Football, Caucuses and the Sabbath

Texans are serious about sports. Decades after he stopped playing for the Dallas Cowboys, a friend of ours still attracts major attention when he walks through the hallways at DFW airport. It is reasonable to assume that Texans also treat high school basketball more earnestly than do citizens of other states. So when a religious Jewish high school in Houston recently was told to forfeit a tournament semifinal game if they wouldn’t violate their convictions and play on Friday night, the Jewish Sabbath, it was big news.

I’m pretty serious about politics. This past Saturday the WA State Republican caucus took place. I didn’t attend. For Sabbath observant Jews, a Saturday caucus always presents a number of difficulties, sometimes insurmountable ones. This past Shabbat it was even harder to overcome the obstacles. The Shabbat before Purim (Feast of Esther) includes a special reading from the Torah in synagogue, and while you can play “catch up” if you must, the preferred option is to hear it on Saturday morning.

I did not feel ‘offended’ or ‘excluded’ by the WA State caucus’ timing. Had I wanted to, months ago I could have contacted the State’s Republican Party offices and brought up the issue. The chairman, Kirby Wilbur, a friend and former radio colleague of my husband, is a great guy who taught two of my children in a homeschool co-op. Our family has been guests at his home for a spectacular Fourth of July fireworks exhibition. Had Sabbath-observant Jews brought the Saturday caucus problem to his attention, I have no doubts the party would have made accommodations for us, as a number of other states with Saturday voting have done.

Similarly, when a well-known department store runs a “one day sale” on Saturdays, which means I can’t take advantage of the special pricing, I basically shrug my shoulders.  Whether you are a political organization, a business or a sports league, balancing your needs along with everyone else’s is impossible. You do the best you can and make adjustments when possible and reasonable.

Which is why I was disturbed by the way in which the Texas situation was resolved. In response to a lawsuit brought by the parents of some of the basketball players, a judge issued a ruling and the game was rescheduled. While on the surface this seems fair and equitable, in my view, it was an unfortunate outcome. As I see it, legal action tends to damage relationships. It is ever so much better when these things get resolved – even if it takes longer and there is short-term pain– by neighbors acting out of concern for each other.   When people voluntarily make changes out of a desire to be inclusive, communities are strengthened. When the law forces accommodation it only emphasizes “otherness.” When courts get involved rigid lines are drawn which frequently end up causing unanticipated and more severe problems down the road.

I hope that in four years there will be a non-Saturday option for the WA State caucus. I wish the Beren Academy basketball team success in making the semifinals once again and for the scheduling to allow them to play. More than either of those outcomes, however, I wish for a less litigious society, where human relationships flourish and the legal system is called upon only rarely and in extreme cases.  

8 thoughts on “Football, Caucuses and the Sabbath”

  1. From my understanding (and I haven’t made a study of this, I’m just going by what I read), the other school was happy to change the game’s timing. It was the administration of the league which wasn’t, citing a long held rule that the calendar is fixed. I do believe that when Beren Academy joined the league, they understood that there might be conflicts and still opted to join. Bureaucracies move slowly and the league stuck to the rules even though the schools involved wanted the change. The admin comes off looking bad, but IMO by involving the courts, there could well be bad feeling instead of internal pressure to change for next season.

  2. It would be great if everything always worked out right. But, it doesn’t. As for the Texas football team you wrote about, did the actual people involved in the game, the players for the other team and their families, have any say as to whether the game got postponed, before the court decision, or was the problem in the administration of the other school? Sometimes what we are fighting as Jews and Christians isn’t other people. Sometimes it’s bureaucracy.

  3. Thank you for responding Susan. I look forward to watching your TCT program regarding the Sabbath. Much thanks for your Musings and Rabbi Lapin’s teachings.

  4. Em, My husband and I recently recorded a TV show for our Ancient Jewish Wisdom show on TCT where we discussed what the Sabbath means for observant Jews. I hope you will catch it when it airs.
    As for the WA State Caucus, it is very uninviting the way it is done in general. I do remember going on a weekday night a few elections back. But it would be great if they move it to a different day than Saturday because it does exclude religious Jews as a group, which isn’t a message any political party should want to give.

  5. Susan, presidential caucuses have been held on Saturdays in Washington State for at least decades–my husband and I went to them last time (4 years ago) and we attended last Saturday, and all we had to say was that it was our Sabbath, and accommodations were made, in the most gracious and “neighborly” way. I agree that going to court must be a last resort after cordial, interpersonal means fail. I don’t know enough about the Texas case to know if more friendly means to resolve the problem came first, but we should act on the presumption that others are of good will, and only after they prove themselves less, progress to tougher resolutions (or decide the cause is not worth it). By the way, we’ve been told that scheduling for future state caucuses will take the Jewish calendar into account. Those in charge are now aware of the importance of Shabbat Zachor, and as demonstrated last Saturday, our GOP neighbors are most respectful and kind.

  6. Mrs. Lapin, I enjoy your Musings as they always provide nuggets of insightful teachings for social thought and daily life; all for the better. You mentioned the Sabbath and that caught my attention. I do my best to keep the Sabbath (I am not Jewish, nor do I consider myself a Christian); however, I thought one was to refrain from work, per se, on the Sabbath. After reading that you did not attend the Washington State Republican caucus because it took place on the Jewish Sabbath, you got me wondering if keeping the Sabbath means one can not go to the movies, visit the mall (no intent to buy), go to an amusement park, attend a sporting event, or any other pleasurable outing. Can you explain, ‘Keeping the Sabbath’? Thank you.

  7. Interesting, somewhat counterintuitive position.
    From my perspective here thousands of miles away, I would say if we won, we won.
    I think you are right about how escalation to the courts is unfortunate, but it is a part of society and often helps push social change.

  8. Jonathan Steele

    Wouldn’t it be great if judges read your words and, in stead of making a ruling that directs the parties, required that they negotiate! Reliance upon the law is to adopt a rigid stance, as though the laws of men could embody infinite wisdom and be universal. Your hopes and recommendations are wise.

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