Only a shmuck would think that Kabbalism can win a game of football

A little Jewish fatalism, for example, would have taught us not to score so early as we did against the French

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Readers unable to keep their eye on the ball will have noticed that David Beckham took to the field against France last week wearing a Kabbalah bracelet on his wrist. It has been common knowledge, ever since such eminent contemplatives as Madonna, Jerry Hall and Barbra Streisand proclaimed their interest in the subject, that Kabbalah is a species of post-exilic medieval Jewish mysticism. "In its wider sense," to quote Gershom Scholem, the great historian of Kabbalah, "it signifies all the successive esoteric movements in Judaism that evolved from the period of the Second Temple."

Readers unable to keep their eye on the ball will have noticed that David Beckham took to the field against France last week wearing a Kabbalah bracelet on his wrist. It has been common knowledge, ever since such eminent contemplatives as Madonna, Jerry Hall and Barbra Streisand proclaimed their interest in the subject, that Kabbalah is a species of post-exilic medieval Jewish mysticism. "In its wider sense," to quote Gershom Scholem, the great historian of Kabbalah, "it signifies all the successive esoteric movements in Judaism that evolved from the period of the Second Temple."

How far Kabbalah is truly mysticism, in that it expresses a profound yearning for God through annihilation of the individual, and how far it is theosophy, that is to say a system of speculation upon the nature of the divine, we must assume that Beckham debates with Posh whenever a pause in his training allows. My own guess is that Posh would favour a reading of Kabbalah that denies all congruence between intuition and rationalism, whereas Beckham, as the more philosophically conciliatory of the two, would argue for the intellect being itself viewed as a mystical phenomenon. Be that as it may, the question I most want to ask is where the England captain got the idea that Kabbalah, whether viewed as mysticism or theosophy, was going to be of assistance to him or his country when it came to playing France.

I am no historian of these things, but I would be surprised if many teams of Jewish mystics have ever progressed very far in international competition, whether in football or any other body-contact sport. The centre of Kabbalah studies today is Safed, perched on a mountain top, as close as one can get to God, in central Israel. And I have yet to hear of Safed United doing well in the Israeli League, let alone on any grander stage. Central to Kabbalah is the idea of alienation of the soul. Start winning and your soul won't know whether it's coming or going. Ergo, losing is a safer Kabbalistic bet all round.

This is not to say that English football has nothing to learn from Jewish thought. Indeed, it is my contention that any rabbi versed in the less esoteric aspects of Judaism would make a better manager of the national team than the one we have. A little Jewish fatalism, for example, would have taught us not to score so early as we did against the French. It is hubris to get a goal so soon. It vexes Ein-Sof - or "The Infinite", as Kabbalists call God - who prefers us to be in suspense.

And, more to the point in the short term, it vexes the opposition. The Jews know from long experience how unwise it is to rile a foe. Score the goal if you really have no option, but don't start running around hugging one another, lifting up your shirts and blowing kisses at the fans, as though the present is all you can comprehend and futurity with its reversals and disappointments is unimaginable to you. Have you never heard of tempting fate? Then attend to the words of Rabbi Zeitlin of Minsk. "If you are so unfortunate as to score first, you must immediately pretend you haven't. Lower your heads, look crestfallen, seek not to humiliate the other side, pray to the Almighty, blessed be he, and who knows? - the other side might not even notice it has gone behind.

Something else Jews know - the world might not be anything like as old as geologists claim, but it wasn't made yesterday. How come no English football manager ever grasps that? How come no English football manager is able to remember that there was a last time and that we did the same then as we are doing know? Groundhog day. We go into an early but slender lead, then we endeavour to protect that slender lead, not by extending it, but by exchanging players who are dangerously aggressive for players who are not and then by bringing everyone back and keeping them there - a ploy which succeeds only in preventing the poor goalkeeper from ever being able to see the ball.

Did such a strategy work yesterday? No, it did not. Will it work tomorrow? No it will not. He who falls back on what he has, sayeth the prophet, ends with bubkes - bubkes being Kabbalese, as Dovidler Beckham would be the first to tell you, for a hill of beans.

As for rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, this should under no circumstances be confused with rendering unto Caesar that which is not Caesar's. Thus you do not pass the other team, even when it's only Switzerland, the ball. Especially, as Rabbi Elazar of Modi'im never tired of telling his congregation, "in front of your own goal, you shmendriks".

As for the now infamous penalty which Beckham missed, Kabbalic bracelets notwithstanding, the whole fiasco could have been avoided had the team favoured a less mystical, more homely form of practical Judaism. The family is central to Jewish life. We honour our fathers and our mothers and we hold our brethren in our hearts. But we don't necessarily tell them everything. In love is knowledge and he who has knowledge of a man has ascendancy over him. Keep your counsel, sayeth the sage, and uncover not your father's shame. Fabien Barthez knew Beckham like a book. They had played together for the same club a hundred times. They had showered together. They had looked upon each other's nakedness. So what don't you do? That's right, you don't do what we did.

Any other player would have been better placed to take that penalty. I would have been better placed to take that penalty. It's easy. "Hey, Fabien," you shout, "you've got a hair growing out of your head!" And the minute the shmuck puts his hand up to feel, you kick. Psychology, you see. What the Jews call saichel - wisdom.

It might not be Kabbalah, but it makes better footballing sense.

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