A coach of Akiva’s, who had arrived with him from Israel, pressured the young man: “Just get on the scales already! Do you want to lose everything?” The judges were also pressing him. Young athletes from around the world were staring at him, trying to figure out how there could be something more important to one of their number than boxing and winning.
At the same time, a mini-drama of another sort was playing out at the judges’ table. Rabbi Finkelstein had figured out a halachically acceptable way of indirectly enabling the weighing, one that would not require his son to violate the Shabbos prohibitions: having a non-Jew pick him up and place him on the scale.
“If we had known that they required a weighing on Shabbat,” Rabbi Finkelstein later said, “we simply wouldn’t have gone, because my solution is not l’chatchila – not a priori. But once we were there, given the circumstances, including the amount of time and money that had been invested, it was acceptable.”
Some of the judges were amenable to the idea. But the head judge, from Wales, took a different tone. “What type of religious issue is this?” he asked. “How can weighing be forbidden work? And what will I do the next time someone wants to get away with this? We cannot allow it. He has to get on the scale like everyone else, or he won’t compete.”
And thus the judge placed the stark choice before Akiva.
His father would intervene no more. “I told him it was up to him,” said Rabbi Finkelstein.
Akiva did not hesitate. Quietly but firmly he declared, “I’m not going on the scale.”
For the judges, it was a passing oddity. They shook their heads, crossed him off the list of world championship contestants, and told the next boxer to get on the scales. But for Akiva, it was a crucial milestone. The sanctity of Shabbat had been publicly upheld, at no small cost to the steadfast teenager.
“I’m still a bit in shock,” Akiva said upon returning to Israel. “Maybe it’s just a dream, and I’ll soon wake up. It’s hard to believe that it’s all over, all that hard work, just because of one stubborn judge. It still hurts – but I have no regrets. I did what I had to do.”Hillel Fendel
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