"From Moshe till Moshe, there arose none like Moshe." (famous Jewish folk saying)

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Hilchos Football - in honor of the Big Game!!

By my creative, talented and special friend
Rabbi Elly Krimsky

A well-known yeshiva in Brooklyn has recently petitioned its rabbinic leaders to form a yeshiva football league – the yeshiva men would have the opportunity to exercise and have fun at the same time. The proposed league would only include male yeshiva students, and would include uniforms, referees and statistic keepers. Before permitting the students to participate, the Yeshiva heads, not being familiar with the American pastime, had to read the football rulebook.

The organization of Roshei Yeshiva issued a responsa permitting the league contingent upon all of their stipulations being met. It goes without saying that the league would need to unswervingly conform to halacha.

Below are excerpts from the responsa issued by the yeshiva deans which includes a Halachic analysis of many issues pertaining to football.

I. Pigskin
May a pigskin football be used? There is no prohibition of deriving benefit from a non-kosher dead animal. There is no concern with deriving benefit from pigskin. But there is a concern of deriving benefit from a mixture of kosher meat and kosher milk, and gaining benefit from chametz on Pesach. The roshei yeshiva were concerned that the pig may have eaten chametz on Pesach, and as such, its skin gained nourishment from the consumption of chametz on Pesach.

There is, however, another issue with pigskin, namely the curse associated with raising them (see Menachos 64b).

The roshei yeshiva strongly suggested that a non-pig skin ball be used.

II. Penalties
It was deemed ‘ayin hara’ for the referees to call out the numbers of those players that were charged with penalties. A compromise was reached that would give the referees one of three options.

1. They could call a holding penalty on “not 47” of the offense. This could be a bit confusing because declining a penalty would involve too many double negatives.

2. They could quote the verse from Psalms 119 (which has 176 verses) corresponding to the jersey number of the person penalized. This would work as follows: the referee would call out “Off sides, zos haysa li ki fikudecha notzarti – Defense.” The scorekeepers would know that this is verse 56 and would charge the penalty against defensive player #56. This too would be impractical. Only Sephardic judges could be used in this scenario because no Ashkenazim know all of Psalms 119 by heart. The g’dolim ruled that the entire verse must be quoted due to the concept of kol pasuk d’lo pasak Moshe Rabbeinu anan lo paskinan (Ta’anis 27b; Megillah 22a). Furthermore, it was ruled that if the verse is read in havara sepharadit, the referees would be penalized from their salary and the penalty would not count.

3. The player that receives the penalty would need to take the specially designed coins used for the toin-coss, which will double as approved coins for both pidyon haben and machtzis hashekel, and take the amount of coins that represent half of his number and present them to the judge. The idea behind this is that it takes more than one person to commit a penalty (even off sides) and no player is a whole. Furthermore, the Breslaver team insisted that the coins have a heart on it because there’s nothing as whole as a broken heart.

III. Status of Referees
Since the referees are testifying to the truth of the plays on the field, they are functioning as both dayanim and eidim. All referees need to be fully shomer shabbos and demonstrate their unswerving fear of heaven. Any ref using a crock pot on Shabbos without placing a rock or marble in between the crock and the metal to avoid the possible issue of hatmanah, and/or not wrapping the removable crock pot in tin foil as a blech, will not be allowed to serve. Any referee relying on the leniency of Rav Moshe Feinstein to make tea in a kli shlishi, not making sense before Shabbos can only become an umpire or line judge – not a full referee. All refs must have at least acquired the status of ref-ref b’hilchos football. The head ref must have completed study to become Yadin Yadin b’hilchos football. The league commissioner must need to be qualified to be podeh b'choros.

IV. Measuring for first downs
One of the rules of football is that the team on offense accomplishes a first-down once ten yards are gained in four chances (called downs). If the refs can’t tell with their naked eyes if ten yards have been gained, they bring out a chain that measures exactly ten yards; if the football is within the chain, the first down is not accomplished. The roshei yeshiva would not permit a 10 yard measuring chain because the Mishna in Eiruvin (5:4) describes a 50 cubit rope that is employed to measure eiruvei t’chumin. Since the mesorah talks of this 50 cubit rope (approximately 100 feet or 33 yards), it would be blasphemous to use a different means to measure. The roshei yeshiva declared that two 50 cubit ropes would be used – one according to Rav Chaim Na’eh and the other according to the measurements of the Chazon Ish.

