Photo Credit: gfpeck / https://www.flickr.com/photos/wespeck/
An empty soccer field.

(JNi.media) The Jerusalem Talmud (Ta’anit 1a) promises the arrival of the Messiah as soon as the Jews keep one proper Shabbat—the Babylonian (Shabbat 118b) requires two consecutive Shabbat days. As things look now, this coming Shabbat will offer an opportunity to Jews in Israel to usher in the redeemer since a state court has decided that Shabbat games are a criminal violation of Israel’s labor laws.

For as long as the good people of Israel can remember—some say at least 100 year, major league soccer was played mostly on Shabbat, because that’s the country’s day off. Even a number of religious Jews would walk to their local stadium as soon as services in shul were over.

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But then, in August, the union of Israeli soccer players asked a labor court in Tel Aviv to suspend soccer games on Shabbat, because they’ve been conducted illegally. Working on Shabbat is against the law in Israel, and a business that wishes to stay open on God’s day of rest must acquire a special permit. It so happens that in 100 years no one has thought to get the permit.

Labor Court Judge Ariela Glitzr Katz told both parties in the dispute, the players and the league: “Holding football matches on Shabbat is a criminal offense and will not permit for employment which is contrary to the law.”

The judge mentioned one remedy: the league should request a proper permit from the Minister of the Economy, who is in charge of labor issues in Israel. It so happens that said Minister of the Economy is Aryeh Deri (Shas), a Sephardi ultra-Orthodox Jew who would issue such a permit only if he desires political suicide.

This may be the most critical turn in the already fragile status quo between state and religion as well as between secular and religious Israelis. Soccer is almost a state religion for many Israelis, and the idea of a Shabbat without games is intolerable to millions.

MK Avigdor Lieberman (Israel Beiteinu) advocated toppling the Netanyahu government over its failure to deliver soccer on Shabbat.

The league management sent a heartfelt, lengthy appeal to Minister Deri, citing the risk of teams collapsing, despondent adults and children wandering the streets aimlessly, social programs collapsing — the minister is yet to respond, which also means that Deri is choosing to ignore a deadline imposed by the league, demanding that he answer their call by Monday or there would be no soccer on Shabbat.

Meanwhile, many players have been sharing online and with the media how delighted they are to be able to spend Shabbat with their families.

Israel Radio announced on Monday afternoon that the league has announced the cancellation of all the league games this coming Shabbat. Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who previously declared her support for the players, is now suggesting that the Attorney General could issue a temporary permit for the next two months, a time that would be used by a task force to come up with an alternative.

The fact is that most Israelis are off on Fridays, too, and could probably hit the stands by 1:00 PM and still make it home in time for candle lighting, even on a winter Friday.

Otherwise — prepare for the arrival of Messiah, and dress lightly, temperatures in Israel have been in the 90s since mid-July.

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