They think there’s no minyan… there is now!

The Premier League is generally kind to shomer Shabbat (Shabbat observant) football supporters. There have never been more games played on Sundays, Monday evenings or midweek. Indeed, look at the schedules of the bigger clubs and you start to think that the era of 3pm Saturday afternoon kick-offs is over. 

Not that the Premier League seems vaguely aware of any of this when scheduling matches. In 2017, for instance, it managed to schedule Chelsea versus Manchester City, one of the biggest games of the season, between clubs with a considerable minority of Jewish supporters, on Kol Nidrei. 

Looking ahead to the rest of the season Chelsea versus Spurs has been scheduled between seder nights on the first day of Pesach. The best that can be said about this is that fewer Jews will be present to hear the racist “Yiddo!” chanting directed at Spurs’ so-called Yid army. 

Both clubs, incidentally, are Jewish-owned, with Chelsea proprietor Roman Abramovich normally taking over a luxury hotel in Israel during Pesach for a few friends.

The struggle between religious practice and sport is ever-present. Jewish-owned Brighton & Hove Albion is unique among Premier League football clubs in that it has an Israeli-Jewish striker Tomer Hemed and Israeli-Arab midfielder Beram Kayal. Both are full Israeli internationals. 

Israeli footballers in the top flight are not unusual. What is different about Hemed is he does his best to be a practising – if not fully – shomer Shabbat Jew. When his team plays at home on a weekend, Hemed helps make up the Friday evening Minyan at Hove Hebrew Congregation when he can. 

Moreover, I am reliably informed by neighbours in his apartment block in Hove that in the mornings, before heading off to training, he can be seen through the window of his apartment on the ground floor laying tefillin. That places his level of practice above that of most of the British Jewish community and much of secular Israel.

Jews have the ability to compromise to support their favourite sports team. For a couple of decades a regular visitor at Richmond Synagogue was the late South African philanthropist and leader Mendel Kaplan, a devote Jew and educator. As a distinguished visitor, who would let us know he would be present in shul, he would be offered the honour of reading Haftorah. 

His visits almost always coincided with an England-South African rugby international. Twickenham, the home of rugby, is a comfortable 20-minute or so walk from our shul. 

Indeed, during the most recent rugby World Cup, our community minyan was handsomely swelled for several weeks by South Africans, including the chazzan from a Johannesburg community who handsomely enriched services with the gusto of his singing. 

Even the thought of such matters might provoke the wrath of right-wing voices such as that of Rabbi Aharon Bassous, one the rabbis who seem to think JW3 is den of iniquity, but hopefully not most of mainstream British Jewry.

Jewish ownership of some of our major football clubs, notably Manchester United, may at times have provoked anger, as when the American Glazer family looked to have loaded the club up with debt while refusing to spend big on players. 

That era has now passed, although a lack of success, by Manchester United standards, produces a different kind of dissent.

None of it is as hostile as the invective against the ownership of Manchester City. In a devastating article in The Observer,  commentator Nick Cohen focused on the gross inequalities and racism in Abu Dhabi, which indirectly controls the club, which are ignored in polite society. As long as clubs are winning, no one wants to question the rights and wrongs of its ownership. 

Nevertheless, the least the Premier League could do is buy a luach, a Jewish calendar, and make sure our most solemn festivals remain fixture free.

About the Author
Alex Brummer is the Daily Mail's City Editor
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