From the Hardwood to Halacha: An Orthodox Jew Leads Toledo to a Women’s National Basketball Title


basketball-ncaaThe Forward reports: Naama Shafir, a junior guard, poured in a career-high 40 points to lead the University of Toledo to victory in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament championship. She was crowned the basketball tournament’s MVP. And then she walked about two miles home.

Shafir, an Orthodox Jew from Israel, did not want to break the Sabbath.

The University of Toledo’s 76-68 triumph over the University of Southern California on April 2 marked a historic moment for Toledo – its first postseason championship in school history. The win also marked the climax of a historic season for Shafir, the first female Orthodox Jew to earn an NCAA scholarship and to play American women’s Division I basketball.

Indeed, Shafir is arguably the only Orthodox woman athlete prominent in the public eye right now. But to get to this point, she had to overcome unique barriers of language, religion and gender.

“The game was one of the most incredible moments of my life,” Shafir told the Forward. “There were over 7,000 people there, and during those seconds when the game was over and the whole crowd ran to the court, I experienced an unbelievable high.”

The 21-year-old star is the fourth of nine children born to a family in the town of Hoshaya in Emek Israel in the Galilee. Like Shafir, almost all of Hoshaya’s residents are traditionally observant. Shafir began playing basketball in the Emek Israel girls’ basketball league when she was in fourth grade, and her talent became readily apparent. Outside the league, she often played with the boys where, her father recalled, she also excelled.

“Naama was always a very special girl, and she has grown into a wonderful young woman,” gushed her coach from Emek Israel, Liran Barel. “She is a natural leader, and she is very creative in her game, very courageous and very humble.”

The Emek Israel league, a mixed club of religious Jews, secular Jews and Arabs from around the Galilee, is considered one of the best in Israel. The league’s makeup has imbued it with a commitment to pluralism and accommodation that respectfully nurtured Shafir’s talents. Out of consideration for its observant members, the league refrains from practice on the Sabbath.

“To coach someone with this kind of talent and ambition is a gift that most coaches don’t get in their lives,” Barel said. “It’s a privilege.”

It was late on a Saturday night in Israel when the Toledo Rockets faced off against USC in the championship game. In Hoshaya, the Shafir house was packed with people, and after the game, celebrations continued long into the night. The family had to wait until 4:30 a.m., when the Sabbath was over in Toledo, to call Shafir and congratulate her personally.

In Toledo, the entire basketball program adapted its practices to accommodate Shafir’s religious needs. There are no practices on the Sabbath, and whenever there is an away game, the team travels together on a Friday, before sundown. To mitigate religious concern regarding modesty, Shafir also wears a T-shirt under her sleeveless jersey. The team stocks a storage freezer in a nearby eatery with kosher meals. The Rockets are also planning a trip to Israel this year.

“The college has been incredibly supportive,” said Itzik Shafir, Naama’s father, who visited different colleges with his daughter before she settled on Toledo. She had been offered several scholarships, but he wanted to ensure that the one she chose would respect her lifestyle.

Shafir, who is 5-foot-7 and led the Rockets with an average 15.3 points and 5 assists per game this season, is not the first Orthodox Jew to play American basketball. Tamir Goodman, an Orthodox Jew from Baltimore once ranked among the top 25 U.S. high school players, and he received public attention for refusing to play on the Sabbath. But he has since moved to Israel and retired from basketball.

Read more at The Forward.

{The Forward/ Newscenter}


  1. This is very nice, buti have a question. When you throw the ball into the basket, don’t you trigger somthing to make the points change? isn’t this problematic on shabbos?

    Just asking?

  2. Wow! What a Torah role model! I’m taking my daughters right out of Bais Yaakov and putting them in a basketball program! I can’t wait to reap all the nachas that will come! Thank you MATZAV for printing this Kiddush Hashem article! Every Rov should say this over during their Shabbos Hagadol drasha! I can’t wait to see which Rosh Yeshiva’s son will be zoche to be mishadich with her!

  3. I dont want to spoil the party or anything, but playing ball on shabbos and wearing shorts (mistama) are not exactly orthodox. I get the point but not sure Matzav readership is interested.

  4. as an orthodox jew i am proud to see one of our own in a place where orthodox jews are not usually found.

    mazel tov to her.

  5. “This is very nice, buti have a question. When you throw the ball into the basket, don’t you trigger somthing to make the points change? isn’t this problematic on shabbos?”

    I don’t know for certain, but my guess would be that this is done manually by a scorekeeper and not automatically through a sensor of some type.

    How would a hypothetical sensor know if the basket was worth one point, two or three?

    The Wolf

  6. At #2:

    There is no electronic device in the basket that triggers the scoreboard to change. Even if there were, it would be a grama on a grama on a grama. On top of the chumra that bans electricity anyway. The score is changed by a human scorekeeper, based on the referees’ decision.

