Jewish School’s Team Chooses Sabbath Over Semifinals (UPDATE) March 1, 2012

Jewish School’s Team Chooses Sabbath Over Semifinals (UPDATE)

Albert Katz, 16, warms up with Beren Academy boys basketball team on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012, in Houston. (Mayra Beltran - Houston Chronicle)

The Robert M. Beren Academy is an Orthodox Jewish school in Houston, TX. Its men’s basketball team, the Beren Academy Stars, qualified for the Division 2A state championship tournament – but, since the games fall during the Jewish Sabbath, the team has chosen to withdraw from the tournament on religious grounds.

If Beren were a member of a secular sports league, or even a member of an explicitly Christian league, all I’d really have to say to them is “tough luck.” The rest of society is not obligated to cater to Beren’s religious restrictions, and the school would have known that from day one.

But Beren is affiliated with the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS), a sports league for private and religious schools all over Texas. I can’t cite you the ratio between religious and nonreligious private schools in Texas, but in my days playing for a TAPPS-affiliated school, I seem to remember only a single nonreligious opponent in my region. A glance at TAPPS’ membership list bears that memory out.

During the regular season, Beren’s opponents were willing to change game times on Fridays to accommodate the Jewish Sabbath. Back in 2010, TAPPS even accommodated a Seventh-Day Adventist school (which keeps the same Sabbath as Beren) by moving the start time of a soccer semifinal, but claims it has since changed its bylaws to make this impossible. Brett Haber, a blogger for The Washingtonian, reached TAPPS director Edd Burleson on the phone and had this exchange:

Haber: “Do you guys hold games on Sunday mornings?”

Burleson: “No.”

Haber: “Why not?”

Burleson: “Because that’s the rule of our association.”

Haber: “By playing on Friday nights, but not on Sunday mornings, does that give an unequal amount of respect to the Jewish Sabbath?”

Burleson: “There were no Jewish schools in TAPPS when it was established, and they came into the league knowing what our policy was.”

Haber: “So, now that you have Jewish schools in the league, why not change the policy?”

Burleson: “Why should we allow one or two or three schools to dictate what 120 other schools do?”

Haber: “Some would call that being inclusive.”

Burleson: “I don’t recall “inclusive” being in our constitution.”

The air is thick with Christian privilege.

TAPPS’ refusal to be accommodating, despite its non-sectarian eligibility requirements, is just one more example of Christianity’s pride of place in American culture. It’s telling (but unsurprising) that an organization which, on its surface, promotes religious tolerance is really only welcoming to Christian schools.

On the other hand, of course, is the obvious question of why keeping the Sabbath is so freaking important in the first place. Rabbi Harry Sinoff, Beren’s head of school, explains:

Rabbi Sinoff says he will be content to forfeit the game. He says doing so will not only maintain the immutable sanctity of the Sabbath, but will also turn the episode into a teaching moment for his students. The lesson: No personal or secular glory is worth the sacrifice of one’s ideals. “If my house caught fire during Shabbat, and no one was inside and no one was in danger, and it was simply a matter of property loss, if I were true to my beliefs, I would let the house burn down,” he says. “These kids are being asked to let their house burn down.”

So… pointless suffering makes you a better person? Yeah, that sounds like religion in a nutshell.

UPDATE: TAPPS will abide by a temporary restraining order requiring them to accommodate Beren. The league is currently working to reschedule the games.

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  • David McNerney


  • Johnk

    I think he would have played the game, based on this story in the book of Mark:

    One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” 25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

  • I’ve never understood the whole sabbath thing. The belief seems to be that they’re not allowed to do *anything* on the sabbath (Saturday?) but from what I remember of the OT the jews were only meant to avoid work. Surely recreation doesn’t count as work…?

  • It’s such a simple thing to accommodate. It’s really petty not to do so and a perfect example of Christianity’s well-established problem with treating Judaism as a second-class religion. (Okay, they treat all other religions this way. But Christianity and Judaism have a… particular relationship.)

    Okay, sure, I do not believe there is anything “holy” about Saturday or Sunday, or anything “unclean” about certain foods, or you shouldn’t eat meat on certain days, et cetera, but it’s easy to respect those concerns in other people.

