Photo Credit: Joshjdss via Flickr
Maccabi Tel-Aviv vs. Chelsea

The majority of religious and traditional Jews will continue to watch as much soccer as always if all the games were held on Saturday night or on weekdays, according to a survey released on Monday by the Smith Institute, while 65% of secular respondents said that it would affect their viewing.

the survey was conducted on September 7, 2017 among a representative sample of 500 adult Jews ages 18 and over, with a sampling error of 4.5%. The data analysis was according to sociodemographic background variables such as gender, age, level of religiosity, and with/without children under the age of 18.


58% of the sample indicated that there should be consideration for Shabbat-observant soccer fans, and games should be played after the end of Shabbat, Saturday nights. And 63% indicated that Shabbat-observant soccer players should not be made to play before Shabbat is out.

In the end, the vast majority of the ultra-Orthodox and the National Religious as well as a large part of traditional Jews would welcome moving soccer league games to Saturday nights and weekdays, while 60% -65% of secular Jews would not.

Back in 2015, the Movement for a Jewish State headed by Israel Zeira petitioned the High Court of Justice to prevent soccer matches on Shabbat because they violate Israel’s Hours of Work and Rest Act 5711-1951. According to the law, an employer may not compel employees to work on Shabbat as a rule, unless said employer obtains the approval of the Interior Ministry for urgent security-related or other emergency work. Zeira told the court his movement represents hundreds of professional soccer players who wish to remain anonymous so as not to wreck their careers, but would like to spend Shabbat with their families and work on weekdays like everyone else.

The court bought the argument and ordered government to decide, once and for all: either make soccer illegal on Shabbat, or make it officially legal. This has led to Prime Minister Netanyahu alienating his religious coalition partners, by ordering a legal team to draft legislation to legalize Shabbat soccer – the exact opposite of what the plaintiff was seeking originally.

The Smith Institute survey proves for the Nth time that the polls yield results based on how you write the questions, or, in this case, how you cut your random sample of respondents. It turns out there’s no such thing as “traditional” Jews, because, much like undecided voters, it’s a floating population whose religious affiliation is on a continuum – as opposed to religious or secular Jews who wither observe or don’t observe Shabbat.

Out of Israel’s 6.484 million Jews in 2017, the Central Bureau of Statistics reports that 44% define themselves as secular; 24% are traditional and not so religious; 12% traditional and religious; 11% are religious and 9% are ultra-Orthodox.

Obviously, you can’t lump “traditional and not so religious” together with “traditional and religious” and assume they all would have the same “traditional” view on Shabbat soccer. So that while the Smith survey would suggest that a majority of Israeli Jews favor after-Shabbat soccer games, it is more legitimate to assess that those 44% who are secular would align with at least half of the “traditional and not so religious” to claim, at a minimum, 50% of the pro-Shabbat soccer segment of the population.

Which is why Israel’s identity politics continues to be as volatile as it is, and coalition governments of the past two decades have, more often than not, relied on thin majorities.

With all of the above in mind, Prime Minister Netanyahu should probably kick this can way down the street and hope it sinks in a drain hole.