Naama Shafir, an Orthodox Jew, has recently gained stardom by scoring 40 points to lead the University of Toledo to victory in the Womenís National Invitational Tournament championship, a game that took place on Shabbat. She was crowned the basketball tournamentís MVP. After the game, she walked about two miles home, and did not take part in any interviews. Would it be fair to say that Naama is a great role model to all girls in general, because she is pursuing her dreams, while holding steadfast to her Jewish values and commitment to religion? Or is there a problem with her actions because she apparently violated the Sabbath restrictions by playing? How should we view what she did?
In 1965 Sandy Koufax refused to pitch in Game One of the World Series because it was Yom Kippur. Instead of Koufax, Don Drysdale pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he gave up seven runs in 2 2/3 innings. When manager Walter Alston came to pull him from the game, Drysdale told Alston, "I bet right now you wish I was Jewish, too." Instead of pitching that day, Koufax attended synagogue in Minneapolis, and became a source of pride and inspiration among American Jews, even those who weren't particularly observant or who weren't baseball fans.
Following in the footsteps of Koufax and many other Jewish athletes comes Naama Shafir. Naama is a role model and source of pride not only to Jewish girls and women, but to all who are striving to become better Jews. Her commitment to Jewish values and observance of Judaism while starring in Division One college basketball has required tremendous discipline and commitment. Naama, a self-identified Orthodox Jew, strictly observes Kashrut, wears a tee-shirt under her game jersey (for purposes of modesty), will not practice, watch film or give interviews on Shabbat, and will not travel by motor vehicle before or after games held on Shabbat.
Naama did, however, play in games that took place on Saturday. From an Orthodox perspective, how should we view what she did? I saw a news article that stated that Naama received 'special dispensation' to play games on Saturday. Let us assume for discussion's sake that Naama did consult her rabbi, and that her rabbi is an Orthodox, G-d revering Jew. In that case, since Naama consulted with and followed the guidelines of a rabbi thoroughly familiar with both the laws of Shabbat and the ramifications of a highly visible Orthodox Jew publicly playing basketball on Shabbat, we should not view her as having violated the restrictions of Shabbat. We must apply the principle of "Dan L'Kaf Zchut' (Give the Benefit of the Doubt) and assume that the matter was thoroughly investigated and weighed by Naama's rabbi before a decision was rendered.
It must be added, though, that others in a position similar to Naama have arrived at a different decision regarding Shabbat. Tamir Goodman, an Orthodox Jew from Baltimore, was offered a scholarship after high school to play for the University of Maryland basketball team, at the time the reigning NCAA champs. But when the team was unable to accommodate his request to observe Shabbat, Tamir -- known as 'The Jewish Jordan' for his great basketball ability-- turned down the offer. He said, "Originally I thought that they would be able to work it out, and then they told me they wouldn't be able to. So I said thanks for the shot, but I'm not going to give in on Shabbos." After the University of Maryland deal fell through, Tamir went to Towson University. The school respected his religious observance, and let him skip games that fell on Shabbat and holy days.
A Jew committed to Torah observance is known as "Shomer/Shomeret Shabbat" (Observant of Shabbat). We must note that the litmus test for one with a deep connection to Judaism is not called 'Shomer Kashrut,' 'Shomer Mezuzah,' Shomer Shofar,' or 'Shomer Loshon Hara' (gossip) -- but rather, 'Shomer Shabbat.' After all, it has been said in the name of many that "It is not the Jews who keep Shabbat, but it is Shabbat that keeps the Jews." We shouldn't cut corners when it comes to the observance of Shabbat simply to facilitate our wants and desires.
In conclusion, Naama Shafir's commitment to Jewish values and observance of Judaism is a great inspiration and source of pride. The question of her playing basketball games on Shabbat should prompt each of us to think about our own personal relationship to Shabbat. What does Shabbat mean to me? How do I honor Shabbat? Is there anything I would refrain from doing on Saturday because of my love and respect for Shabbat? And finally, what can I do in my own way to better observe and honor Shabbat?
