Religious political pressure threatens Saturday football

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeks a formal legal solution to the question of professional sports being played on the Jewish day of rest, but Religious parties push back.

September 5, 2017 21:17
3 minute read.
ACTION IN a soccer match at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv.

ACTION IN a soccer match at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv. Some youth grew up wanting to coach an Israeli soccer team.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Political pressure is mounting against efforts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to issue a formal, blanket permit allowing Israel’s professional soccer leagues to hold matches on Shabbat, with coalition partners and senior rabbis coming out against the measure.

The permit is needed due to a petition to the High Court of Justice filed in 2015 against the state by the Movement for a Jewish State for violating the rights of Shabbat-observant soccer players, who must play games on that day despite the Law for Work and Rest Hours stipulating that Jewish employees cannot be forced to work on Shabbat.

Speaking at a conference in Jerusalem on the legacy of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook, senior Bayit Yehudi leader and Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel said on Monday night that he was opposed to what he described as growing desecration of Shabbat in a variety of public arenas, and in particular a permit for the soccer leagues.

“Now we are being told that the prime minister intends to formally approve soccer matches on Shabbat, which is desecration by more than one million people,” the minister said, in reference to fans, police, security officials, soccer players and staff working on Shabbat.

“The government has never practically approved Shabbat desecration, is it right that we should be silent on this?” Ariel asked. “We need to be outraged by it.”

And on Tuesday, the municipal chief rabbi of Beersheba Rabbi Yehudah Deri, brother of Shas leader and Interior Minister Arye Deri, was also scathing about formally approving soccer on Shabbat.

“There is no Shabbat desecration as massive as soccer,” and “anyone who lives in a mixed [religious and secular] city can tangibly feel the Shabbat desecration,” Deri said on the Kol Barama radio station.

The rabbi added that there is a political opportunity today to halt soccer games on Shabbat, saying that the haredi political parties – Shas and United Torah Judaism – could bring this about with strong political pressure.

“The haredi MKs won’t sit by quietly, and if they do, the Councils of Torah Sages will rouse them,” said Deri.

The Beersheba chief rabbi was echoing comments made by Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef earlier this week, who called on Netanyahu to “do repentance” over the issue, saying it is worse than the repeated infrastructure construction and maintenance on Shabbat which has vexed the haredi parties for the last year.

The Councils of Torah Sages of Degel Hatorah, Agudat Yisrael and Shas are shortly expected to convene jointly to discuss the issue of Shabbat desecration in public, where the issue of soccer may be on the agenda together with that of infrastructure construction and maintenance work.

Any strong comments emanating from that meeting could lead to stronger political pressure from the haredi parties not to give formal approval to the staging of soccer matches on Shabbat.

In further religious disquiet over Shabbat, chief rabbis of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar and Aryeh Stern wrote to business owners in the capital warning of the negative spiritual consequences that staying open on Shabbat might have on them.

Haredim, religious activists and politicians in Jerusalem have been extremely active in recent months in opposing the opening of restaurants, leisure facilities and grocery stores in the capital, a phenomenon which they say has proliferated in recent years.

The rabbis also strongly suggested that anyone who does not keep Shabbat may not get inscribed in the heavenly Book of Life this Rosh Hashana.

The letter written by Amar and Stern was reportedly prompted by this activism campaign.

“On Rosh Hashana, the King of Judgment judges all creation, and we all need to be written in the Book of Life, God willing, and the greatest merit we can bring before God is observing Shabbat which is the source of blessing, which has the ability to bring about life and blessing to all Jews, and is what stood by and guarded us throughout the generations all over the world,” wrote the rabbis. “There is no doubt that whoever accepts upon himself to observe Shabbat, then Shabbat will be his advocate on the Day of Judgment [Rosh Hashana] and will merit being written in the Book of Life and peace.”

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