Saturday Horse Races in Israel Get Loud ‘nay’ from the Orthodox
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Saturday Horse Races in Israel Get Loud ‘nay’ from the Orthodox

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Israel’s first race track opened Saturday at Kibbutz Ga’ash, north of Tel Aviv, much to the dismay of Sabbath observers, whose vociferous protests were credited with doubling the expected turnout.

About 70 horses, a few from abroad, competed in 10 races of five to 10 furlongs for a $1,000 purse offered by promoter Rafi Rafaeli.

He charged $7.50 for admission to makeshift stands, which quickly filled, forcing thousands of fans to sit on the ground under the hot sun.

The races were purely a spectators’ sport as no arrangements were made for placing bets.

Nevertheless, the event drew more than 20,000 people, causing massive traffic jams on the Tel Aviv-Haifa highway. Between 10,000 and 15,000 had been expected.

But it was the opponents of the race who called public attention to it.

A spokesman for the Committee for the Sanctity of the Sabbath went on Israel Radio to complain that “the secular kibbutzim and moshavim have already spoiled our sons and daughters, and now they are spoiling the horses by making them run on Shabbat.”

The religious community persuaded the Labor Ministry to hire Druse “inspectors” as “Shabbas goyim” to monitor the track. It was their duty to report anyone working on the Sabbath without a special permit from the ministry.

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