A court ruling given by the Labor Court last August raised the issue of holding football games on Saturdays (Shabbat = the Jewish Sabbath], stating that holding league games on Shabbat is a violation of the law, as football teams were never given a permit to hire workers on Shabbat.
This ruling opened a wide public debate on the matter, and touched not only on the legality of employing religious players on this day, but actually holding public games while violating the Sabbath, and the ability of religious players to participate in these games, as players and as spectators.
One must note that football in Israel includes two separate issues: professional football (top leagues) and popular football (lower leagues and leagues for children and youth). Even though the Labor Court referred only to professional football, the public debate currently being held deals also with popular football and, therefore, must also address this issue with utmost seriousness. In fact, the public debate on popular football is relevant to all sports fields in Israel, and even to several fields in professional sports.
When dealing with professional football, the position paper examines top league games in the 2014-2015 season and points out that only 57 games – constituting 23.57% of the games during this season – were held at hours considered by Jewish Law to be Shabbat, while 29 games were held led than one hour after the end of Shabbat. Thus, in many weeks all that is needed is for the games to start a little bit later in order to prevent them being held on Shabbat.
Also, this position paper shows that most games that are held hours before the end of Shabbat are those in the final stages of the season (play-offs), and this is not necessarily connected to summer time, but to a deliberate decision to hold these games much earlier in the day than those held during other times of the season, sometimes even at noon. Therefore, it seems that some effort could be made to postpone some games to later in the day.
In addition, the position paper states that in most weeks, five games were held every Saturday (most of them, as stated, after Shabbat ended) and two games were held on Sundays or Mondays. Even so, in eight weeks (about one quarter of them) four games were held on Shabbat and three on Sundays and Mondays. As such, it seems that there is nothing preventing moving several more games to Sundays and Mondays, so that these will not be played on Shabbat. Also, games in summer can be played at 17:00 on Fridays, and this has been done in the not so long ago past. Even so, we must add that if one of the suggestions to add another day of rest to the Israeli market, such as Sundays or Fridays, is accepted, this will make it much easier to hold these games on those days, possibly even on Thursdays.
Regarding the issue of popular sports, the position paper raised several suggestions for increasing the number of days of rest in Israel, from an approach that we must try and ensure that all popular sports training, games and competitions are not held on Shabbat, to enable as many sectors of the population to participate in these events. We believe that the ideal solution to this issue is cancelling schools on Fridays. This is a solution that requires the least reforms, on the one hand, and significantly upgrades popular sports in Israel, on the other. This is in addition to other advantages that are not sports-related.
Even so, at the first stage, and with the understanding that such a reform will take time to implement, we recommend holding the youth sports competitions, which are held periodically, to Fridays and, if possible, even to weekdays or to condensed work vacations, such as Chanuka. In this regard, we recommend that the Ministry of Education – together with the Ministry of Culture and Sport – instruct schools to allow children participating in these events, to leave school accordingly (with their parents’ consent, of course).
In conclusion, it deems fit to note that, despite the supposed tension that such issues cause in the religious-secular rift, it seems that this issue is not so complicated, and with a bit of good will and effort on behalf of the relevant authorities, we can find solutions that will benefit the entire Israeli society.
To the full position paper (Hebrew)