Orthodox Jewish Commencement Speaker Finds Shabbat Workaround

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(RNS1-may13) Don Greenberg, student speaker for Watson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences commencement and an Orthodox Jew, pre-records his commencement speech with help from video producer Andrew Hatling. Greenbergs' recorded speech will be played during the Watson ceremony which falls on Saturday, May 16, 2015, the Sabbath, which Orthodox Jews do not use electonice devices such as a microphone, so that he can observe the holy day. For use with RNS-ORTHO-GRADUATE, transmitted on May 13, 2015, Photo courtesy of Jonathan Cohen/Binghamton University
14 May 2015

Senior Don Greenberg was looking forward to addressing his fellow students as a commencement speaker at Binghamton University’s engineering school when his girlfriend broke the bad news: May 16, graduation day, falls on a Saturday.

“Great!” he remembers telling her, in the most sarcastic of tones.

A triple major from Teaneck, N.J., with a 3.93 GPA, Greenberg is an Orthodox Jew who observes the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at sunset Friday and ends at sunset on Saturday. Observant Jews cannot use electricity on Shabbat, a day of rest, because of an age-old prohibition related to kindling a fire. Speaking into the microphone on the podium, his voice causing lights to illuminate on a sound board, would not be considered kosher. Greenberg knew this and his rabbi confirmed it.

But when 2,500 students and their families gather on the upstate New York campus for the Watson School of Engineering graduation on Saturday, Greenberg will still take his place at the podium. And on jumbo screens on either side of the stage, he will watch himself deliver the graduation address he taped in the university’s video studio three days earlier.

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Watch a segment of the commencement speech:

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.