    I think this is excellent. She is an absolute role model for young Shomer Shabbat men and women, encouraging them to follow their dreams without compromising their traditions.


    Among the many transgressions which are enumerated throughout Talmudic literature as causes for the destruction of the Second Temple, we find one very puzzling. Our Sages report that the city of Tur Shimon, a large city in the Judean hills, was destroyed on account of ball playing(1)! According to many commentators, their sin was that they played ball on Shabbos(2).

    But could so “minor” an infraction have such disastrous consequences? Perhaps our Sages are alluding to an overall spiritual malaise in Tur Shimon. People who can while away the precious, sacred hours of Shabbos on a mundane sporting activity like ball-playing are surely wanting in their commitment to Torah and Mitzvos in general. Their choice of diversion is symptomatic of a dismal spiritual state; they lack entirely the concept of what is required from a Jew on Shabbos; how a Jew is to spend the Shabbos day. Thus, the decree of destruction, originally issued for many other, greater sins, was sealed.

    Indeed, all of the poskim frown on any type of ball playing on Shabbos, for it blemishes the aura of holiness that sets the Shabbos day apart from the other days of the week. In recent years, however, with the proliferation of eruvim in many communities, more and more children are seen playing ball on Shabbos. Since many of these children are of chinuch age, the question arises: May parents permit their children to play ball on Shabbos? If the children are already playing, must the parents stop the game?


    There are six halachic violations that may possibly result from playing ball on Shabbos and Yom Tov:

    1. CARRYING: Obviously, playing ball can only be allowed where carrying is permitted (a kosher eruv, an enclosed courtyard(3), inside a house)(4). On Yom Tov, however, this restriction does not apply(5). =

    2. MUKTZEH: Although some poskim are of the opinion that a ball is muktzeh since it serves no purpose [similar to a rock], the Rama clearly rules that balls are not muktzeh(6). This ruling is accepted by all of the poskim(7). [Ball-playing equipment, such as bats, gloves, rackets, etc., are not muktzeh either(8).]

    3. EXERCISE: If the purpose of playing ball is for exercise, it may be prohibited as all exercise is prohibited on Shabbos(9). When the exercise is medically necessary, a rav should be consulted.

    4. LEVELING OF THE GROUND: Games which require that a ball [or another item, e.g., nuts] be rolled on the ground, such as soccer or marbles, are Rabbinically prohibited to play, since playing those games can easily lead the player to level the playing field, which is a Biblically forbidden Shabbos Labor(10). Some poskim hold that a paved court is also included in the Rabbinical decree(11), while other poskim are lenient with a paved court or floored surface(12). Games played on a table [ping-pong(13)] or on a mat are permitted according to all views(14). Games which are played on the ground but do not require that the ball be rolled on the ground (e.g., baseball, basketball, football), are not included in this Rabbinical decree(15). [Obviously, though, it is clearly Biblically forbidden to actually level any playing area.]

    5. TREES AND BUSHES – If the ball gets stuck in a tree or in a bush [which is over 10 inches high], it is forbidden to retrieve or remove the ball, even if the removal can be accomplished without shaking the bush or climbing up the tree(16). If the ball falls out of the tree or bush by itself, it may be picked up and played with(17).

    6. INFLATING A BALL – Many poskim hold that it is forbidden to inflate a ball (e.g., a basketball, soccer ball) on Shabbos. Some forbid it because it is a week-day activity(18), while others hold that it is considered as fixing [or creating] an object (tikkun mana) and may be Biblically prohibited(19).


    As stated earlier, beside the possible halachic violations listed above, there is an additional consideration when it comes to playing ball on Shabbos. The poskim are almost unanimous in condemning ball-playing on Shabbos as being frivolous and inappropriate behavior(20), a waste of time(21), and a practice befitting shallow individuals(22). Accordingly, even when not expressly in violation of a Shabbos prohibition, adults over the age of bar/bas mitzvah are strongly discouraged from participating in any type of ball playing on Shabbos(23).

    It is praiseworthy, therefore, for parents to instill in their children the proper understanding of the spirit of Shabbos. Even if it is not technically forbidden for children to play ball(24), they should be taught that it is not fitting and proper to do so.

    It would be ideal, of course, if the children were given some positive and constructive Shabbos activities to take the place of playing ball. Simply prohibiting children from playing ball and then allowing them to aimlessly roam the streets or to read material of dubious value, is not the way to imbue them with the holy spirit of Shabbos.


    1. Yerushalmi Ta’anis 4:5, quoted by the Bais Yosef O.C. 308.

    2. Rokeich 55, Pnei Moshe and Korban Eidah on Yerushalmi ibid. See also Medrash Eicha 2:4 where it specifically says that the ball playing took place on Shabbos.

