Jews and Sports

I’ve written a lot of blog posts recently about Jews and sports. It is not easy to be a serious professional or collegiate (or even high school) athlete and an observant Jew. This topic was recently taken up by B’nai Brith Magazine, which dedicated its Spring 2007 issue to sports and the Jewish religion.

Yeshiva University professor Jeffrey S. Gurock, the author of Judaism’s Encounter with American Sports, wrote a very interesting article in this issue. In “Cultural Challenge: Are Sports a Challenge to Jewish Identity?” Professor Gurock examines how sports have become more welcoming to athletes who want to maintain their Jewish observance. He writes:

Of all the identity challenges America posed to immigrant Jews and their children, none was more daunting than pride in sports achievements. In the initial decades of migration from Europe, it was counter-intuitive to most Jews that sports could be a way to score in life, especially given the inherent conflict between observing the Sabbath and honoring the average sports schedule, with its demand for Friday and Saturday involvement.

Today, though, that has changed.

America has come a long way since 1934, when Hank Greenberg was pressured to play baseball on Rosh Hashana, and even from 1965, when Sandy Koufax stood tall and made it known that he would not pitch on Yom Kippur. Today, sports people respect Jewish tradition more often than not, even when those traditions conflict with sports events.

Just this winter, in 2007, the Quebec Remparts, a Quebec, Canada, major junior professional hockey team (that country’s highest pre-National Hockey League development league), is permitting Ben Rubin, its Sabbath-observant player, to miss games and practices on Saturday.

It is a first that, in such rarefied ranks, a truly gifted athlete is being allowed to balance, on a weekly basis, his sports and Jewish identities.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Leah Kauffman

Leah Kauffman - Crush on ObamaOne more Jew who should have made the Forward 50 list in my opinion is Leah Kauffman. The 21-year-old Jewish woman who wrote “I Got a Crush on Obama” (over 4 million views on YouTube) now stars in her own video to the song she wrote and performs about Ann Coulter (“Perfected: The Ann Coulter Song”). Leah’s song is the best response to Ann Coulter’s “Jews need to be perfected” comments yet. Leah is a very talented musician (her songs are on her MySpace page) who also wrote and sings “I like a Boy,” a tribute song to the U.S. troops. The website BarelyPolitical.com has a video of Leah performing her parody songs live, including her hilarious spoof of the famous Justin Timberlake video from Saturday Night Live.

Leah’s “Crush on Obama” song even led to Birthright Israel alum Michelle Citrin‘s “Rosh Hashanah Girl.”

The JTA article about Leah Kauffman is here and below is Leah performing her Ann Coulter song:

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

A Good Year for Jews in Baseball

Ryan BraunMazel Tov to Ryan Braun, the 2007 National League Rookie of the Year.

Kevin YoukilisAnd… Mazel Tov to Kevin Youkilis of the World Champion Boston Red Sox on winning a Gold Glove.

It was a good year for Jews in Major League Baseball!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Examining the Forward 50

Each year the Forward newspaper compiles its Forward 50 list of Jewish people who are “doing and saying things that are making a difference in the way American Jews, for better or worse, view the world and themselves.” And each year the critics come out to denounce the Forward for its choices. The Orthodox think there should be more Orthodox rabbis on the list. The liberals think there should be more liberals on the list. And so on.

You can read the criticism of the Forward 50 on the comments page at the Forward or at the JTA Blog. I actually think it’s a pretty good list this year with some interesting choices. I am, however, in agreement with most of the critics in my surprise that Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow (“Superbad”) were chosen as Top Picks. They’ve made some funny movies together and are both Jewish, but have they really fulfilled the Forward’s criteria?

It makes sense that Sheldon Adelson was one of the top picks. He’s given away a lot of money this year. I was very impressed with the additions at Yad Vashem I saw this summer that are a result of his mega-philanthropy, and Birthright Israel will be able to get thousands of young people off the wait list because of his generosity. I would have also liked to see Bill Davidson make the list after his $75 million gift to Hadassah Hospital this year, in addition to his financial commitment to the field of Jewish education. Philanthropists Michael Steinhardt and Lynn Schusterman both made the list, and deservedly so. I heard Lynn speak last week in Phoenix along with Sandy Cardin, the president of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. With her strategic philanthropy, Lynn Schusterman really is making an impact on the Jewish community.

I also feel that Bob Aronson, Detroit’s Federation chief and the new interim head of the Steinhardt Foundation, is deserving of his inclusion in the Forward 50. His praises were spelled out very well in the paragraph about his accomplishments in the Detroit Jewish community and beyond.

Many of the Jewish leaders who made the list come as no surprise — Abe Foxman, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, Ruth Messinger, Ron Lauder, Rabbi David Saperstein, and Rabbi Steve Gutow. After attending this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference, it comes as no surprise to me that Howard Kohr made the list. AIPAC has been very successful under Kohr’s leadership. Not to mention that he came in sixth (ahead of both Hillary Clinton and Condi Rice) in GQ’s prestigious list of the 50 most influential individuals in Washington, so how could he not make the Forward’s list.

