When the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) world championship was held in Israel for the first time last month, they should have expected such sights: victorious fighters dancing around the ring with tzitzit flying and yarmulkes on their heads.
Elazar Tariku, a lightweight at 155 pounds, from Ashkelon celebrated a win in his second MMA fight on November 11 by putting on tzitzit (ritual fringes worn by Orthodox Jews) and dancing around the ring while a popular musical version of the prayer, ‘Shema Yisrael’ (Hear, O Israel) played over the loudspeakers at Menora Mivtachim Arena in south Tel Aviv. When he is not fighting in the ring, Tariku teaches martial arts to Israeli police in elite units.
A similar display of holy enthusiasm was seen when Almog Shay, a 135 pound featherweight also from Ashkelon, won his bout that day. The religious fervor was real, as both fighters are observant Jews even when not fighting in the ring.