Israel allows footballers to continue playing on Shabbat


Jerusalem (AFP)

Footballers in Israel will be able to continue playing on Saturdays after the government approved a waiver for the sport on the Jewish day of rest, officials said on Monday.

Matches held on Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath, have long been a cause of discord between less-observant Israelis and the country's ultra-Orthodox and religious nationalist communities.

Judaism forbids working on Shabbat -- observed from Friday to Saturday night -- but football matches in Israel have historically been held on the holy day.

Labour and Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz signed the general waiver on Sunday permitting football industry employees to continue working on Shabbat, his office said in a statement Monday.

The waiver was the result of a compromise reached with Israel's ultra-Orthodox parties, a key part of the governing coalition.

"The general authorisation I have granted preserves the status quo that has been in effect since the creation of the state," Katz said in the statement.

"We will continue and strengthen the sport in Israel."

Under Israeli law, employers must pay overtime to those who work on Shabbat.

Part of the first-division matches are played on Friday night or Saturday and watched in stadiums or on television by tens of thousands of Israelis.

In recent years, defenders of religious orthodoxy have attacked the sport's exception.

In August 2015, a judge in Tel Aviv ruled in favour of second-division players who, out of religious beliefs, did not want to play during Shabbat.

The ultra-Orthodox, who scrupulously respect the rules of Judaism, have ensured that Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, ultra-Orthodox himself, has the power to reject permissions granted to businesses to open on Saturday, with the exception of Tel Aviv.

The quarrel is one of many illustrating the long-running disagreement between the observance of Jewish religious rules and modern life.

The exemption of ultra-Orthodox Jews from military service was at the centre of a political crisis in March that almost led to the collapse of the government.