  • Anonymous

    I think his point was rather simple, that the value of his practice is determined by the maximum he is willing to endure to maintain that practice. The things that have values are also in categories. For instance, he places all human life above keeping shabbat, but he does not value any property more than he values keeping shabbat. Categorical standards like these (while this may be a bit insane) are one of the highest mechanisms that allow people to make giant moral sacrifices. Kurt Vonnegut had a saying that many wrongs in the world are perpetrated by people in order to pay a mortgage and that mortgages were the cause of most of the evil in the world.

  •  It is meant to be a day of rest, and playing sports is not “resting” in the sense they mean.

    There are thousands of years of theological debates within Judaism concerning what is and is not acceptable on a Sabbath and how serious it is to break it. Best not to worry about it, and just take it at face value: from 6pm on Friday to 6pm on Saturday, it’s not really a good time to expect practicing Jews to get out and do much.

  • But the justification for that was that Jesus and his men were an insurgent force opposing the Roman rule.   That’s the meaning of the “David” reference.

    Come to think of it, that almost applies here, doesn’t it?  Since today’s Christians are yesterday’s Roman occupiers.

  • Johnk

    Nice try. 
    I’m quoting scripture, not looking at faulty human behavior.

  • Johnk

    he was actually opposing the Pharisees, not the Romans. He was making a point specifically to the Pharisees, who were legalistic and missed the spirit of His message.

  • Nonsense.  He WAS a Pharisee, opposing the Romans.

  • Lord_Byron

    I am not jewish, but I was wondering why they would have a star of david in the center of the court. I know it’s because they are a jewish school, but I  just thought that they would consider it disrespectful to run all over the star. 

  • Johnk

    Chris, you are mistaken. Just read the scripture, his disagreement with the Pharisees is spelled out in verse 27. In the Bible, Jesus regularly disagrees with the pharisees. (And even if he were a pharisee, what he’s opposing here is their strict observance of the law, not the romans. so either way, it’s a moot point.) The fact the Jesus opposed the Romans also has nothing to do with this particular scripture. 

  • The Captain

    This is truly one of those rare stories where I can loath all involved (o.k. maybe it’ not that rare).  

    Idiots still following a bronze age superstition having trouble fitting into a modern society and thinking that makes them riotous: Check. Privileged, hypocritical, bigoted, idiots who think modern society should be structured around their bronze age superstitions only: Check.

    Oh and to the Rabbi, FIRES CAN SPREAD ASS HOLE! It’s good to know that if no one was in”danger” you wouldn’t lift a finger to stop a fire, probably endangering you neighbors houses too, just because you think your invisible friend want’s you to be lazy that day. Your a terrible person.

  • Anonymous

    I got into an argument with a Jewish coworker just yesterday. The claim of Christian prejudice is completely valid. However, that does not mean everyone should bow down to the demands of a DIFFERENT religion.

    I pity the kids on the Jewish team because their coaches/school/religion is stupid. I loath the Christian organizers for not being more accommodating. Both sides are being stubborn and ridiculous. The only real victims here are the kids who want to participate in a sporting tournament, but cannot because a bunch of stubborn old fools cannot work out their differences.

  • The Other Weirdo

    I dunno. As a Jew, albeit a nonpracticing, secular, atheistic one, I find it a bit offensive  that people are trying to determine what others should or should not do for me. If I join an organization whose membership is 99.99% non-Jew, I don’t expect any sort of preferential treatment. If they want to change to accommodate me, I would feel grateful, but by no stretch of the imagination would I feel entitled to it.

    Also, where do they get off demanding that a change be made when the school itself is quite happy living within the rules, even going so far as forfeiting a game? It’s infantilizing an entire cultural group, demanding things on its behalf when it’s perfectly content with the rules as they are.

  • Johnk

    By the way Chris, I think you’re missing my bigger point, which is that Christians can be more flexible by looking at what Jesus said: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
    It seems fair that some games can be on Sunday morning, and some on Friday night.
    (In the Northeast, games of all sorts are regularly scheduled for Sunday morning, so my personal experience is the exact opposite of the article).

  • Folks can still feel like there’s value in making such a choice.   There are MUCH sillier observances by the strictest Orthodox believers than this, and my understanding is that they’re important not for any intrinsic value, but for the symbolic.  I don’t have to agree with either for me to say “your choice.”

  • Anonymous

    Like you say, the only victims here are the kids and I feel sorry for them,  surrounded by fools who believe fairy tales are so important.

  • Judaism has similar views–which is not surprising, as Jesus was Jewish himself and was essentially quoting established doctrine.  You don’t have to keep kosher when starvation is the alternative.  You don’t have to observe sabbath restrictions when someone’s life is in danger.  But of course, it’s a silly basketball game, after all. 

    There IS an unseen Christian privilege in accommodating the Sunday churchgoers but no other group.  But that will be a long time going.

  • Jesus opposed the Romans and their collaborators, the Sadducees.  That the Pharisees, his natural allies, have been made the bad guys is an artifact of Christian thinking under Paul, NOT the situation as it was in the first century CE.   

    Luke, in particular, was trying to make the religion more palatable to the Romans.  I think John’s account is downright vicious towards essentially innocent parties.

  • Johnk

    see my quote from the book of Mark, above. Natural allies they were not. (They should have been, maybe that’s why Jesus so often criticized them)
    Also see Matthew 23:13     13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.Nothing to do with Paul, not yet, anyway.

  • Anonymous

    No secular goal is worth giving up some arbitrary rule adopted by goat herders 2500 years ago.  

  • Johnk

    You’re going way beyond the scripture that I originally quoted. In that scripture, Jesus is disagreeing with the Pharisees and their strict interpretation of the law, period.

  • Travshad

    I disagree that it is “a simple thing to accommodate”.   As the article stated several schools during the year made accomodation for this team for the regular season.  This is a tournament with two levels of both girls and boys teams playing.  The semi-finals are on Friday night and the finals on Saturday.  The Jewish team wanted to move the game up to 3:30pm (which would require the rescheduling of two girl’s semi-final games).  The hour earlier start might cause conflicts with the school hosting the tornament games, it would also affect the volunteers and staff needed to run the event, and the parents and fans who want to see the games.  Most people work on Fridays.  If the team won they would then have to reschedule the games on Saturday since their final was also within the Sabbath. 

    As this tournament is likely funded by ticket sales, they have to hold their events when people can or are willing to attend.  Scheduling high school events has become difficult with the increase in options for participation for students and their families.  

    I am all for accommodating people, but not if it is too burdensome on the majority.  While it would be possible for this league to make these accommodations, I don’t think it is reasonable to judge them as “petty” or to blame it on “Chrisitanity’s well-established problem with treating Judaism as a second-class religion”.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    At least they are following their own rules, unlike those NASCAR drivers and NFL players who go all Jesus on you and then earn millions of dollars working on their Sabbath.

  •  I opine it’s Christianity mistreating Judaism because they already have a rule to not have games on Sundays, purely for Christian-related reasons.

  • Johnk

    You are correct, there is sometimes an unseen Christian privelege in accomodating Sunday churchgoers. My point is that Christians could be more flexible, if only to live out the idea that salvation comes from faith (Christ) and not works (The Pharisees).

    However, in my own life I cater to the majority. If three people in my family want Chinese Food and one wants pizza, guess what we’re having?

  • There are 39 specific categories that constitute work. The theology behind that is connected to the fact that the Bible says that the Israelites stopped building the Tabernacle on the Sabbath. So, anything necessary as part of that project is defined as work. There are then a host of associated prohibitions that are derived from those, as well as a few thousand years of additional Rabbnic injunctions.  There’s an additional issue which is that there’s a belief that the Sabbath is supposed to be a day of quiet contemplation and the like. Large scale exercise is seen as a violation of this second matter as well as a potential violation of some of the rabbinic injunctions. 

  • Anonymous

    Not playing basketball is nothing like not putting out a house fire. 

    It’s not “pointless suffering” it’s a freaking basketball game. 

    The time to address this issue is when the league is making the schedule for next year; in plenty of time for religious schools to express their preference and make their decisions about participating.

  • You can assert that Jesus was an enemy of the Pharisees, and you can assert that he rose from the dead.  I’m going to treat those two assertions as equally unsupported by fact.  Kay?

  • Johnk

    we’re not debating fact, we’re debating scripture. You yourself were pointing to scripture (Paul, etc) to back up your claims. Changing tack mid-argument is kinda lazy, no? The fact is that according to The Bible, Jesus was an enemy of the Pharisees, and he also rose from the dead. 

    The next box will be tiny, so you can have the last word.

  • Thanks.  Fact has no place in debate?

