Friday, November 18, 2022

Kiddush HaShem? Chilul HaShem? Neither?

Ryan Turell (Jewish Link)
Many years ago, Chicago’s largest Jewish neighborhood, West Rogers Park, established its controversial Eruv.  An Eruv allows observant Jews to carry on Shabbos in public spaces - which is otherwise a violation of Halacha. 

I recall one of the 2 rabbis responsible for its construction declaring something along the lines of, ‘The Eruv may not be used to play ball.’  At the time, I wondered whether he was making a Halachic statement or a Hashkafic one. My sense of it is that it was Hashkafic. I do not believe there is any technical violation of Shabbos by ‘shooting a few baskets’ in a playground when there is an Eruv. 

I nevertheless agreed with his sentiment as a matter of Hashkafa. The idea of  participating in a sport like basketball on Shabbos is surely not in the spirit of the day. Which has traditionally been a day of actual rest conducive to spending time with one’s family and friends. Usually at one of the 2 or 3 meals required on that day. That custom has become entrenched across the entire spectrum of Orthodoxy by the vast majority of Orthodox Jewry.  The idea of playing a competitive sport on that day may not technically violate Halacha. But as a Hashkafa, I find it in poor taste. I am therefore disappointed when I see a group of Kipa wearing Jewish boys doing it.  

The question is, even if playing basketball is technically allowed on Shabbos, how far can we go with that before it crosses a line?  And what IS that line?  This brings me to RyanTurell. Ryan is a Modern Orthodox Jew who attended Yeshiva University and became a star basketball player on its basketball team - which competed in intercollegiate Division III basketball games. 

Largely because of Ryan the team went undefeated for the regular season. Ryan was named the 2022 Division III Player of the Year. 

That has earned him a selection by the NBA. He was drafted by Detroit Pistons for one of their minor league teams.  That is a first for a Kipa wearaing Shomer Shabbos Jew. 

Playing professional basketball often entails playing on Shabbos. Ryan goes to great lengths to avoid any Chilul Shabbos by staying in a nearby hotel and walking to and from games. The Pistons organization has been very accommodating to him about that by – among other things - providing him with kosher meals at the hotel he stays at on Shabbos. 

But is playing professional basketball on Shabbos OK Halachicly - if one is being paid for it? I suppose there are ways of getting around that prohibition. But not everyone knows about those loopholes. A lot of Jews might mistakenly surmise that being paid to do a job on Shabbos is OK. On the other hand - that he is absolutely committed to his observance in such a public way, perhaps it is even a Kiddush HaShem? 

I’m pretty sure that the Charedi world would not see any Kiddush HaShem in a Jew playing professional basketball on Shabbos - regardless of the great lengths to avoid desecrating it. It sends the wrong message about what Shabbos is all about. Maybe they even consider it a Chilul HaShem, I don’t know. 

On the other hand the lengths he goes to observe Shabbos as a professional basketball player cannot be ignored. Because that too sends a message. Which is that one can pursue exotic careers while being observant. That one does not have to give up his Yiddishkeit to pursue a dream that might entail such impediments. If one is committed, where there is a will, there is a way. 

So - assuming there is no technical violation of Shabbos - which is it? A Kiddush HaShem? A Chilul HaShem? Neither? Not sure I know the answer to that.