After outcry erupted across campus over Harvard University Dining Services’ new effort to restrict the use of Harvard Hillel’s dining hall to the Jewish community, Hillel has now posted a new sign modifying the former statement. The new sign welcomes students from across the Harvard community to use the Hillel dining hall as long as they bear in mind the needs of students who have dietary restrictions due to their religious beliefs. We support the effort of HUDS to clarify the previous misunderstanding and reemphasize the importance of acceptance at Hillel. Discrimination based on racial and religious distinction is inherently harmful and unacceptable whatever the justification. HUDS and Hillel should continue to work together to create a solution in which the special dietary needs of observant students are met while the community spirit of Hillel is upheld.
On Friday, November 9, the original sign was posted at Hillel limiting entrance to the dining hall to only those who are “a member or an invited guest of Harvard’s diverse Jewish community.” This restriction was implemented by HUDS to decrease the operating deficit of the kosher dining hall, where food is twice as costly to produce as the food in House dining halls.
Although the concern over Hillel’s expenses is necessary to preserve Hillel’s primary ability fulfill the dietary needs of students who keep kosher, the decision to restrict admission to the dining hall was not the appropriate response. As Jonah C. Steinberg, the Executive Director of Harvard Hillel stated, “[The restriction] creates conflict with our inclusive and welcoming environment.” Students should be able to have access to food that meets their dietary restrictions without being restricted to a limiting dining environment. From the opposite vantage point, all students should be able to partake in the Hillel community no matter their religious beliefs. Only by maintaining this environment of tolerance can Hillel continue to serve as a home for open discussion and acceptance of the Jewish faith and tradition on campus.
Thus, HUDS and Hillel’s response to reverse the movement to restrict the entrance to the dining hall this weekend should be viewed as a step in the right direction for preserving a culture of openness at Hillel and on campus as a whole. It is crucial not only that students who are observant have access to the proper food, but also equally important to uphold religious tolerance. Harvard should continue to foster institutions that promote tolerance of the religious diversity on campus. Thus, as long as Hillel welcomes all Harvard students of all faiths, HUDS should provide Hillel the funding it needs to continue serving food to all students interested in participating in this community.