Harvard vs. Brown vs. God

The Boston Globe (8/17/07) reports a religious conflict in the Harvard University football schedule:

Under pressure from season ticket holders and alumni, Harvard proposed yesterday to move the date of its first nighttime football game from a Jewish holiday to another day that would not conflict with the religious observance... When Jewish fans pointed out that the date conflicts with the eve of Yom Kippur, known as Kol Nidre, Harvard initially told them they could exchange their tickets for another game. Fans complained that the university was forcing them to choose between synagogue and football. And Harvard relented.Yesterday, Harvard said it had asked Brown to move the game to Sept. 22 at 7:30 p.m. Yom Kippur ends at sunset that day. "We understand the sensitivity, and we want as many people as possible to be able to come to the game," said Harvard's athletic director, Robert L. Scalise.

Michael Simon -- associate director of Harvard Hillel, a campus Jewish organization -- applauded Harvard, saying the new date would allow Jews to attend services and catch the game."Clearly, they understood there was a problem with having it on the highest of holidays in the Jewish calendar and are clearly making an effort to correct their mistake," said Nancy K. Kaufman, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston...Scalise said Harvard has no official policy on scheduling games on holidays. He pointed out that the baseball team has played on Easter Sunday...Harvard reversed course yesterday and said it hoped that Brown would agree.Harvard also has Jewish football players."This is about what does it mean to try to balance religious observance and the expression of your American values and it's very much a part of the challenge of modern life," Simon said.

Two days later, however, a letter to the editor from Rabbi Y. A. Korff offers a different point of view:

While we applaud those who wished to see Harvard's opening football game moved from Yom Kippur eve, the fans are missing the point when they complain, as reported, that the university was forcing them to choose between synagogue and football.Life is about priorities and making choices, and for educated, informed Jews in this situation the priority, and the choice, should be obvious. More important, however, they are missing the point of Yom Kippur itself, the Day of Atonement, which bids us to atone for violating Jewish precepts and to return to observances such as the Sabbath. The holiest day in the Jewish calendar is the weekly Sabbath, not the one-day-a-year Yom Kippur.Thus to return to attending sports games on Friday nights or Saturdays during the year is a striking contradiction and negation of their very Yom Kippur observance, making the current controversy a bit specious. As long as we have the freedom to practice our faith free of discrimination, Jews living in a largely secular environment should take advantage of schedule conflicts such as this to assert and demonstrate their proper priorities and commitment, rather than insisting that the world make adjustments that will preserve all of our options and eliminate the need to make any "difficult" choices.

Jesus ( a Jewish rabbi, himself) said, "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath." (Mark 2:27) Of course the sabbath, a day of rest, was intended as a gift to humankind, not as a religious burden but as a break from the burden of work, freeing God's people for their greatest work and responsibility: the praise and worship of God.

Believers of all faiths face such a dilemma just about every weekend: how to juggle the schedules of work, family, play, arts, sports and relaxation with the schedule of one's house of worship? I know this is the case in my parish. But at least at Harvard it came down to "both/and." All to often on the local scene it ends up being "either/or."

My own thought is that the Catholic Church made a huge error in introducing the "anticipated Mass" on Saturday evenings. Nothing says the Sabbath is dispensable like moving the obligation to worship to another day.

So when's the Harvard-Brown kickoff? You guessed it: September 22 at 7:30 (note: after sundown on the sabbath). An interesting footnote: if you go online for the Harvard schedule, you'll find this explanation: The Athletic Department, in consultation with our colleagues at Brown, felt that Saturday night would allow the maximum number of fans to attend this historic event without conflict. And what's historic about this game? It's the first game under the lights at Harvard's stadium. The "conflict" with the sabbath is not mentioned.

When you have a conflict with Sunday worship: what do you decide? how do you decide?

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