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Unorthodox step in right direction


ONE OF the most refreshing college basketball stories in many years is the recent announcement that Tamir Goodman, an Orthodox Jewish high school basketball star from Pikesville, has promised to play for the University of Maryland.

The idea that big-time college basketball, which has been marred by scandal in recent years, would agree to be challenged by Tamir's value system is a notable development.

However, some religion-related issues will arise from this union. For example, there is a question of whether Tamir could play basketball on the Jewish Sabbath. The Bible (Exodus 20: 8-11) directs us to labor for six days and then rest on the seventh. Since basketball is not Tamir's job, but more of an extracurricular activity, it might be argued that he could indeed play basketball on the Sabbath.

An evolved idea

However, in Jewish tradition, the concept of the Sabbath has evolved far beyond the biblical verses. There is a deliberate effort to make the Sabbath different from the other days of the week. Thus, on the Sabbath, a section of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) is read and special prayers are recited in Sabbath services in the synagogue.

At home, families are encouraged to linger after dinner, singing Sabbath songs since, unlike during the rest of the week, typically, no one has to rush off for other pursuits.

'Ruach shabbat'

In sum, there is an effort to create a "ruach shabbat," or spirit of the Sabbath, which elevates people, one day a week -- from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday -- above their wordly concerns.

Playing high-intensity basketball in a Division I program is about as far removed as one can get from the "ruach shabbat."

Reportedly, if he had been playing for the Maryland Terrapins this season, Tamir would have missed five games while observing the Jewish Sabbath, and possibly tournament play.

Maryland Coach Gary Williams' effort to accommodate Tamir's religious beliefs by agreeing with his request not to play on the Sabbath is in itself a noteworthy action. That move may help to restore some sense of balance to big-time college sports that has long been called for.

Robert O. Freeman is president of Baltimore Hebrew University. He played intramural basketball at the University of Pennsylvania -- but never on the Sabbath.

Pub Date: 1/25/99

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