The top Israeli tennis player, Dudi Sela, 32, who is ranked 77th in the world, quit his quarterfinals match Friday in the third set of a Chinese tournament so he could begin observing Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish year, in time for the sun to set.
All Jewish holidays start at night, as according to Judaism every day starts at night, in accordance with the Biblical verses from Genesis, starting with, “And there was evening and there was morning, one day.”
Sela was playing Alexander Dolgopolov of Ukraine at the Shenzhen Open; Dolgopolv had won the first set 6-3, but Sela won the second 7-5, and the two players were eight minutes into the third set, with Dolgopolov having won the first game, when Sela retired.
Tournament organizers moved the match from its original time slot on Yom Kippur after requests from officials in the Israel Tennis Association as well as Israeli Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, but the sports website Vavel reported that tournament organizers refused Sela’s request to have the match played earlier in the day.
Leaving the match cost Sela a possible $34,000 in prize money.
The most famous example of a Jewish athlete refusing to play on Yom Kippur occurred in 1965, when the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax, whom the legendary Casey Stengel agreed was the greatest pitcher who had ever lived (and Stengel went all the way back to Walter Johnson), refused to pitch in the opening game of the World Series, which fell on October 6, which was Yom Kippur.
Koufax’s boss, Walter O’Malley, defended Koufax, saying, “I won’t let Sandy pitch on Yom Kippur under any circumstances. I can’t let the boy do that to himself.” O’Malley joked he’d “ask the Pope what he can do about rain on that day.”
In April 1959, Koufax asked to skip his start on April 22 because it was the first night of Passover. Later that year, Koufax did not attend workouts for the World Series at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum when they conflicted with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. In 1961 and 1963, Koufax skipped his turns in the rotation which conflicted with Rosh Hashanah.