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Jewish Boxer's Dilemma: Weigh In on Sabbath or be Disqualified

As tens of thousands waited, Akiva Finkelstein of Bet El, Israel’s light welterweight champion, had only to step on the scale.
By Baruch Gordon
First Publish: 12/16/2012, 8:00 PM

Akiva Finkelstein
Akiva Finkelstein
Finkelstein family

It happened at Armenia’s prestigious Demirchyan Sports Complex. Ten thousand people crowded the stands on November 25th for the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Youth World Boxing Championship - thousands remained outside for lack of space.

Young contestants from 70 nations flew in for the event. Israel sent a small delegation of some eight boxers, each the national champion in his weight class.

Akiva Finkelstein (18) from Bet El, is Israel’s light welterweight (up to 140 lbs) champion. Born to Baruch – a published Torah scholar and real estate agent, and  Michal – a midwife at a Jerusalem hospital, Akiva viewed the boxing schedule upon arrival and saw that his first fight was set for Saturday night.

Being a religious Jew, Akiva and his father had faced many difficult halakhic (Jewish legal) dilemmas at previous tournaments. Kosher food was always an issue. Other boxers delved into lavish steak dinners, while the Finkelsteins sufficed with fresh vegetables and canned kosher foods.

The standard procedure at  boxing tournaments is to weigh in on the first day to assure that each contestant is within his designated weight class.  But soon after arrival in Armenia, Akiva saw that the rules were slightly different. He immediately emailed his father stating that a new halakhic problem had arisen: the boxers had to weigh in on the same morning of any scheduled fight. For Akiva, this meant getting on the electric scale on Saturday morning, the Jewish Shabbat (Sabbath), when orthodox Jews refrain from actively using electricity. 
 
Baruch joined his son in Armenia on Wednesday. He began negotiating with those in charge to try and have Akiva weighed in on Friday afternoon, before the onset of the Sabbath. The authorities wouldn't bend.

Baruch patiently explained the problem to a high official in the International Boxing Association. After spending all the money to participate in the event and in view of the extenuating circumstances, Baruch told his son that if someone picks him up and places him on the scale while Akiva remains completely passive (in Jewish Law, this is called grama), that he could then weigh in on Saturday morning. The high official agreed to this arrangement, awkward as it was.

Come Saturday morning, Akiva’s turn to get on the scale arrived. The high official who agreed to the special arrangement was there. But when the big boss of the event saw what was going on, he intervened to stop it. “The boy has to step on to the scale,” the man in charge said.

The high official who wanted to accommodate told Baruch, “It’s my boss. I can’t overrule him.”

The otherwise simple procedure of weighing in fighters came to a halt, a verbal exchange began, and the room became quiet. Baruch argued his son’s case – the case of Judaism. Other board members expressed their opinion: “If it’s a religious issue and in the final analysis the Israeli contestant would fulfill our guidelines of being weighed on the same morning of the fight, so what do we care? Let’s comply with his request and place him on the scale.”
 
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