NASHVILLE, September 9, 2018 — For many people, Sunday, September 9, 2018, is a day of holiness. For football fanatics, 1:00 p.m. Eastern time begins the first Sunday of the 2018 National Football League. While the first game was played on Thursday night, the first Sunday sees 13 games played.
Fans of 26 of the league’s 32 teams finally get to enjoy football.
For Jews, sundown in every time zone begins Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The year is 5,779, and Jews for two days are forbidden from operating a television.
For Jewish football fans, this conflict can lead to agony. Religious Jews scoff at this. Nearly 6,000 years of tradition is far more important than some silly little game.
For Leatherheads, football is the furthest thing from a silly little game. Football matters. The values taught and learned from football matter.
For Jewish members of the Raider Nation, the agony is especially magnified. Most of the games on Sunday will be finished by sundown, allowing fans to watch football before heading to synagogue.
The Oakland Raiders host the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football, smack dab in the middle of the holiday.
The choices are very clear. Jews can strictly observe the holiday, and miss the game. Or Jews can watch the Raiders play the Rams and violate the holiday.
Forget about taping the game. Somebody always messes things up by accidentally revealing the score. Picking up a newspaper is another way to unintentionally render a taped game worthless. Football needs to be watched live. Taping the game is not a viable option. The game is either watched in real time or not at all.
My Judaism is my core.
Without a core, an individual is an empty shell. My Holocaust survivor father has reminded me many times the same lesson. My grandparents did not help him escape the Nazis so his children could abandon Judaism.
Football is also at my core.
The Raiders won their first Super Bowl on my fifth birthday. At age 8, they won another Super Bowl as I truly became a fan. Upon turning 12, the Raiders won another Super Bowl and gave me thrills that are carried with me to this day. My Raiders jacket is a silver and black badge of honor.
There are loopholes that allow Jewish football fans to get around religious traditions. A non-Jew could turn the television on and off. Some synagogues are within walking distance of sports bars. The letter of the law only states a violation for operating the television.
Sadly, this still violates the spirit of the religious law. In American law, only the black letter law matters from a legal standpoint. In religion, the spirit of the law is very significant.
So what is a proud Jew and a die-hard Raiders fan to do?
Several NFL owners over the decades have been Jewish, but observing them provides no guidance. The late New York Jets owner Leon Hess skipped watching a game his team was playing in because of Yom Kippur. His owner’s box was vacant as he went to synagogue. Yet the late Raiders owner Al Davis was also Jewish.
He claimed a Jewish identity, but his life was devoted to football and the Raiders. His son Mark Davis now owns the team. He is expected to be at the game.
ESPN über-announcer Chris Berman is a proud Jew and a football fan.
For nearly 20 years he hosted “NFL Primetime.”
Whenever Rosh Hashanah fell on an NFL Sunday, Berman would thank the viewing audience for watching. He would wish the Jewish viewers a Happy Rosh Hashanah. Then he would jokingly wag his finger and say,
“For those of you watching this broadcast on the East Coast,
you should be in Temple right now.”
My college friends and I expressed relief that we were watching on the West Coast, before sunset.
Many games have been played on December 25th, but this is also not the same thing. Missing Christmas dinner with the family to play football is unfortunate, but not a religious violation. Nothing in Christianity prevents watching or playing football. Sunday is the Christian Sabbath, and most NFL games are on Sunday.
While many Christians on Sunday have to choose between church and football, there is no religious violation for missing the service.
Judaism is different. On our sabbath and on holidays, there is a strict prohibition against activities such as football.
This is codified religious law. It is a written doctrine. There is zero wiggle room.
The solution for this Jew starts with prayer. Asking God’s advice is normal and consistent with religious faith. Guidance can come when least expected. More importantly, the decision must be made without excuses.
If a religious law is violated, own it. Do not rationalize. Flawed people break rules every day. It is what makes us human.
Lastly, the decision should remain private. In a social media world where everything is public, there is no need to flout God’s laws in front of the world.
May God bless Jews and football fans everywhere. For Jewish football fans, do what is right, whatever that means.
To Jews, Happy Rosh Hashanah. May you be inscribed in the book of life. To football fans, happy NFL 2018 kickoff. Let’s get it on!
To Jewish Raiders fans and fans of other teams playing on Rosh Hashanah, may God bless you before, during and after your decision. May you not be tortured before, during or after the decision is made. No matter what you decide, Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement is right around the corner.
It is never too late to improve and do better as a person.