“I’m an athletic director writing sports schedules. What are the rules regarding work and the Jewish calendar that I should be aware of? And how might I balance these rules with practical considerations for scheduling?”
Thank you for your thoughtful question and for being sensitive to the needs of the Jewish community. While you are asking specifically about a sports schedule, in a way you are asking a deeper question relating to how one integrates their religious and secular calendars. As with many questions in the Jewish community, there are multiple answers depending on whom you ask.
Ideally, the holidays are meant to be a special time spent with family and friends while unplugging from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. To make the days feel special, one traditionally dons nice clothes, eats fancier meals and prays in the synagogue. Additionally, one refrains from engaging in menial “work.” For example, typically one doesn’t cook, travel far distances, finish their homework or wash the laundry. By refraining from some of these everyday needs, each holiday feels different, or, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel describes, “a palace in time.”
The most frequent holiday is Shabbat, which begins before sundown on Friday and concludes on Saturday night once three stars are visible. As a result, those who celebrate Shabbat in a more traditional manner would be unable to practice or compete in games on Shabbat. However, it is important to know that not all Jews celebrate Shabbat in the same manner and some would not object to traveling.
While there are multiple opinions and communal expectations with regards to Shabbat, the majority of the Jewish community does take time off to celebrate the major Jewish holidays. These holidays include: Rosh Hashanah (two days in the fall), Yom Kippur (one day in the fall), Sukkot (four days in the fall), Passover (four days in the spring) and Shavuot (two days in late spring). You can find the dates for any of the upcoming holidays by contacting your local rabbi or by visiting hebcal.com.
The challenge of a question such as you are asking is that the answer really depends on the community. In a more traditionally observant community, playing on Shabbat or a holiday is a non-starter. Alternatively, some communities might not feel as restricted and therefore participate freely. Perhaps the best strategy is to ask your players and see how many would be affected by the calendar. Better yet, ask all of the participants, as I’m sure other religions would appreciate having the day off as well!
Again, thank you for your sensitivity and good luck this season!