Purim 2012 (A Nuclear Shushan)

Here is my annual Purim Edition…

Headline: Iran Defeats Israel at Oscars; Kim Jong Il’s Ashes Defeat Seacrest
Iran beat Israel in the Foreign Language category at the Oscars this month, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reminded the Iranians what happened in Iran (née Persia/Shushan) at the end of the Purim story when Haman thought he was a big winner too. In other Academy Awards news, Sacha Baron Cohen’s wife Isla Fisher is reportedly upset that her husband took pancake mix out of the couple’s pantry without asking her first. Baron Cohen, as his character from the movie The Dictator, threw the pancake mix at Ryan Seacrest claiming it was the late Kim Jong Il’s ashes. In an odd twist of fate, Baron Cohen is now sleeping on Seacrest’s couch (and making him pancakes for breakfast each morning).

Headline: Braun Was Juicing, But Not Like That
Ryan Braun claims the whole juicing allegation was just a Shabbat Kiddush misunderstanding. The Milwaukee Brewers all-star admits that he was juicing, but only because he was asked to say the blessing at his cousin’s bar mitzvah.

Headline: Limbaugh Erroneously Claims Jewish Support
Right-wing radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh mistakenly thought that Jews were overwhelmingly supporting him after he heard loud singing emanating from a local synagogue on the Purim holiday: “Hava Narisha Rush Rush Rush!!” he heard them singing enthusiastically.

Headline: Trump Brand to Include Purim Pastries and Passover Vodka
For Jewish people who already enjoy Trump hotels, Trump golf courses, Trump reality TV shows, and Trump beauty pageants, you can now enjoy the Trump brand when it comes to Jewish holidays too. The Donald’s daughter Ivanka Trump, who converted to Judaism, recently tweeted her own hamantashen recipe along with photos of her delicious looking triangular pastries. And if you need a drink to wash those hamantashen down, there’s always the Donald Trump brand vodka, which will now be kosher for Passover! No word yet on what Trump is planning for Shavuot (“Billionaire Blintzes” perhaps?).


Happy Purim!

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

Ryan Braun Wins Appeal of Suspension for Failed Drug Test

Trivia question: How many Major League Baseball player have successfully won an appeal of a suspension resulting from a positive drug test? The answer is only one. And that is Ryan Braun, the Milwaukee Brewers’ Jewish superstar.

Ryan Braun should feel vindicated after successfully appealing his 50-game suspension (Getty Images)

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel just reported that Braun won his appeal “not so much on contesting the result of the test but the testing process itself, some kind of technicality.” Apparently, there was some question about the chain of custody that Ryan Bruan’s urine sample went through for his test.

Major League Baseball’s 50 game suspension for Braun would have been devastating to the Brewers and to the reputation of last year’s NL MVP.

Last December, popular sports blogger Ron Kaplan of the NJ Jewish News (and Kaplan’s Korner) asked my opinion on Braun’s alleged positive drug test. I said:

I remain hopeful that the test was faulty and that Braun will get his good name back. It is a sad and unfortunate turn of events for this very talented player. Jewish children are in need of good role models and no matter if Braun doesn’t count in many people’s Halachic definition of a Jewish person, he has served as a good role model during his Major League Baseball career as he has been in the public spotlight. Certainly this will change if the results of the drug test are validated. Cheating is a clear violation of Jewish values and I’m praying that Braun will be vindicated.

I am glad he has been vindicated and will be able to start the 2012 season off on the right foot. The drug test and the subsequent suspension and successful appeal will all be small footnotes in an otherwise impressive Major League career for Ryan Braun.

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

Ryan Braun and Justin Verlander Win MVP Awards

Here in Detroit we couldn’t be happier. Detroit Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander won both the Cy Young Award and the MVP Award for the American League this year. Justin is the first starting pitcher to win the MVP Award in 25 years and the first Detroit Tigers player to win both awards since Willy Hernandez did so in the memorable 1984 season.

