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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.

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