Rather than play on Sabbath, boys basketball team to skip game

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 01, 2012 1:58 PM
Rather than play on Sabbath, boys basketball team to skip game

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) - An Orthodox Jewish high school in Texas has decided to forfeit its playoff game in this weekend's state basketball tournament because it is scheduled to be played Friday night, after the start of the Jewish Sabbath.

Robert Beren Academy in Houston has a 23-5 record, and won its quarterfinal game by 23 points to earn a berth in the semifinals.

But Head of School Rabbi Harry Sinoff says the school has to be true to its core beliefs, and that includes not working from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday.

The school has asked that the game be moved up a couple of hours so that it concludes by sundown on Friday, but the organizing association has refused.

"There should be a really big reason that prevents a team that has worked hard and earned its position before you exclude them," Sinoff said. "All sports have been improved by inclusion."

The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, or TAPPS, the organization conducting the tournament, says the schedule can't be shifted.

"We have certain things that we do, not necessarily based on religion, but when TAPPS was founded, there were no schools in it that celebrated their Sabbath on anything but on Sunday," said TAPPS Executive Director Edd Burleson.

On Thursday, the organization released a statement saying that the school was informed of the schedule in 2009 when it joined the group, and that the championships would conflict with the Jewish Sabbath.

TAPPS officials said Thursday the game would move ahead "as scheduled."

"The Board pointed out that the posted schedule for the tournament would be followed, and no changes made unless weather or similar conditions existed," the statement reads. "The Beren Athletic Director stated he understood and did not see that as a problem, since he just wanted their players to have an opportunity to play in a district."

The vast majority of schools that are members of TAPPS are Christian institutions, and the organization does not play tournament games on Sundays, the Christian Sabbath.

Burleson said Beren Academy knew the rules.

"I asked them, 'Why would you seek membership here,' and they said, 'We just want our kids to have the opportunity to compete at the district level,'" Burleson said.

The Anti-Defamation League has urged TAPPS to reconsider.

Members of the basketball team play wearing yarmulkes, the school calendar lists months and years according to Hebrew tradition, and the school's mission statement stresses "a commitment to the Torah and its ethical and moral precepts to the Jewish people."

Sinoff says the school -- situated on a 52-acre campus with an enrollment of 275 ranging from nursery school through high school -- is dedicated to Jewish traditions. A key tenet of the faith is to observe the Sabbath, he said.

"There was a precedent two years ago," he said. "A Seventh Day Adventist team, which is also a Saturday Sabbath observant faith, and TAPPS made an exception for them," he said.

So instead of playing for the championship, the Beren boys will go home, and Kerrville Our Lady of the Hills Catholic School, which got trounced by Beren last weekend, will play on Friday.

"We assumed that if we made it that far to the playoffs, some kind of accommodation would be made," Sinoff said.

(Reporting By Jim Forsyth, Editing by Karen Brooks and Paul Thomasch)