released:
Congressman Towns and Congressman Weiner Fight for Equitable Bar Exam Conditions for Jewish Examinees
Entire New York Delegation Demands Parity

Brooklyn, NY - Congressman Edolphus "Ed" Towns and Congressman Anthony D. Weiner announced today an effort by the entire New York congressional delegation to ensure that observant Jews are able to take the New York bar exam under equitable conditions. The New York bar exam is scheduled for July 25, 2007, the same date as Tisha B'Av, one of the most solemn days on the Jewish calendar.

Although the New York State Board of Law Examiners is offering the exam on July 26, 2007 for examinees observing Tisha B'Av, examinees on that date are not allowed to take the exam on their laptop computers. Congressman Towns and Congressman Weiner have jointly written a letter to the Board of Law Examiners requesting the board to allow observant examinees to write the exam on their laptop computers. This letter has been signed by the entire New York congressional delegation.

"We commend [the] efforts [of the Board of Law Examiners] to ensure that Jewish examinees are able to take the bar exam on an alternate date. We are concerned, however, that the facility arranged for the alternate date by the New York State Board of Law Examiners is inadequate in so far as it will preclude the use of laptop computers, placing the examinees, who must hand write their exams, at a significant competitive disadvantage. We urge you to reconsider these arrangements. Observant Jewish examinees should not be penalized or placed at a disadvantage for adhering to their religious beliefs," the letter stated.

"I also recognize the continued leadership of New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on this issue. Speaker Silver has fought hard in the past to ensure that all people have equal access to standardized tests and is currently working with the Board of Law Examiners on this issue. His successful efforts to rectify this inequality has allowed Jewish examinees to take the bar without sacrificing their faith, as this is not the first time the bar exam conflicts with Tisha B'Av. Most recently, Speaker Silver translated is advocacy into legislation by amending New York State's current religious protection "Equal Access" law to include professional exams, including bar examinees," said Congressman Towns.

"The bar exam is the most important test in the life of future lawyers. I am optimistic that the Board of Law Examiners will remove this obstacle in the path of all of New York's observant examinees," concluded Congressman Towns.

"Making our future lawyers choose between their religion and the bar exam is wrong," said Rep. Weiner. "These students will also be at serious disadvantage without their laptops, and I hope the Board does the right thing and gives them the same playing field as their colleagues."


  1. You have me totally mystified by this because this Tisha B'av will occur on Tuesday, JULY 24th (and not 25th). You can verify this on your own calendars.

    May HaShem please change Tisha B'Av to a time of celebration
    with the rebuilding of Our Holy Bais HaMikdosh.

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  3. There seems to be typo, but regardless, the bar exam does fall out on Tisha B'av, July 24th.

  4. First of all, handwriting your bar exam is not necessarily a competitive disadvantage. Lots of people handwrite their exams and plenty of them pass the bar exam each year. No one has a "right" to demand to take their exam on a laptop. For example, in CA, if you don't register as soon as registration begins it is possible that all of the seats at the laptop test locations will be taken and the person will have to take the exam at a handwriting location.

    That being said, the problem might be that the computer software used for writing the bar exam is very rigid to prevent cheating. It may be that taking the exam at a different time than the rest of the test takers is not allowed by the software in order to prevent people from looking at the questions ahead of time and/or altering their answers afterwards. The software is not created by the Bar, it is created by an outside company who creates a new version for each bar exam. It may be that the software was already created an installed by a large portion of the exam takers and would be too cumbersome (or impossible) to change by the time the software company was notified by the Bar committee about Tisha B'Av.