V. Reviewing a play

Of late, the National Football League has allowed a video review of a play. A team can ask for a challenge. The head referee looks at the play on a video monitor from a variety of angles. If the ruling is not reversed, the team that requested the review is charged with a time-out.

The roshei yeshiva were uncomfortable with reviewing plays. What follows are some of their reasons.

1. There is a large dispute in Halachic literature regarding breirah. Loosely translated, the dispute revolves around after-the-fact retroactive decision-making. To avoid such a dispute, the rabbis ruled to avoid it.

2. The judge is to rule according to his best abilities. That is all that the Torah asks. Yiftach b’doro k’Shmuel b’doro. Since we believe that the da’as Torah of the dayanim is based upon siyata dishmaya, we must not second-guess their decisions even if they’re dead wrong.

3. Even if the judge says what is right is left and visa versa, we must abide by their ruling.

4. The league couldn’t afford video cameras.

VI. Flea-flickers and lateral plays

The Roshei Yeshiva will not permit lateral plays and flea flickers. They would only permit plays that began with the center hiking the ball to the quarterback and then the quarterback handing the ball or throwing the ball to a third player. They ruled on several Halachic grounds.

1. Giving gratitude or hakaras hatov is such a fundamental trait of the Jew. Kol Ha’omer davar b’sheim omro mevi ge’ulah l’olam. We know the center gives the ball to the quarterback, but it becomes too complicated to be makir tov if too many players are involved with a play.

2. We have a concept codified in Jewish law, “kol hamaschil mitzvah omrim lo g’mor” – whomever begins the mitzvah is encouraged to complete it (see Orach Chayim 585:4). The one who gets the ball from the quarterback should be encouraged to finish the play.

VII. Chavalah - tackling
If a player is hurt as a result of a tackle, may he ask for financial restitution? Halacha states that if someone injures his fellow he must pay up to five types of payments– damage; pain; medical costs; the money lost from one’s livelihood and embarrassment. If a player is tackled and any of these injuries apply, the refs will immediately call a timeout and convene as a besdin to ascertain the damages. They will rely on the opinion of the Tur (Choshen Mishpat 421:3) that one is only obligated to pay remuneration for pain, medical expenses and lack of livelihood if the injury was intentional. The roshei yeshiva insisted that all members of the opposite team sign waivers that were developed by their attorneys.

The Roshei Yeshiva suggested that all games, including the playoffs, should take place on Purim (Shushan Purim in Yerushalayim). They stressed that the league officials are not bound by this suggestion. Their rationale based itself on the ‘yesh omrim’ mentioned in the RAMA (Orach Chayim 695:2) that one is exempt from financial restitution if the damage took place on Purim as a result of ‘simchas Purim.’ They, of course, follow the distinction of the BACH, that this only applies to minor damage.

VIII. Bracha on Gatorade

Does the coach of the wining team need to recite a bracha before getting several gallons of Gatorade poured over his head? If the answer is yes, since we make brachos before the action, would the players need to tell him first?

Since it was deemed that the coach would probably inadvertently drink Gatorade, because it would trickle down from his soaking head, he should make a bracha before the game and a shomer would be assigned to assure that he did not go 72 minutes without taking a taste of the Gatorade. It was also ruled that all chametz must be removed from the sidelines from the 4th quarter and on, lest a situation of gebrokths create an insensitive situation for some.

For some reason or another, the yeshiva football league never took off. You know what they say. Bar mitzvah is when a Jewish boy realizes that he has a better chance of owning a professional sports franchise than playing for one.

Copyright 2003

Divrei Moshe, that was PURE genius; very very very good (did i just use a semi-colon?!), and really really funny. i liked the part about penalties. but i dont get why ashkenazim cant do that? they could just have a t'hilim on them, and since all the pesukim go by the aleph-beis, so like, if the penalty was on 12, so they look in the t'hilim, and see that pasuk 12 is Baruch Atah HaShem lamdeini chukecha.
you know, they could also say the first pasuk of the perek that the number is....ok, nevermind, forget that...
again, DM, hilarious!

Karban Nesanel
Very cute...staying up all night to watch the big game next week are we?

BTW- We missed you on the last world tour. Your pile of book orders is growing!
BTW, you might find this very funny also.

Rofl! I thought only us Brits played football tho.
Great Video Game blog, thanks for letting me post a message. Great Job with your blog.

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