Smotrich demands Israeli soccer to stop playing during Shabbat

Chairman of Religious Zionist party, Bezalel Smotrich sent a letter to the Israeli professional football leagues demanding they stop playing during Shabat.

 Religious Zionist leader MK Bezalel Smotrich. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Religious Zionist leader MK Bezalel Smotrich.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Religious Zionist Party Chairman Bezalel Smotrich demanded that Israeli professional soccer leagues stop playing during Shabbat in a letter sent to the commissioner of the Israeli Professional Football Leagues Erez Halfon.

In the letter, Smotrich says that playing during Shabbat is exclusionary to religious people, and it is an "undemocratic, unsportsmanlike, non-Jewish act that must be stopped".

"It unfortunate that for you, new crowds do not include Shabbat-keeping fans. You have chosen to ignore a large audience of players, children and families," Smotrich added in the letter.

The Israeli Professional Football Leagues responded to Smotrich's letter by saying: "Football was played on Shabbat even before the founding of Israel. We have recently changed the hours of the games in order to allow as many children and families to arrive at the games.

"This move is very successful, and we see that the early games are attended by plenty of children, women and soldiers. People want to see football at comfortable hours, and to be able to get back home at a normal hour, before a busy weekend," they added.

Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv (credit: UDI ZITIAT)Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv (credit: UDI ZITIAT)

Labor leader Merav Michaeli condemned Smotrich on her Twitter account. 

"Smotrich has not yet sat in his [coalition] seat and already, he's trying to force his religious way of life on the entire nation of Israel," she wrote. "Soccer games will continue as usual and if you dare to change it, the public will show you the way out. Israel will not be a theocracy."

Just two days before the sending of the letter, the Commissioner of the Israeli Professional Football Leagues Erez Halfon was interviewed in the halftime of Maccabi Tel Aviv's home draw against Ironi Ness-Ziona. In the interview, Halfon presented the Premier League's new initiative to increase the number of games that will take place during Shabbat.

The initiative comes following heavy criticism from many football fans who were upset about the lack of games in comfortable times, which for them meant on Saturday afternoon. Now, with the forming of the new government, which is predicted to be more religious than previous right-wing governments, the games' hours might change, but not necessarily in the direction fans wanted.

The soccer fans' reaction to the letter

Smotrich's letter outraged many soccer fans.

"Soccer in Israel has always been played on Saturday," said Ofir Polak, a soccer fan from Jerusalem "Don't touch our soccer."

"Soccer in Israel has always been played on Saturday. Don't touch our football."

Ofir Polak

He added that "soccer games on Saturday allow people to arrive at the games with ease, even bringing their children with them, raising a new generation of soccer fans."

Nir Hayon, a soccer fan from Tzur Yigal said that "soccer is the escape from ordinary life for us. Life here is not easy, there's the high cost of living, there's terrorism, conflict and hate. They are tarnishing the one clean thing we have."

"Going to soccer games is our Shabbat as soccer fans. Don't touch our Shabbat," said Inbar Tal, a soccer fan from Jerusalem.