Game On: AG Rules Israeli Soccer Teams Can Play on Sabbath

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, an avid football fan, said on Wednesday that the Saturday games should go on.

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Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein at Herzliya Conference. June 2015. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

REUTERS - Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has ruled that there is no reason to suddenly enforce a law banning soccer matches from taking place on Shabbat, after the weekend ritual came under threat following a court ruling on a petition by religiously observant players. The Israel Football Association said following Weinstein's decision that all matches would go ahead as planned.

The religious players' refusal to participate in some matches that in previous years have been held on weekdays, led an Israeli labor court to rule that without a special waiver that allows companies to employ workers on Shabbat, which runs from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday, Saturday soccer is illegal.

Soccer matches have operated for decades without a waiver, as part of a so-called "status quo". The arrangement between Israel's secular Jewish majority and religiously observant minority governs which businesses, public transport and places of entertainment can open on Saturdays.

As a result of the court decision, Israeli Economy Minister Arye Dery, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, had to decide whether to issue a soccer waiver.

To do so would violate his own religious beliefs, but with football being the most popular sport in Israel, he ran the risk of angering many Israelis by canceling matches on Saturday, their only day off work.

Income from business surrounding soccer -- support staff, broadcasting, transportation, policing, stewarding and refreshments -- would all also have been hit.

Some of the professional matches in Israel's two top leagues are held on Saturdays but hundreds of others involving non-professional teams are also played on Shabbat.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, an avid soccer fan, said on Wednesday that the Saturday games should go on.

"I think that the custom for the (secular) public in Israel is that on Saturday you go to synagogue and afterward you go to the (soccer stadium)," he said on Army Radio. "This is the status quo."

Israeli PM Netanyahu playing football in Jerusalem, June 2012Credit: Moshe Milner

Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev praised Weinstein's decision and said a committee would seek a solution that would accommodate players who did not want to play on Shabbat.