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Beitar Soccer Club Nixing Sabbath Games

Jerusalem's top team will play all of its games on Saturday nights or on weekdays.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 8/11/2013, 8:36 PM

Beitar players celebrate a win
Beitar players celebrate a win
Flash 90

Jerusalem's famous Beitar Yerushalyim soccer club has adopted a new, halakha-friendly policy, and will no longer play its games during the Sabbath – a decision made by the team's new owner, Eli Tabib.

The club's spokesman, Oshri Dudai, told Arutz Sheva that Tabib, who comes from a traditional family, made the decision before he purchased Beitar last month.

“You need to remember that 50% of the city's residents are religious or traditional on one level or another, and we need to accommodate them – many of them want to see the team's games,” he said.

Asked if the team expects to acquire religious players, too, Dudai explained: “Many religious people, including hareidim, are in sports, and they put the kippah aside when they are training or playing.”

"There is already a promising religious player in Beitar Yerushalyim's youth team, under Eli Ohana's management – the forward Avishai Cohen, who observes the Sabbath,” he said. While the rest of the team takes the bus to away games, he added, Cohen makes arrangements that enable him to spend the Sabbath near the stadium where the game is held and walk to the game. “So if you are looking for a religious player in Beitar, he already exists.”

Beitar, which has long been a symbol of nationalism and national pride, has also been accused of racism on several occasions – most recently, when fans angrily protested the hiring of two Muslim Chechen players, who left the team after a single season. 

Dudai rejected these accusations.

"Being nationalistic does not mean being racist,” he explained. “It's true that there were manifestations of racism and we denounce that. As for Arab players – we say that if, in the future, a player with Arab roots is found who if good and fits into the team and can take a little heat – he will be part of Beitar Yerushalayim.”

While public transport on Sabbath is not allowed in Israel, and all government offices are shut on the day of rest, there are elements in Israeli culture that arguably seem to be specifically geared at violating the Sabbath. One is the tradition of holding soccer games on Shabbat. Another is the airing of the television channels' main weekly newscasts on Sabbath eve. The decision by Beitar may mark the beginning of a trend, which other clubs could follow.