Sinai Says: The fight not to fight on Shabbat

All that 13-year-old Yuval Freilich wanted was a chance to compete in the European junior fencing championships.

Allon sinai 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Allon sinai 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
All that 13-year-old Yuval Freilich wanted was to have a chance to compete for a place in the European junior fencing championships. The ground-breaking High Court of Justice ruling in his favor, however, will have far-reaching implications for thousands of Israeli teenagers, who find themselves in the same predicament as the Israeli under-13 fencing champion. Three weeks ago today, the religiously observant Freilich petitioned to the High Court to reschedule a decisive competition, planned for Saturday October 25, as taking part in the event would require him to violate Shabbat. The competition, which would be crucial in determining who would represent Israel in next March's European Championships, was moved from Friday to Saturday and, after his appeals to the Israel Fencing Association to reschedule the event were ignored, Frielich reluctantly decided to turn to the High Court. "Fencing is my entire world," Freilich told Justice Hanan Meltzer in court. "I train 4-5 times a week and feel terrible that by being an observant Jew in the Jewish State I'm denied the opportunity to represent Israel in international competitions." Freilich's arguments that the Fencing Association's decision to hold its competitions on Shabbat essentially constituted discrimination against religious Jewish athletes, and that it went against the Equal Opportunities Act, were accepted by Meltzer, who ordered that the event be moved from Shabbat or that the young fencer be awarded a technical victory in any competition he can't compete in because of his religious beliefs. Sadly, the Fencing Association refused to move the competition, and Freilich was frustratingly awarded victories without even leaving his home. The last thing Freilich wanted, however, was to qualify for international events with empty technical victories, and after the Knesset's Education, Culture, and Sports Committee discussed the matter last week, it now seems the building pressure on the Fencing Association will finally mean Freilich will get his chance to actually earn his place on the Israel team. The Fencing Association may have decided to ignore the court's ruling and continued to schedule its upcoming competitions on Shabbat, but four of Israel's five fencing clubs decided to act on the matter to avoid further court wrangling. The clubs came to the conclusion that contests on Saturday can be started later in the day, allowing Frielich to fence after Shabbat is out. Freilich will at last get his chance to compete for a berth in the European Championships but, far more importantly, he has also set a precedent which will benefit many others, as well as the country as a whole. The High Court's ruling in Freilich's favor will force every sporting association in Israel to give religious athletes an equal opportunity and as a result can also play a significant role in bringing Israelis of all beliefs closer together via the sporting field. Freilich may never realize his dream of competing in the Olympic Games, but he has already achieved so much more.