Last year’s Forward 50 had many Conservative rabbis on the list including Elliot Dorff, Sharon Brous, Jill Jacobs, and Irwin Kula. This year, there were not as many Conservative rabbis, but I was happy to see that Rabbi Morris Allen made the list. Rabbi Allen is at the forefront of the Hechsher Zedek Commission, looking into the ethical and environmental implications of kosher food. I think Irwin Kula should have made the list again this year as the response to his book Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life has been tremendous. The new dean of the JTS rabbinical school, Rabbi Danny Nevins, also should have made the list as he was the main author of the teshuva that paved the way this year for gay and lesbian rabbis in the Conservative Movement.

Compiling a list of only fifty Jewish leaders and visionaries is no simple task. Everyone will have their choices for who was not included but should have been. I would have liked to see Larry David (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Jon Stewart, and Red Sox Gold Glove winner Kevin Youkilis make the list. I also think that with his autobiography being published, Alan Greenspan should have made the list this year. Also missing were Noah Feldman (NY Times Magazine article criticized Orthodoxy and sparked debate), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook founder), Jay Michaelson (Zeek creator who criticized Michael Steinhardt in a public memo published in the Forward), and Josh Bolton (White House Chief of Staff).

Many have called Jewish Theological Seminary Chancellor Arnie Eisen’s inclusion a speculative choice. I think that Chancellor Eisen was a good choice in the religion category as he is truly leading a renaissance in the Conservative Movement. He may still be getting used to his new office in Manhattan, but he has already proven himself over the course of the past year as Chancellor-elect. However, a speculative choice in my opinion was the first individual listed in this year’s Forward 50. Michael Mukasey, who has been US Attorney General for all of two days, really hasn’t had the chance to prove himself yet. But it will be interesting to see what they write about him next year.

I am certainly looking Forward to next year’s top fifty.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Larry King Slept Through the 90s

Larry King forgot that Jerry Seinfeld signed off when he was on top

I’ve always been a fan of CNN’s Larry King, but the host of “Larry King Live” has been making a lot of mistakes lately including calling his guests by the wrong name. Interviewing the living Beatles, he confused Ringo Starr for George Harrison and George Harrison for George Hamilton. Then last week, former CIA agent Valerie Plame-Wilson became “Flame Wilson.” Larry King has admitted that he doesn’t prepare for interviews and just wings it.

On his November 1st show, Larry King interviewed Jerry Seinfeld about his new movie “Bee Movie” in which Larry King makes a cameo appearance as “Bee Larry King.” In what is now a famous exchange, Larry King asked Jerry Seinfeld if his TV show was cancelled when it went off the air in 1998. The transcript is available on the CNN website and here is a video clip:

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Ann Coulter and Alan Colmes Square Off

I had to laugh today when an article on the Media Matters website was sent to me by way of my Google Alert for the term “Conservative Rabbi.” This has been an effective Google Alert that sends me any articles or websites that mention a rabbinic colleague of mine from the Conservative Movement. However, the reason the Media Matters article was included in the Google Alert today was the mention of the Orthodox rabbi and TV personality Shmuley Boteach. The Media Matters article contains the transcripts of the October 30 edition of Fox News’ Hannity & Colmes, when co-host Alan Colmes interviewed Ann Coulter. Colmes quotes his “good friend, the conservative rabbi Shmuley Boteach.”

Yes, Shmuley Boteach is conservative (with a lower-case “c”) and also a rabbi, but he is most certainly not a Conservative Rabbi!

I thought Colmes did a good job of questioning Ann Coulter about her controversial comments about Jews and Christians from her “Danny Deutsch Show” interview last month. Never one to miss an opportunity to say something outlandish, Coulter explained that she wears the criticism from Jewish groups like the ADL and the American Jewish Congress “as a badge of honor.”

Rabbi Yehuda Levin, a spokesman for the Rabbinical Alliance for America and the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, came to Coulter’s defense explaining that “She said nothing that in any way indicates anti-Semitism.” Rabbi Levin’s defense of Coulter was enough for her to claim the support of 1000 orthodox rabbis. Rabbi Yehuda Levin is the ultra-Orthodox rabbi who tried to ban the Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem. Rabbi Levin also has a website, Jews for Morality, that includes essays claiming that hurricane Katrina was God’s Judgment on a sin-loving America.

Perhaps the only thing funnier that the phrase “conservative rabbi Shmuley Boteach” is the final exchange in the Coulter-Colmes interview. Even after watching the video of the interview (see below) it makes no sense. Just more ridiculousness from Ann Coulter. Oy!


ANN COULTER: How about eating soup? Is that a classic food of anti-Semites?

ALAN COLMES: Yeah, that’s lovely, Ann. I’m going to move on in spite of yourself, and maybe save you from saying something else that’s ridiculous.


(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller