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Israeli court questions football on Jewish Sabbath

Jerusalem (AFP) – Israel’s Supreme Court has called on the government to explain why football games are allowed on the traditional Jewish day of rest, court documents seen Friday by AFP showed.

The intervention reopens the thorny issue of matches played on the Sabbath, which lasts from sunset Friday until the same time Saturday.

Observant Jews will not drive cars or operate electrical appliances during that time and parts of the country come to a standstill, though professional football has long been allowed.

The court Thursday asked the Attorney General to explain within 90 days why professional football is exempted from the country’s “hours of work and rest” law, according to the text seen by AFP. 

It was responding to a suit  brought by the “Movement for a Jewish State” religious lobby group.

Many of the Israeli football league’s top-flight matches are played on Friday night or Saturday and watched either live or on television by tens of thousands of Israelis.

This exemption has been regularly attacked by supporters of religious orthodoxy.

In August 2015, a Tel Aviv judge ruled in favour of second division players who no longer wanted to play on the Sabbath due to their religious convictions. 

The ruling led to confusion that critics said could have economic implications.

A compromise was found in March that the games continue on Saturdays but  players can refuse to take the field.

The Jewish religion prohibits work in a very broad sense on the Sabbath and encourages the study of religious texts, prayer or rest.

This quarrel is one of a number that illustrate the differences between the country’s religious and secular populations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government includes ultra-Orthodox parties, who raised strong objections in September to railway engineering works on the sabbath.

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