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Play or Pray: Is That the Question?

posted by mkress

ShawnGreen070919.jpgAmerican Jews have always had a love affair with the stories of Jewish athletes. Sandy Koufax’s refusal to pitch on Yom Kippur is probably the best known and most beloved example. Now here comes Jewish High Holiday season, just in time for baseball’s penant races to heat up.
To play or pray?
That is the question that Jewish athletes are asking themselves are being asked by the media when key games fall out on key holy days. And in both media examples I’ve seen this year, playing has beat out praying–though in both cases, the question seemed more a media creation than a real one.
First was the Mets’ Shawn Green, perhaps the best-known Jewish major-leaguer today. The morning of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, the New York Times inserted the following random paragraph into its recap of the previous night’s Mets victory:

After the game, Green, who is Jewish, said the victory was not extra special because it came on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. “It’s not even a factor,” he said.

Special or not–and holiday or not–Green had the winning hit in the game. Read into that what you will.
And then today, I saw this headline on FanNation.com: “Brewer to Play during Yom Kippur.” It was a summary of a Milwaukee Sentinal-Journal article:

Brewers third baseman Ryan Braun said he would play during the Jewish holy day Yom Kippur this weekend in Atlanta. Braun’s father is Jewish, but his mother is a Catholic and said he had not observed that holy day in the past. Yom Kippur begins at sundown Friday and continues to sundown Saturday, and Jews are supposed to fast during that period, including drinking no water. The Brewers play a night game Friday and an afternoon game Saturday against the Braves.

We’ll see if he has the same success Green did, though purists would point out that with a non-Jewish mother, Braun is not actually Jewish according to traditional Jewish law, unless he formally converted–which, if he’s never commemorated Yom Kippur, one presumes he didn’t.
Personally, I share my fellow Jews’ obsession with Jews playing pro ball and am fascinated to read about them struggling with the same conflicts and personal decisions so many of us face. But in these two cases, it sounds like Green and Braun didn’t do much struggling or active deciding; they did what they do, which is play baseball. And that’s fine. I certainly wouldn’t want my every faith-focused decision broadcast to the world.



  • T.S. Greenberg

    Braun is not Jewish and never celebrated the Jewsih holidays; claims he was not raised Jewish in any way. Green, on the other hand,demonstrated a public slap in the face toward his religion and his people as I see it. I feel it was disrespectful to play ball on one of the holiest and sacred days in Judaism. Furthermore, Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year)is a day set aside to begin serious reflection of ones life and intentions. It is not a day to drink and drop the ball in New York’s Times Square! His communication to those that are and are not Jewish was that playing ball was more important.How many Christians would play ball on Easter? In fact, how many games would have been scheduled on this holy day. Sandy Koufax is still the shining example I offer to my own sons of a person committed to his heritage and a person who was willing to take whatever cosequences their might be for his professional life in the name of honoring his people and his faith.Yes, I am Jewish and I do not work on these holy days of awe. I would consider it shameful.

  • Carolyn Gold

    I was raised Orthodox but joined a Reform congregation as soon as I became an adult. My husband is considered Jewish only by virtue of his being the son of a Jewish mother whose mother was also Jewish. His family openly celebrated Christmas until his sister’s children both married out, and they couldn’t understand why. My husband never goes to shul without being dragged kicking and screaming. Ergo, the question that comes to my mind is: How religiously was Shawn Green brought up? Does it matter to him to work on a holy day? If not, then why all the fuss?

  • Carolyn Gold

    I was raised Orthodox but joined a Reform congregation as soon as I became an adult. My husband is considered Jewish only by virtue of his being the son of a Jewish mother whose mother was also Jewish. His family openly celebrated Christmas until his sister’s children both married out, and they couldn’t understand why. My husband never goes to shul without being dragged kicking and screaming. Ergo, the question that comes to my mind is: How religiously was Shawn Green brought up? Does it matter to him to work on a holy day? If not, then why all the fuss? Why must we be holier than thou?

  • Raphel Simcha

    OY, such is another dilema of being a Jew in America.
    I know what I know. At 51 now, I Must Pray on our Holy Days but, I will also hopefully be watching the ANGELS of our days heading towards another World Series.
    Good Yontif-5768

  • laura t mushkat

    I gotta mention back in the 1950s when the series and te High Holy Days colided. In this shul they turn off the water on Yom Kippur and have gentiles paid to sit in the restrooms. But not far from the door leading to the bimah was a room. That year someone put a radio in there set to the correct station and turned on before the start of the Holy Day (I am not sure if it was RH or YK). Every time the beloved rabbi had a break from the bimah you could see him go into the room and stay a few minutes. Soon the cantor was told what was going on as well!
    One of the gentelmen obviously was not Jewish in any way other then had a dad who was one and the other was non-religous. While there are retail stores owned by Jews who close for the Holy Days others do not and nobody says anything-out loud. What we think is another story and is purley personal. Same goes for how we feel about those who we know are Jewish who work on the holidays in the entertainment media. Sports is no different. Even tho ofcourse it is really the business of the actual individual.
    I guess this is really if you play you pay.
    Laura

  • wayne

    the word of the day is “hypocrite ”
    i am jewish, believe in all aspects of my religion, faith and holidays, but i am a realist……in todays society we adapt. was there baseall 5000 years ago>?? were there 10000000 $ contracts back when the laws were written? maybe if shawn green donates to his shul during the holy days he is content with his playing.?i would be content if he didnt give up any salary and gave tzadaka….we should never ask, because without any doubt, it should be his privacy!… how many super “religious” people, not only jews adapt their laws to their benefit? worse than playing baseball? my neighbor has a non jew come in to turn on and off his gas on his stove…..on shobbos……if it is wrong for us how could it possibly be correct for us to have someone else light a fire on shabbos?……are you kidding?
    i can go on and on…..

