Shabbat Soccer Debate Far From Resolution

With Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein stating that there are no grounds to ban soccer games on Shabbat, the moves to the Knesset.

Moshe Cohen ,

Soccer (illustration)
Soccer (illustration)
Flash 90

With the decision by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein stating Wednesday that under current law there are no grounds to ban soccer games on Shabbat, the battle for Sabbath observance in sports moves to the Knesset.

With the current law unclear – hence the need for a ruling by Weinstein – competing proposals in the Knesset aim to clarify the situation and either outright ban or allow sports on Shabbat.

Proposing a law against allowing matches on Shabbat is Likud MK Miki Zohar, who said Wednesday that the current situation was a matter of “religious coercion.

"For 67 years, the one third of this country that is Sabbath observant is banned from attending matches and enjoying sports like other Israelis, unless they wanted to violate their beliefs. That is the classic definition of religious coercion,” he said in an interview on Kol Baramah radio. “My legislation aims to put an end to this situation.”

Proposing a law that would allow any sports matches to be held on the Sabbath is MK Yoel Rezvozov (Yesh Atid), who sees it as a matter of “freedom of employment. The Tel Aviv Labor Court ruled last month that Shabbat sports matches were illegal, because the various teams and soccer leagues did not have special permits allowing them to operate on the national day off."

Rezvozov said that his aim was not necessarily to force games on Shabbat, but to “open up dialog on the nature of what Shabbat is in Israel with all segments of Israelis – secular, observant, and traditional. If Israel had a civil day off, like Sunday, we would not even be having this discussion.”

Those permits need to be signed by the Minister of Economy – currently Aryeh Deri of the haredi Shas party, who has already said that he would not sign them. As such, it is not clear if games will begin next week as scheduled, even given Weinstein's opinion.

In a letter Wednesday to Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev (Likud), Weinstein said that in his opinion there was no reason not to allow Shabbat games. It should be noted, however, that Weinstein's opinion is just that – and it was likely to prompt a lawsuit by groups against Shabbat matches, who will try to test the opinion in the courts.

Rotem Kamer, Chairman of the Israel Soccer Federation, said he was very encouraged by Weinstein's comments. “Everyone has their own culture, morals, and values, and each person needs to make their own choice, without threat of legal sanction.”