Lesson 83 – A Religious Sport

It’s fasting time.
That age old joy.

In Melbourne, it’s also Grand Final time.
Uh oh.

Yom Kippur is arguably the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
Not only do we fast, but we atone for the sins of our past year.
We reflect upon all that we have done/achieved/experienced and we look toward the next year.
Traditionally speaking, we do not engage with the outside world for those 24 or so hours – no music-listening, facebook-filtering, netflix-bingeing.

To be honest, I have no vested interest in this year’s Grand Final.
I happen to be here in Melbourne for this timetabling clash though, so am all too aware of it.
I am, however, aware of the position it puts certain Jews in our community in.

This isn’t new.
The roaming nature of our lunar calendar, coupled with the changing weekends of the AFL fixtures, mean that this clash has happened numerous times.
There was a Jewish player for St Kilda, when they made it into the 1966 Grand Final and I have no doubt he’d have realised that his decision (either way) would have been scrutinised by thousands of people.

What this makes me think about though, rather than the issue of Yom Kippur and its observances, is the general observances of Judaism.
Particularly those that are sacrosanct within the more orthodox communities and seem antiquated to the more liberal/progressive/reform amongst us.

On Shabbat (aka The Sabbath), no-one is supposed to work.
This is a rule across the board.
Across all religions.
You have a Sabbath?
You’re not supposed to work.
Whether your Sabbath is a Saturday, a Sunday or a freaking Wednesday, is irrelevant.
No work for you.
The ultra-orthodox Jews take this to the full end of the term.
No work?
No switching on a light.
No pressing any kind of button.
No driving a car.
All of this is considered – by them – to be work.
But to the less orthodox of us?
Not quite.
I will be driving two less-than-healthy parents back and forth on Yom Kippur.
Am I to be smited?
I don’t think so…

But then, let’s also think about this.
In Judaism, to be a Rabbi is not a calling.
Unlike in Catholicism, when a priest receives a calling and is thereby considered to be closer to G-d than everyone else.
It’s a chosen profession.
It is your job.
Sure, it’s your life too.
But it’s your job.
It’s a paid endeavour.
And your whole job is to lead services and the community for Sabbaths and other holy days.
Including the holiest of them all.
Yom Kippur.
So Rabbis break that rule.
They work on the Sabbath.
As a kid, I was always confused by my Christian friends who’d attend Sunday School whilst their parents were sitting through Mass (or their service).
Their teacher would be working to teach them.
Their learning would be classed as working.
And they were doing it within the walls of their church!
As well as Rabbis, Jewish communities have a cantor (or two) – someone who leads the congregation in song.
Again, this is not a calling.
It’s a job.
Paid or not.
It’s a job.
Perhaps there are loopholes in some Mishna or Talmudic teaching because Rabbis and Cantors are doing noble work by leading the congregation.
But it’s still work.

Then let’s turn to what’s involved in supporting a football team.
I don’t know.
I guess it depends on how you support your team.
For me – when I was interested in the game and a regular attendee of games – the art of barracking for my team was more of an outlet for my aggression and a way to focus my excitable energy than a way to work.
I’d go to a game and I’d scream and I’d yell.
I’d cheer when my team scored a goal.
I’d jeer when the opposition got theirs.
And when my team was in trouble, I’d find all the motivational tools available in my arsenal and send them to the players in most need – whether by osmosis, by magic or by screaming things at them at the top of my lungs.
But was it work?
Not for me.
When the game was ended…
No matter the result…
I was exhausted.
I had poured all of my energy into that match.
Not physically, perhaps, but mentally.
I had had time to self-reflect.
I had had time to meditate on my effectiveness.
I had had time to socialise and relax.
And, with the exhaustion, I’d feel ready for a new week.

I’m not saying that going to a football match is the same as observing Yom Kippur.
They are different things for different people.
But sports supporters are definitely members of a religion.
I’ve watched them worship their gods and pray to their heavens.

All I’m saying is, it is not my place to judge you if you need to spend Yom Kippur focussed on a football match.
If that’s what you need to round your year out, I hope the result is one that sends you into 5778 with renewed joy and optimism.





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