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Jewish Journal

To Play or Not to Play

by Jeremy Fine

February 28, 2012 | 10:07 am

This question of playing or not playing is usually discussed around Yom Kippur when Jews are usually, not always, let down by our Baseball Super Heroes who decide to play ball over praying in shul. But recently a different type of sitting out has caught the attention of Jewish sports fans everywhere. Should a Jewish team, and I could go as far as say any Jew, play competitive sports on Shabbat?

When I was a Sophomore in High School there was a lot, well at least internally, of hype for my basketball team.  We lined up with 3 Jewish kids 6"3 or taller. We had a point guard who started all year long as a Sophomore. And now it was Spring League. This was a time that for us private school kids, to get a shot at the big boys. We played against some of the better teams in the state and usually won a game here or there. But that year we found ourselves in the playoffs against Providence St. Mel, which at the time was a powerhouse. We upset them and it felt good. I know it was only Spring League, but to beat a team of that caliber at any time was unique for my small Jewish school. Our next game was scheduled on Shabbat and could not be moved. I remember this dilemma; go against school rules and play or adhere to my traditions and let all the hard work I put in go to waste. In the end we didn’t play in the game, we forfeited. It ate at me for days. But looking back at it, not playing had far more of an impact on my life than playing.

A few years ago, Solomon Schechter High School in Hartsdale found itself in an even bigger dilemma. Their game was scheduled immediately after Shabbat. The team chose to play in the game and form a Shabbaton at a nearby Hotel for family and friends of the players. They turned a tough situation into a learning opportunity.

But recently in the news several Jewish teams are having to end their seasons early. A few weeks ago Ida Crown Jewish Academy’s wrestling team became the first Jewish high school to win their regional. Read more HERE. But Coach Doug Klein was honest that his players, if they made it to the State Championship as a team or individual, would not compete on Shabbat. The story just happen again recently in Dallas. Beren Academy was recently forced to forfeit their season because they refused to play on Shabbat. Click HERE to read more.

While this problem is hurtful for our Day School students, who impart choose Day School so that they can participate in sports and other extra-curricular activities that don’t interfere with Shabbat and Holidays, it is also hard for public school students. Games, tournaments, and even practices are held on Shabbat which is the Jewish day of rest. It does not seem fair for any player or team to have to choose their religion or their sport.

What can be done? What should we do?

Well, for one thing I think we need to realize that the teams and individuals who make their Judaism a priority should be applauded. They are standing up for all of us. Secondly, I think it is time for States/Regions to begin to realize that Friday nights and Saturday afternoons are potential problems. If the NBA and NFL can have games listed as TBA, why can’t High School sports? Our States need to change the times of the games when this does occur and we as fans of Jewish sports and parents of these kids should advocate for that.

This problem will continue and its tough to swallow. We live in a world that should celebrate our abilities on the field or court and not jeopardize our faith and beliefs. We as a community need to work hard to not only set an example for our kids but also put them in the best situations to succeed. It is a big hope of mine, and in part one of the reasons that I write this blog, that our decisions are framed not in a Sports vs. Judaism way rather Sports and Judaism.

And Let Us Say…Amen.
- Jeremy Fine

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Rabbi Jeremy Fine is the Assistant Rabbi at Temple of Aaron in St. Paul MN. He was ordained from the Jewish Theological Seminary where he also received a Masters in Jewish...

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