Valley Torah High, an Orthodox Jewish high school in Valley Village, California, has two famous graduates: David Draiman, the lead singer for the heavy metal band Disturbed, and Ryan Turell, the basketball player who played guard for the Yeshiva University team that in its last season went 50 games without a loss. Now Turell could bring even more fame to his old high school, becoming the second Orthodox Jew in the NBA draft, and then, with a little bit of luck, the first Orthodox Jew to play in the league. The first drafted Orthodox Jew was Dave Kufeld, selected by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1980 NBA draft.
Turell leads scoring in men’s college basketball across all the divisions. In 29 games this season, he averaged 27.1 points per game with a 58.7% field goal percentage. He also swished 46.8% of his three-point shots.
He told ESPN on Tuesday that he plans to skip his final year of college eligibility and take his chances with the 2022 NBA draft. “My full intention is to play professional basketball next year,” he said.
At this point, he is not projected to be selected by an NBA team, but he might be invited to private team workouts and showcases where big-league scouts will check him out.
Turell, who wears his yarmulke on the basketball court, said he plans to keep it on in the NBA. He told ESPN: “Being the first Orthodox Jew in the NBA would mean the world to me, and a dream come true, God willing. But, just as importantly, it would mean the world to others that never saw this as a possibility.”
What about playing on Shabbat?
Former Chief Rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arba Rabbi Dov Lior holds that it is permitted to play basketball on Shabbat, most likely because basketball is played indoors which is a private domain where carrying on Shabbat is permitted. However, Rabbi Lior makes the distinction between playing for fun and attending a game in a public arena where there are countless opportunities for desecration of Shabbat. Indeed, all of the allowances in Rabbinic responsa, including the Shulchan Aruch that says running and jumping are fine on Shabbat if it gives you pleasure (301:2), do not permit playing for a professional team with all that it ensues.
According to the Yerushalmi Talmud, the citadel of Tur Shimon in Nahal Sorek was destroyed because the soldiers there played ball on Shabbat (Yer. Taanit 4,5).
Jacob Steinmetz (Arizona D-backs) and Elie Kligman (Nationals) were the first Orthodox Jews to ever get drafted by Major League Baseball.
Steinmetz told MLB magazine about his kosher food and Shabbat issues: “It’s not too complex, honestly. I talked about it with the teams, obviously, and it’s just what I’ve been doing my whole life. The plan is for the weekend games, just to stay close by to the field and then either walk or bike to the field on the game day. Then pitch if it’s my turn to pitch and if not, watch my teammates, but that’s it.”
Would local Jews help him with a minyan Friday nights and Shabbat mornings? They might score free tickets…
When Steinmetz was picked up, D-backs scouting director Deric Ladnier was asked about his playing on Shabbat and responded:
“It’ll be up to us to make the adjustment organizationally, to meet those needs. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for this young man, who’s supremely talented, to make a stand for who he is. Like I said we weren’t taking him to make this impactful statement. We were taking him because of his physical ability, understanding that there are going to be some adjustments that we as an organization are going to have to make. And I’m proud to be part of it, honestly.”
American gentiles are the best!