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Rabbinic group calls for review of professor berating men for putting on tefillin

“Her behavior was gratuitous and outrageous,” said Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, East Coast regional vice president of the CJV, “and appeared to reflect a deep-seated animus towards Jewish observance. Her derision and forced, sarcastic laughter were completely outside the behavior expected of rational adults.”

The Coalition for Jewish Values is calling on two American universities to revisit courses assigned to Professor Pnina Peri after she was caught on video in Hebrew mocking and shaming two men performing Jewish rituals at Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel.

In separate letters to the President of American University and the Chancellor of the University System of Maryland, the CJV, which represents more than 1,000 traditional rabbis, said that Peri—listed as faculty by both—showed “unbridled hostility towards religious activity,” which calls into doubt her ability to “demonstrate appropriate tolerance and accommodation of religious needs.”

The man who posted the video, Gad Kaufman, said that he was waiting for his departure on a business trip to Europe. He described what transpired: “I was asked politely by a Chabad representative if I was interested in putting on tefillin [phylacteries], and I responded positively. This woman then appeared, and began screeching and interfering.”

“Her behavior was gratuitous and outrageous,” said Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, East Coast regional vice president of the CJV, “and appeared to reflect a deep-seated animus towards Jewish observance. Her derision and forced, sarcastic laughter were completely outside the behavior expected of rational adults. If her hostility is so severe that it overwhelmed common decency and decorum in a public place, it is difficult to imagine how she could banish it from her classroom presentations for a full semester.”

As such, CJV requested that university officials “immediately review the course load assigned to Professor Peri for the upcoming semester,” as “one could not anticipate that the woman portrayed on that video would necessarily treat [religious students] impartially and with complete fairness.”

“The universities should require diversity and tolerance training before she returns to the classroom,” explained Pruzansky. “They must examine her teaching assignments to ensure an environment of mutual respect for students in the fall.”

Editor’s Note: Mark Story, director of strategic communications at American University, said Pnina Peri’s listing on the faculty page of the Middle East Studies department is in error, saying she “is not an employee of American University as has been reported. According to our records, Ms. Peri last served as adjunct faculty at A.U. in 2015. We apologize for the misunderstanding.”

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