  • I recalled reading long ago that rollerblades were not considered machines, so were permitted on the Sabbath.  But in attempting to look it up, I think it must have been another group. 
    The bottom line seems to be that what you’re allowed to do is determined by very complex rules that must be interpreted by an expert in very complex rules.

    Kinda like taxes.

  • Ah, Murrika, land of Freedom of Religion… just so long as it’s the CHRISTIAN religion…

  •  Every NBA team has their logo on the court… nobody considers it disrespectful to run over.

  • As an ex-Adventist, who observed the same Sabbath for over 20 years, I think it’s a difficult issue and one that I struggled with as a kid in sports many times, though not to this degree.

    Sabbath-observers know they are different and understand that they will run into these sorts of obstacles, especially when they sign up for a league that clearly says it will not build it’s schedule in a way that always accommodates the Jewish sabbath. They knew there was an issue, yet they registered for the league anyways. So… it shouldn’t be a big deal when they are told ‘no’ to any special accommodation requests.

    On the other hand, Christian schools should understand the issue as it is the reason why they created such a league in the first place, so that their Sunday-observation could be respected. While they don’t need to accommodate the Jewish team, it would be the right thing to do. They could make it work. It’s not an impossible thing to overcome – and I’m sure all the teams would be more than willing to try and make it happen.

    Anyways, that’s my two cents on the issue. the fairy-tale stuff is completely beside the point. Yes, they believe in fairy tales. That’s not the issue. The issue is that there is a very important observation that should be considered, especially since the group as a whole has a similar observation in their own lives.

    (It sucked being an Adventist kid and knowing that professional sports was never an option – as well as most youth leagues. Sport is my passion and I’ll never know just how good I could have been if it was a dream that I believed I could have actually chased.)

  • T-Rex

    Nothing like religion and superstition to ruin a good time  for everyone. Indoctrination is child abuse, pure and simple. Shit like this makes it so easy for me to be an anti-theist.

  • Anonymous

    (CNN) – A Jewish high school basketball team that had opted out of a shot at a Texas state championship because it refused to play on the Sabbath will now get that shot, after a playoff game was rescheduled on Thursday.
    The game, initially set for Friday night, after the Jewish Sabbath begins, has been rescheduled for Friday afternoon, Houston’s Robert M. Beren Academy announced Thursday.

  • Ndonnan

    Personally as a christian i think they should have changed it as soon as the first jewish team joined the group.With them reaching the finals only highlights the issue. It is only a game after all. The rabbi certainaly responded with a great attitude which i recognise as humility and character building for the team.Now that is religion in a nut shell                

  • Ndonnan

    Good answer John

  • Ndonnan

    Actually Chris,Jesus and His men wernt a force against anyone,least of all the romans,but the jewish elite certanly felt threatened because he challenged their dodgey use of their religion to gain control.         Oh,and where are christians occupiering now exactly???

  • Ndonnan

    Wasnt there at least 500 witnesess that actually saw Jesus alive after he was crusified???

  • It varies depending on how far after the event the account was written.  At the best you have 4 people (who were not independent) who wrote somewhat but not entirely corroborating accounts.  You also have a lack of accounts of major Biblical events by extra biblical historians.

    Personally I accept that there’s some basis in truth, but like a 2000 year old game of telephone, the story has been mangled along the way.

  • I don’t think someone needs to be religious to recognize that remaining true to your conscience, whatever the cost, is not “pointless suffering.” It’s “integrity.” Even atheists have convictions, and I hope they have the guts to stand by those convictions even when it’s painful to them.

  •  “I don’t recall “inclusive” being in our constitution” is petty. It isn’t difficult to reschedule some games. There are plenty of other days in the year. As the update says, they’re doing so right now.

  • Anyone can add arbitrary significance to anything they do. This is the wonderful skill we call “rationalization.” The important thing is in how you require others to accommodate your arbitrary needs. It is one thing to say “your choice,” but very different to say “my choice, not yours.”

  • Anonymous

    One great feature of dealing with self righteous christians is that after they beg, plead and promise what ever it takes to get theirs the rest of everybody else can go to hell. They throw their Bible in the trash and pull the Constitution on you like it was a loaded gun that they are ready, willing and able to use.

  • Anonymous

    One great feature of dealing with self righteous christians is that after they beg, plead and promise what ever it takes to get theirs the rest of everybody else can go to hell. They throw their Bible in the trash and pull the Constitution on you like it was a loaded gun that they are ready, willing and able to use.

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