LOS ANGELES, January 4, 2014 — On Saturdays, Jews celebrate their Sabbath. For Christians, their holy day is Sunday. On the first two weekends in January, the National Football League have their playoff games on both days.
What is a person to do when religion and football collide?
One episode of “The Simpsons” has Homer Simpson in Church ignoring the priest while listening to the game on his radio. His only prayer comes in asking the field goal kicker to make the winning kick. Homer leaps up in celebration and yells, “It’s good!” With everyone staring at him, he continues by exclaiming, “It’s good to see you all!”
Real life is not so funny. A serious decision has to be made. For those who consider this trivial, be better people. If something matters deeply to a person, then it matters, period. Some people would consider it stupid to take time away from God to watch guys fight over some silly little ball. Others find it stupid to miss out on a great game for some entity that is either non-existent or responsible for the evil in this world.
In my life, Hashem (God) matters. My Jewish faith defines me. The NFL also matters, having been a fan since age eight. Since the NFL is normally on Sundays, there is usually zero conflict. Only two Saturdays per year does the NFL play on Saturday, but those are two critically important weeks.
For Christians, every Sunday is a conflict on the West Coast. If Reverend Lovejoy drones on and on, even catching the second half of the early games is impossible.
Jews have it a little tougher because the rules are stricter. Christians have the decision to attend church or skip the sanctuary. Even if Jews stay home from Synagogue, the rules of the Sabbath ban the use of electricity. The television cannot be turned on or off.
Theoretically the television can be left on for 24 hours straight as long as the channel remains unchanged. Both games on this Saturday are on NBC. While this stays within the letter of Jewish law, it certainly violates the spirit of the law.
So what is an individual to do?
The answer lies within each one of us under a slogan previously used for a completely separate issue in the political arena.
“Don’t ask. Don’t tell.”
Make the decision, stick to it, and be quiet about it.
If the choice is to watch the game, do not broadcast to your priest or rabbi that you chose to watch football rather than attend services.
If one is the leader of the congregation, do not humiliate a congregant for making a tough decision. Leave them alone. Humans are flawed, and judge not lest ye be judged. They know they missed services. There is no need to remind them or ask them why.
If the choice is to attend services, leave the cellphones at home. Do not spend every waking minute checking the score. One synagogue in Birmingham took a unique approach when services came on the same time as the big “Iron Bowl” game between Alabama and Auburn.
Normally “taping” the game does not work because somebody ruins it by accidentally, or intentionally, revealing the score. For Iron Bowl 2013, the rabbi banned cellphones on that day and decided to have the entire Jewish community in attendance watch the game together after the Sabbath ended. They were all in it together with anticipation, and it strengthened an already great sense of community.
Religion and football are both great traditions with beautiful rituals that bring happiness to millions of people. They can coexist. Sometimes, however, short-term sacrifices need to be made.
We are human beings with free will who make choices and then must live with the consequences of those choices. By keeping our choices private, we reduce the number of people forced into uncomfortable conversations about matters that deserve to be internal.
Go to services or watch the games, but do it with a full heart and do not make any excuses.
Follow Eric Golub on Twitter @TYGRRRREXPRESS Eric Golub is an independent writer for the Communities.
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