Naama Shafir, an Orthodox Jew, has recently gained stardom by scoring 40 points to lead the University of Toledo to victory in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament championship, a game that took place on Shabbat. She was crowned the basketball tournament’s MVP. After the game, she walked about two miles home, and did not take part in any interviews. Would it be fair to say that Naama is a great role model to all girls in general, because she is pursuing her dreams, while holding steadfast to her Jewish values and commitment to religion? Or is there a problem with her actions because she apparently violated the Sabbath restrictions by playing? How should we view what she did?
The challenge that Naama is confronting is our challenge. Naama's striving to excel at women’s basketball while remaining true to her Jewish identity and commitments exemplifies the challenge we face each and every day: the challenge of living with one foot in the Jewish world and one foot in the secular world. Naama is one particular person who has made – and will continue to make -- her own particular choices. They may not be the choices that we would make, but that’s not the point. I applaud her, and wish her well. When we confront similar choices, we too have the opportunity -- and the responsibility -- to do what she has done, namely, to seek to remain true to our Jewish commitments, while simultaneously pursuing our (secular, not necessarily Jewish) dreams. Sometimes, we cannot accomodate both desires. Sometimes, one or the other must give way. When that happens, we have to ask ourselves: which is more important?
The more important aspects of Naama Shafir’s basketball career with the University of Toledo are her consistency both on and off the court, and her willingness to maintain loyalty to Judaism while still pursuing her dreams. I believe that these characteristics alone qualify her as a role model. Not knowing her, I can only guess that, in addition to these, she is admired by her team, her family, and her colleagues and peers in Israel, who have undoubtedly been watching her career from afar. It is heartening to know that someone can uphold religious and human values in such a competitive and secularly concerned world.
I am not intimately familiar with the situation, but in reading online articles about her and her coming to the United States to play and learn in the University setting, I believe that another important value that she exhibited was her straightforwardness in securing the right conditions under which she could play. Through research, interviews, and a disappointment here and there, she found a school that would adapt to her needs and desires, which included the willingness to schlep Kosher food along on road trips, avoiding the scheduling practice on Shabbat (see below the a Rabbinic opinion about practice), and dress/modesty restrictions. It seems that the University of Toledo was more than willing to make concessions for her.
Your question makes an assumption about a so-called ‘violation’ of the Shabbat restrictions by playing. I do not know what ‘apparent violations’ you are referring to, but it is noteworthy that Chaim Burgansky, the Rabbi of Hoshaya, her hometown community in the Jezriel Valley in the Galilee, has provided approval for her playing. He as been quoted as saying, “The halachic rationale is based on the fact that although the Halacha says that it’s forbidden to jump and run on Shabbat, someone who derives pleasure from it can do it. But exercise is forbidden. Practice is in the category of ‘exercise’ and therefore forbidden, but the game itself is fun for the player. Who wants to sit on the bench?” (http://www.forward.com/articles/136770/) Note that Hoshaya is a religious community – they list themselves online as ‘dati leumi’, which I interpret informally as supporting the National Religious Party.
It is important to note that her Rabbi, in providing this ‘hekhsher’ for her Shabbat playing, clarified that the ruling was a personal one for Ms. Shafir and not for her team. He said that, in addition to avoiding “practice” on Shabbat, he would never permit there to be a tournament to take place. But the fact that she was playing in an essentially non-Jewish environment, he implied, makes an opinion about the tournament moot.
As with any perception from the outside, there are dangers in making generalizations without investigating the matter. Someone observing the situation from afar and not taking the time to inquire about the history of Ms. Shafir’s painstaking search for a program, her permission from her Orthodox Rabbi, and her reasonable requests of her team in a straightforward manner, could draw incorrect conclusions about her and/or her motivations. But I believe that her actions, as reported in the press (that is the only evidence we have to go on, in this context), actually strengthen her ability to serve as a role model, to which I can only say to Ms. Shafir, “Yeshar Kocheich, may your strength always be straight and true.”
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