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Jewish High School Team May Be Forced to Forfeit After Private School League Refuses to Move Playoff Game on Sabbath


"If you make exceptions, we no longer have rules."

Citing a religious conflict concerning timing, a Jewish high school basketball team in Houston, Texas, is going to miss an important playoff match. See, the game is scheduled on the Sabbath and officials with the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) league have, so far, refused to accommodate the team by moving the game. Considering The Robert M. Beren Academy is Modern Orthodox Jewish school, this creates a conundrum. The students must either show up and break the Sabbath or refuse to play and forfeit the match.

The team is only two games away from winning the state's championship and has an impressive 23-5 record. Unfortunately, this refusal to bend the rules to accommodate the Jewish faith will likely cost the team the opportunity to secure victory and inevitably relish in its hard work this season. The Washingtonian has more regarding Jewish tradition and the league that the team is voluntarily governed by:

In accordance with Orthodox Jewish tradition, the students at Beren refrain from a variety of activities during the Sabbath (from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday). Those activities include working, cooking, using electronics, and taking part in competitive sports. And the state semifinals are scheduled for 9 this Friday night.

Beren plays in the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS), a league composed mostly of other schools that, like Beren, feature religion as a key component of their mission. All season long, schools playing Beren have been only too happy to change their Friday tipoff times to an earlier hour, allowing the Jewish players to compete in the games and still get home in time to observe Shabbat. But now that the playoffs have reached the final four stage, the league has taken over the scheduling, and for reasons that defy understanding, it has taken a hard line that the start time for Friday’s semifinal, despite Beren’s requests, will not be moved.

Chris Cole, Beren's head coach, called the refusal to accommodate the players "heartbreaking." Cole, who is not Jewish, explained that the school and the league "just have different views of what we think is reasonable." Oddly enough, TAPPS made a 201o accommodation for a Seventh-Day Adventist school (which observes the same Friday and Saturday Sabbath).

Despite this fact, TAPPS director Edd Burleson says that the league's bylaws have since changed and that bending the rules this time could lead to a slippery slope. "If you make exceptions, we no longer have rules," he said, going on to claim that one or two Jewish schools in the league shouldn't dictate what 120 schools do.

Rabbi Harry Sinoff, who is the head of Beren, and the Anti-Defamation League have both spoken up against Burleson's refusal to bend the rules and allow the students to play. The Washingtonian's Brett Haber asks, "Is TAPPS’s refusal to change the game time rooted in religious bias?" While this may not be the case, the refusal to change times does, indeed, have critics pondering.

"The sacred mission will trump excellence in the secular world," Sinoff told The New York Times in an interview this week. In the end, he said that the team, should it be forced to forfeit, will learn an important life lesson.

(H/T: Washingtonian)

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