  • pagansister

    To each his own…one fellow practices his faith but still plays on holy days, the other fellow has a Jewish father, and a Catholic mother which I guess makes him whatever religion he wants or none at all. It is a personal decision for each athlete.

  • KosherHomeBoy

    Why doesn’t anyone question football players when they play on X-mas?
    Why doesn’t anyone question baseball players when they play on Easter?
    The way I see it Jews are always held to a higher standard in the media. Maybe because the media has a high rate of Jews working in it that keep an eye out on their own. Maybe they are looking for a local hero to look up to. Weather we are practicing our religion or not it always seems to make the news when we do something wrong, but when other people do something wrong they never say oh that “Catholic,Christian,Baptist,7th Day Adventist” working on X-mas or Easter.
    I read Sean Green’s Story while he played for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He did not discover he was Jewish until later in life. His family did not practice judisam while he was younger. When he first found out he chose not to play on Rosh Hashanah, I am sad to see when he traded teams he traded his ethics also.
    I personally have had several jobs in my life and have never worked on Rosh Hasanah or Yom Kippur. I am more then willing to work on X-mas or Easter to make up my time but most businesses are closed and will not let me work those days. It always makes it hard to explain to a boss that I do observe all the jewish holidays and I can not speak for my fellow jew who sits at the desk next to me.
    I just take it upon myself that we have to educate none jews that we have differences in judisiam that range from Orthodox to Reform just like they have differences in christianity that range from Catholic to Mormon. We carry the basic philosophy of the religion but depending how we accept Halacha Laws(Jewish Laws handed down from G-d) depends how deeply we observe.
    If a non religious jew chooses to assimilate thats his own personal choice. I feel bad that his personal choice makes the whole population look bad in the media’s eyes.

  • LongSinceStoppedGoingToShul

    Sean Green made his own choice, and IMHO the question he was asked was stupid. I agree that we, as Jews, are held to a higher standard in this — as in others, so what else is new?
    Ryan Braun isn’t Jewish, by any definition except maybe a Nazi’s, and most importantly by his own.
    I also agree with KosherHomeBoy, that when those of us who are seen as Jews work on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, it makes it harder on those who are more observant. You won’t find me in a synagogue on the HH’s, but you won’t find me at work, either. And maybe it’s just me (both my parents are Holocaust refugees, got out in time as teenagers), but it’s at the point where society gets the hardest on Jews that I become the most Jewish. I’m not much for tradition, but I want to be sure that those who want to practice our traditions are fully free to do so.
    Anti-semitism runs deep, and it’s often unthinking, and we can fight back. I still remember one autumn day more than 30 years ago, when I was a New York City employee. I was having lunch somewhere, in a stray conversation with another City worker from another agency, and Rosh Hashanah came up. “Another day we work for the Jews,” he said. I reminded him that we had to use our “comp time (accumulated overtime hours)” for the holidays, while he got Christmas and the day after Easter Sunday as paid holidays — and he acknowledged that I was right, and apologized.
    Whether going to shul or not, or working or not, makes a difference in our spiritual standing — that I’ll leave to the rabbis. I know from experience that it makes a difference down here on the ground.
    Wishing you all a Happy and a Healthy!

  • Diane

    What about my total favorite, Gabe Kapler??

  • Diane

    What about my favorite Gabe Kapler???

  • Carolyn Young

    I will begin with saying I am not Jewish. However, I enjoy reading about your Holy Days because that is what my faith is based on. AlthoughI am a born again Christian believer, I believe that the Jewish people should have their holidays off with pay just like Christian in our celebration of Christmas. I believe that we make a statement of strong faith when we abstain on our holy days from the norm of life when it conflicts with our belief system.
    My class of 1956 has an e-mail listing. We are very unusual in the sense that we grew up with very little prejudice even with such a varied group of ethnic and religious affiliations. Sometimes we share about what is going on during our holidays. We wish each other peace and blessings during that season and love each other through the trials and tribulations of life. For me that is the way life should be. I’m appaled at the hatred in this world but as I read your history and learn more about your religion I understand this war. Hopefully, with much prayer, everything will change around and peace will reign.
    Thank you for posting this site so people like me can understand what is really happening and educate those I communicate with about your rich heritage. Young Carolyn

  • I beg to differ

    but last time the SDA’s where i n the press for doing something wrong it involved the media big time I believe it was Waco.

  • Freddie Corper

    Hello,
    I just completed reading the your column and was very impressed. Both of my parents were Jewish and my wonderful mother bore five children,three boys and two girls of the five only two of us remain Jewish, my brother and I. I marrid a wonderful girl who is a non practising Catholic. I had 3 daughters from a former Jewish marriage, and my current wife of 33 years had 3 daughters who were Catholic in name only. Two of my children converted to Christianity while only one remained Jewish.
    I’m a very heahthy 70 year old (thank G-d) and with each day of my life I become more proud of my Jewish heritage.
    As a very young boy I lived in the south, VA & TN (during the 40′s) and saw first hand the KKK’s finest hour. I remember having to wear a dunce cap while sitting in a dark coat room because I wouldn’t knell and say prayers to Jesus in a public school in Norfolk VA.
    Today, I am very proud that I have no predjudice towards anyone of of color or religion.
    Do you remember the Hebrew prayer
    “Here Oh Israel the lord our G-d, the lord is one” I believe that that G-d is the same for all the people on earth and in heaven and maybe someday the rest of the world will understand that simple prayer, And there will finally be peace on earth. “I pray”
    Freddie Corper, fcorper@twcny.rr.com

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