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ACUTE ANGLES: Women’s Soccer – Are There Issues?

Dear Rabbi. The  FIFA Women’s World Cup  has generated unprecedented interest worldwide.  According to the Torah,  would there be issues with women playing professional soccer?  Does it fall under the heading of not doing what pertains to the opposite gender?  Yours, P.L   

Dear P.L.

As you are aware, this is not a halachic forum.  I would suggest you seek out a rabbi expert both in halacha and contemporary women’s professional sport. Certainly there may be issues in men watching women play assuming they are not likely to be modestly attired.

I actually did consult a halachic source regarding lo tilbash (wearing the garb of the opposite gender – see Deut 22:5) who didn’t think (from sources he had  consulted)  that this would be an issue as women are wearing the “uniform” (shorts and shirt) for the practical reason of playing the game, not with the intention of dressing like men.

Additionally, women’s professional soccer isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. During World War 1, women’s soccer leagues were set up in the UK to raise money for the war effort. Much is written about how women played the game then – in a genteel way as was deemed appropriate for females, with hardly any physical contact. In December 1921, the women’s leagues were disbanded by the English FA who stated that “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and should not be encouraged”.  (The leagues were not revived by the FA until 1992.)

Did the FA have a point?  Possibly by then some of the gentility that had previously characterised the women’s game had been lost. Modern day feminists would of course scoff at the idea that women’s sports should not be contested as aggressively as men’s. Yet in other scenarios they would protest that women need extra protection! One cannot have it all ways.

Sadly it does appear that the numbers of violent tackles and fouls leading to bookings or dismissals in the women’s game are fast catching up to the men’s. (The English team’s super-aggressive approach in their recent semi-final against Australia drew much criticism even from neutrals.) This would not be viewed as ideologically problematic by most moderns who see men and women as differing only chromosomally, while ignoring differences in physical and spiritual make-up. But don’t women have something to teach us in how to play “the beautiful game” non-aggressively – differently from men?

The Talmud declares (Kiddushin 2b) ein darka shel isha la’asot milchama, “it is not a woman’s way to make war”. (This is a source for the halachic prohibition of women serving in combat units,) Ideologically, this could be extended to contact sports. While in an age of equal opportunity the sky may be the limit for women and men alike, maybe it is a woman’s challenge to bring a refreshing difference – her natural feminine grace and refinement – to the women’s game, and even recreate it.

A noble goal indeed!

About the Author
Rabbi Chaim Ingram is the author of five books on Judaism. He is a senior tutor for the Sydney Beth Din and the non-resident rabbi of the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation. He can be reached at judaim@bigpond.net.au
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