There are some things one just doesn’t do, regardless of actual religious
belief, and the Israel Tennis Association made the right call when it refused to
play an upcoming Davis Cup match against Belgium in Antwerp scheduled for Yom
The Belgians, by contrast, played a false shot in refusing the
Israeli request to postpone the game by a day and it was left to the umpire of
the tennis world, the International Tennis Federation, to intervene and order
the postponement of the match for a day, with the ITA compensating the Belgian
hosts for the extra cost.
As ITA chairman Asi Touchmair said: “As an
institution that represents the State of Israel and its values, we in the
Israeli Tennis Association stand proud, before all those who refuse to recognize
the importance of the Jewish tradition, on behalf of Israel and Jews world
In fact, Yom Kippur has a distinguished place in Jewish sporting
history: in 1934 Hank Greenberg, also known as “the Hebrew Hammer,” went to
synagogue rather than play a game for the Detroit Tigers against the Yankees
during a pennant race. In 1965, the Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax declined to pitch game
one of the World Series because of the Day of Atonement.
the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Shawn Green sat out a critical game in 2001 to observe
Greenberg and Koufax were legends in the game and heroes to
millions of American Jews before they decided to put their religion before
baseball, but their decision to prefer the synagogue over the stadium took their
hero level to almost mythical status.
By contrast, Avi Cohen, who became
the first Israeli player to play professional soccer in England, took a huge hit
to his reputation when he elected to play for Liverpool against Southampton in
1980 despite the match falling on Yom Kippur. Furthermore, a weak pass of
Cohen’s led to a Southampton goal, which many saw as Divine retribution for his
Greenberg, Koufax and Cohen’s decisions to play/not to
play on Yom Kippur were all personal decisions and reflected only on the
When the decision concerns a national team the
issue takes on another dimension, which is why the ITA was correct to demand the
THERE ARE few things that still unite Jewish
Israelis and one of those rituals is the public observance of Yom Kippur. Even
for the non-believer, Yom Kippur is still a sacred day here in Israel; there are
no cars on the road (except for those transporting medical staff or the ill to
hospital, which unfortunately risk stoning by the less tolerant among who don’t
see the irony in asking for God’s forgiveness for their sins while they seek to
cause physical harm to others) and no one eats on the street or barbecues on
There is an understanding that Yom Kippur is a special
day, and each family observes it in their own way, some by fasting, others by
video marathon, but all understand that in public, Yom Kippur is the one day in
Israel when everything comes to complete standstill.
For many, the
silence on the streets of Yom Kippur, save for the whirring of bicycle wheels as
children take over the roads, is part of what makes Israel different.
the beauty of public Yom Kippur observance is the fact that there are no laws
forbidding people from driving during the 25 hours of the fast or preventing
people from eating in public if they so choose. One just doesn’t, out of a
societal built-in respect for the most solemn day in the Jewish
As Shas leader Aryeh Deri once noted in the context of
circumcision: the vast majority of secular Jews circumcise their sons without
any prompting, but were the haredi parties to seek legislation mandating
circumcision, people would suddenly start abandoning the tradition in protest.
The same is true of Yom Kippur: were the Knesset to pass legislation prohibiting
the use of cars during Yom Kippur, motorcades would start appearing up and down
In matters of religious identity, Israelis don’t need the
state telling them what they need to do or how they should feel. They know what
being Jewish means for them and are secure and happy in this identity.It is only
the insecure who need external recognition of their status, something Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu needs to reflect upon given his stubborn insistence
on the Palestinians recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.
As the ITA
showed in their principled decision not to play tennis on Yom Kippur, we know
we’re a Jewish state with thousands of years of tradition behind us, and we’re
secure in our identity as Jews and know what this means for us. A piece of paper
signed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is not going to make us
more Jewish.The writer is a former editor of The Jerusalem Post.
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