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Beyond Greenberg and Koufax: Jewish calendar-related sports conflicts become an Israeli dilemma

By Beth Kissileff and Jacob Kamaras/ –

When baseball legends Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax both famously refused to play crucial games on Yom Kippur, Greenberg during the 1934 American League pennant race and Koufax in the 1965 World Series, their decisions were personal and did not impact their teams’ ability to take the field. Israeli teams in international competitions, however, have recently been faced with that very dilemma.

In July, the Israeli national women’s lacrosse team chose to forfeit a World Cup game against the Haudenosaunee
Nation team because the match fell on Shabbat and could not be moved. The Israeli team, which would have finished seventh place among 19 teams in the tournament with a victory, instead automatically finished eighth.

Additionally, the Israeli Tennis Association in August announced its refusal to play a Davis Cup match against Belgium that was scheduled to take place this Yom Kippur, Sept. 14. The International Tennis Federation eventually ordered the match to be moved to Sept. 15, but decided to fine the Israeli team more than $13,000 due to the costs that
resulted from adding a day to the tournament, Yedioth Ahronoth reported.

Jeffrey Gurock,
the Libby M. Klaperman Professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University,
explains that American Jews are generally accepted by their host society, and
that the Christian world has come to recognize the importance of the High
Holidays within Judaism, meaning it is simply “up to the Jewish player to decide
whether he wants to play or not.” But when it came to the Israeli tennis team
being fined in international play over not competing on Yom Kippur, and the
World Cup’s inability to move the Israeli lacrosse team’s Shabbat match, Gurock
saw the moves “as a political statement.”

“As far as Israel is concerned, unfortunately, it speaks to where Israel
is seen by the international bodies,” Gurock tells “A sports metaphor can be applied to the United Nations.
It speaks to how isolated and unaccepted Israel is by the world. It’s very
unfortunate, but that’s the difference between America and Israel.”

Despite the impediment it presented on an
international stage, the Israeli women’s lacrosse team was unyielding about the
issue of competing on Shabbat. In fact, when Scott Neiss, executive director of
the Israel Lacrosse Association, launched efforts to bring the sport to Israel,
part of his thinking was that if the sport was to be accessible to Israelis of
all religious backgrounds, it could not be played professionally on

Neiss tells that not playing the sport on Shabbat is a “national
identity issue.” El Al Airlines, he notes, does not fly on Shabbat, and many
other aspects of the country shut down on the day of rest. The lacrosse
programs (both men’s and women’s) that Neiss launched in Israel “want to
reflect and represent that,” he says.

Among the Israeli team members who played
competitive lacrosse in college was Katie Mazer, whose University of
Pennsylvania (Penn) team was Ivy League champion from …read more

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Posted by on September 2, 2013. Filed under Jewish News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.