I got a call recently from WTOP’s Mark Plotkin, an avid tennis fan and devoted follower of both the Jewish faith and the Israeli Davis Cup team. He pointed out to me that Israel will be playing Spain this weekend in the Davis Cup semifinal, a surprising turn of events for a nation not normally known as a tennis power. Plotkin was boastful of Israel’s run, but was also concerned tha the matches were scheduled over Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the Jewish New Year and one of the more important holidays for Israelis.
For what it’s worth, this match was schedule before international tennis officials knew who would be playing Spain in the semifinals. Israel upset Russia to qualify, and it was probably not a result anyone expected.
It’s also worth noting that Israel’s chances of winning have been boosted by the absence of top-ranked Spaniard Rafael Nadal due to injury.
I will not pretend to have any personal insight into what’s right and wrong here. My conversations with Jewish friends suggest that those following the more Orthodox teachings of Judaism are not pleased with this situation, but that more secular-minded Jews don’t think it’s too big of a deal. But it’s up to the individual players whether they believe playing on the holiday is a violation of their beliefs.
Israeli player Dudi Sela seemed excited about the notion of playing, suggesting the combination of an Israeli win and the holiday could be an exciting thing for his country.
“It’s the semi-final and we have a holiday this weekend in Israel so everybody’s going to watch,” Sela said in an interview posted on the Davis Cup website. “All the team are very excited and we can’t wait to be on court tomorrow and I think it’s a big thing for Israel.”
Teddy Weinberger, in a letter to the editor of the Haartez Daily newspaper, called on Limor Livnat, the Israeli Minister of Culture and Sport, to look into how the Davis Cup appearance can go on while remaining “faithful to Israel’s character as both a democratic and a Jewish state.”
“It seems to me…that if one is representing the Jewish state, Rosh Hashanah cannot be treated as just an ordinary weekend.
For our Davis Cup team to play on Rosh Hashanah is to wound Jewish self-esteem. It shows the world that everything is flexible, that Jewish tradition can be repackaged to suit the moment.
As I see it, there are excellent democratic reasons for Israel’s Davis Cup team to participate in the semifinals on Sept. 18-20, but there are excellent Jewish reasons for Israel not to send its national tennis team to play on Rosh Hashanah.”