    3. Ball playing should not take place if the ball is liable to leave the enclosed area, since in one’s eagerness to retrieve the ball, he can easily forget that he is carrying outside the eiruv.

    4. Mishnah Berurah 308:158.

    5. Rama O.C. 518:1. See Igros Moshe O.C. 3:94 who explains why carrying a ball is considered shaveh l’chal nefesh.

    6. O.C. 308:45 and 518:1.

    7. Although the Shulchan Aruch O.C. 308:45 rules stringently on this issue and Kaf ha-Chayim 308:257 notes that Sefaradim should follow his opinion. It is possible that his ruling referred to an item such as a rock, etc. which was later designated for play, not to a modern-day ball which is manufactured as a ball (Harav S.Y. Elyashiv, quoted in Shevus Yitzchak, pg. 89). Refer to Tosfos Shabbos 308:109 and Pri Megadim 308:72 for possible sources.

    8. Harav M. Feinstein (Sefer Tiltulei Shabbos, pg. 26).

    9. O.C. 328:42. When the exercise is enjoyable, it may be permitted (Harav S.Z. Auerbach, Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah, pg. 189).

    10. Mishnah Berurah 308:158. Harav S.Z. Auerbach is quoted as suggesting that the Rabbinical decree does not apply to a standard playing field which is usually used as such, since playing fields are usually prepared in advance (Kovetz Beis Aharon v’Yisrael 3:39).

    11. Shulchan Aruch Harav 338:6; Mishnah Berurah 338:20.

    12. Pri Megadim 338:3; Aruch ha-Shulchan 338:12. In addition, nowadays when most of the ground in or near our homes is paved, all poskim may agree that paved courts are not included in this decree (Harav S.Y. Elyashiv, quoted in Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 91).

    13. Harav S.Z. Auerbach (quoted in Kovetz Beis Aharon v’Yisrael 3:39); Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 16:6.

    14. Mishnah Berurah 338:20.

    15. Teshuvos Salmas Chayim 1:71; Harav S.Y. Elyashiv (quoted in Kovetz Beis Aharon v’Yisrael 3:39).

    16. Mishnah Berurah 336:3. For additional details, see The Weekly Halachah Discussion to Parashas Shelach, 5757.

    17. Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah, pg. 183).

    18. Harav S.Y. Elyashiv (Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 92).

    19. Chelkas Yaakov 3:159; Minchas Yitzchak 6:30; Machazeh Eliyahu 69-2. Note, however, that Harav S.Z. Auerbach (see Minchas Shlomo 11-5, Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah, pg. 184 and pg. 477, Binyan Shabbos, pg. 137) holds that once a ball has been inflated, it is permitted to inflate it again, even with a pump, as long as no tying is involved.

    20. Mishnah Berurah 518:9.

    21. Kaf ha-Chayim 308:259

    22. Aruch ha-Shulchan 518:8

    23. See also Mishnah Berurah 338:21.

    24. Note that Shulchan Aruch 301:2 allows children to jump and run for their enjoyment and pleasure. Accordingly, there would not seem to be any difference between playing ball and playing tag, hide and seek, jump rope, etc. Somehow, though, ball-playing is associated with Shabbos desecration more than these other activities.

    Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Project Genesis, Inc. Rabbi Neustadt is the principal of Yavne Teachers’ College in Cleveland, Ohio. He is also the Magid Shiur of a daily Mishna Berurah class at Congregation Shomre Shabbos.

  8. “The Emek Israel league, a mixed club of religious Jews, secular Jews and Arabs from around the Galilee, is considered one of the best in Israel. The league’s makeup has imbued it with a commitment to pluralism and accommodation that respectfully nurtured Shafir’s talents.”

    Oh God! Another flaming Liberal who couldn’t care less about her Jewish Brothers & Sisters! I wonder what this “Kiddush Hashem” thinks about the bus bombing in Yerushalayim last week or all the rockets coming out of Gaza? How about the Fogel Family?

    What about tircha on Shabbos? Running up & down the court, jumping for a rebound, etc… makes one sweat. Isn’t that problematic on Shabbos?

    What about the Tznius issue?
    The bottom line is: This story stinks to high heaven!

  9. While playing basketball I amagine that shes not dressed tzniusly.Also how could you play college basketball on shobbas you have to be michallel shabbos like #2 said.So how could you call her orthodox.

  10. @NoPeanutz:

    Whether or not she is compromising Halacha is questionable, but in no way, shape or form can this be considered not compromising traditions.

  11. Wow. An army of lamed vavniks gathers around their computers to attack one girl who eats kosher and doesn’t drive on shabbos. I’m sure these ultra-masmidim got permission from their roshei yeshiva to leave their ktzoises and nesivoses in order to beat up on this girl. Keep it up boys, you’re saving the world.