Jerusalem Rugby Team Denied Funding From City Hall for Playing on Shabbat

Appropriations committee also declines funding Open House gay and lesbian organization, a decision that contradicts a ruling by the High Court of Justice; Jerusalem Mayor says will have funding decisions overturned by city council.

A committee responsible for appropriations in the Jerusalem municipality has decided not to fund the local rugby team after religious city council members discovered the team plays on Shabbat.

The committee also declined to fund the Open House, a Jerusalem gay and lesbian organization, a decision that contradicts a ruling by the High Court of Justice.

Nir Keidar

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat announced that he would have the committee's two funding decisions overturned by the city council. The rugby team, which has been in existence for the past 30 years but has never asked for city funding, is seeking NIS 10,000 in municipal support. The team's 15 players include foreign journalists and U.N. employees based in Israel.

In considering the funding request from the rugby team at a meeting on Monday, committee chairman Shlomo Rosenstein, who is United Torah Judaism city councilman, and Deputy Mayor David Hadari of the National Religious Party both asked what day of the week the rugby team plays.

Rosenstein also showed an interest in rugby rules. It's played with a stick and a ball, Hadari responded. "Is it played on grass?" Rosenstein wanted to know, explaining later that play on grass would be a violation of Jewish religious laws regarding Sabbath observance.

Meretz councilman Joseph "Pepe" Alalu then asked if the municipality would cut off its hundreds of thousands of shekels in funds allocated to the Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Jerusalem sports teams, which play on Shabbat, prompting a response from Rosenstein that no new teams would be funded that play on the Sabbath and that concerns over violations of the Sabbath have intensified over the past year.

When the committee members were told there was a rugby team that played on Fridays, Alalu cynically asked how the players got home after the games, whether they drove or went on foot. Rosenstein countered that they would not be given financial support if they didn't finish playing an hour before the Sabbath begins. "Check if they play with underwear during the winter," Alalu countered.

In the end, the committee approved funding for a women's rugby team, which plays on Fridays, but not the men's team that plays on Saturdays. In response to the decision, Barkat's office said: "The recommendations of the various [municipal] committees are referred to city council, and the mayor is working to have the two allocations, regarding the rugby team and the Open House, passed at the next council meeting."