Do Jews have a problem with football?

Do Jews have a problem with football?


norman lebrecht

October 20, 2019

In my new book Genius and Anxiety: How Jews changed the world, 1847-1947 I try to isolate some of the ways in which Jews see things from a different perspective.

Like this, for instance:



  • Alexander Tarak says:

    What the good Rabbi failed to appreciate is that the players of both teams might start squabbling amongst themselves for the ball.
    My solution: give each player his/her own ball.
    Problem solved !

  • John Borstlap says:

    Great story.

    Maybe I’m Jewish without knowing, because I had the same thought years ago, and have always had problems with football since.

    It seems to me that it is distance which stimulates original thought, not race. And where people are being distanced because of race, they become original – forced by circumstance and stupid group think.

  • double-sharp says:

    Perhaps this explains Tottenham Hotspur’s long empty periods without results to show for them? They keep giving the ball to the other side – out of a sense of fairness.

  • Rich C. says:

    Do Jews have a problem with football? Only when Spurs lose.

  • DAVID says:

    I think the greater moral of the story is the fact that the rabbi’s response proposes a different model of the game, one which challenges the dichotomy between winners and losers which in many ways has pervaded for a long time throughout western culture, and still does today. It is a way of thinking which in general has a profound problem with the idea of human vulnerability as well as with fundamental notions such as hospitality and generosity, preferring a vision of the world in which everything, including human relations, is subject to the calculus of rationalization. However, trying to be objective about this I can’t help think that the rabbi’s response sort of nullifies the very point of football — there is no real point to the game if somebody doesn’t win and if therefore somebody doesn’t lose, and for that there can only be one ball in the game. The real issue, however, would be to examine our underlying fascination with winning and how it might inform our understanding of the world as a whole. In this sense, football might be a metaphor for, and perhaps a symptom of, something much greater and much more fundamental at play here.

    • John Borstlap says:

      There is also the argument that football, being the typical game ‘of the masses’, ventilates primitive, collective aggression in a less destructive way than going to war, which was the usual way of male fun before WW I.

      IS warriors and other terrorist fanatics should play football instead of messing around with other people’s lives.

  • Caranome says:

    Found this extensive, mostly critical review: Seems like anything dealing with the Jews invite strong and complicated emotions. I admire the Jewish culture, its resilience and disproportionate accomplishments in so many fields, just like the Chinese.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Agreed – except for the proportions. There are – and always have been – many more Chinese on the planet than Jews.

  • Nikos Salingaros says:

    The story about the Rabbi is funny, but does not leave a positive impression.

    One of my Israeli friends, Yodan, wrote and sent me this illuminating article: “How the Nazis Destroyed a Golden Age of Jewish Soccer”.

    The true story undermines Norman’s story. It is informative and very sad.

    Best wishes,

  • Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix says:

    Rabbi Kerzer (author of “With An H On My Dog Tags”) was invited to play football by a bunch of GIs. He replied, “I can’t — a football is not kosher.” Which demonstrates the inherent superiority of the sport of B-Ball, in which the ball is made of leather, and all eyes are directed Heavenward.

  • Saxon Broken says:

    A more interesting point is to discuss “The Jews and Football”. Basically, the Jewish teams took the 19th century Scottish idea of “passing to a player on the same team” and built a way of playing football which is transformative.

    The key steps, after the Scots invented passing, were the following:

    1. “Austrian wonder team” of the 1930s (built around Austria Vienna, the Jewish team in Vienna) and Hungary in the 1950s (built around MTK Budapest, the Jewish team in the Budapest).

    2. Tottenham Hotspur’s push-and-run team in the 1950s largely invented passing in the English league. This is the Jewish team in London. A key player, Ramsey, took the Tottenham style and won the world cup for England in 1966.

    3. The Hungarian Jew, Guttmann, took the Hungarian style to Brazil in the 1950s, who were not very good at the time. He invented “Brazilian football”. Guttmann then bought this style to Europe.

    4. Total football was invented in the late 1960s and early 1970s by Ajax, the Jewish team in Holland. They got the idea from Hungary and Tottenham Hotspur. Their key player, Cruyff, then took the system to Barcelona. Spain won the world cup using this system.

    This passing style of football is now played by all the leading teams. The anti-Jewish teams have tried to play a more physical style of football. In a very real sense, passing is anti-fascism.