I am also thrilled that Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers won the National League MVP Award yesterday in a landslide. Braun, who is the third Jewish Major League Baseball player to go by the nickname “The Hebrew Hammer,” joins Hank Greenberg, Al Rosen and Sandy Koufax who also won the MVP Award (Lou Bourdreau also won the award but didn’t know he was Jewish at the time). He adds the MVP Award to his NL Rookie of the Year Award from 2007 (according to Ron Kaplan, Braun is the 13th player to win both). Since Braun recently signed a contract extension with Milwaukee which makes him a Brewer until at least the 2020 season, it’s possible that he’ll be remembered as “The HeBrewer Hammer.”

Milwaukee Brewers’ owner Mark Attanasio remarked yesterday that “Ryan Braun is going to have a statue outside Miller Park someday.” If that happens there will be two statues of Jewish men outside that stadium since there is currently a statue of Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.

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

The Ryan Braun Yom Kippur Debate

When Hank Greenberg walked down the long aisle of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Detroit on September 20, 1934 on Yom Kippur, he received a standing ovation. That day, the Detroit Tigers faced the New York Yankees in a key game late in the season. Despite the pennant race, Greenberg sat out the game and went to synagogue instead. The Tigers lost.

Greenberg had played ten days earlier on Rosh Hashanah leading the Tigers to victory with his two home runs, although in his autobiography he describes how he sat out batting practice to mull over the decision. A rabbi gave him the go-ahead leading the Detroit News to run the headline: “Talmud Clears Greenberg for Holiday Play.”

After the Rosh Hashanah victory, the Detroit Free Press ran a banner headline that read “Happy New Year, Hank.”

While the Milwaukee Brewers star player Ryan Braun is sometimes referred to as “The Hebrew Hammer” just like Greenberg was and he even lived in a house once inhabited by Hank Greenberg, Braun is going to play in today’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Or to use the language of Larry David on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”: Ryan Braun will not Koufax his teammates today. The game starts at 4:00 PM Central Time, which theoretically would give him a couple hours of playing time before the commencement of Yom Kippur at sunset. However, that is a moot point because Braun was never a synagogue-going guy. His father is Jewish, but Braun wasn’t raised Jewish (his mother is Catholic).

So what’s the debate about? In truth, there are three debates here. The first debate is about Braun playing on Yom Kippur. The second debate is about Braun’s Judaism. And the third debate is about why people care and have made this into a debate.

When I was contacted by NY Times sports reporter Richard Sandomir yesterday on this matter, I explained that the real issue is why Jewish people are so infatuated with Jewish baseball players and Yom Kippur. Professional Jewish athletes in other sports play on Yom Kippur without any fanfare. There’s something inherent in major league baseball that makes this an issue.

Second, I explained that the authenticity of Braun’s Jewishness doesn’t seem to matter to many Jewish people who otherwise wouldn’t consider him Jewish. I agree with that. It shouldn’t matter if only Braun’s father is Jewish or if he wasn’t raised Jewish. What should matter is if Braun considers himself to be Jewish today. No one is saying that he should be counted in a synagogue minyan (prayer quorum), but there is no reason not to feel Jewish pride that the “Hebrew Hammer” has taken his team to the post-season and is a candidate for National League MVP (Braun was NL Rookie of the Year in 2007).

It comes down to the difference between Judaism as a culture and Judaism as a religion. From a religious viewpoint, Ryan Braun is not Jewish. From a cultural viewpoint, he should be considered a Jewish ballplayer, included in sets of Jewish baseball cards, and eligible for induction in the Jewish Baseball Hall of Fame.

Here is the article from today’s NY Times:

For Braun, Stadiums Remain His Temple
By Richard Sandomir

If a player with Jewish heritage reaches baseball’s postseason, the inevitable question is: will he play on Yom Kippur or go to synagogue? It is not a query on the level of the Four Questions that are asked during the Passover seder. But it is one of those curious baseball inquiries — maybe on par with, Does a rising fastball really rise? — that pop up sometimes.

Why such interest in whether a ballplayer plays a game or worships on a High Holy Day? Call it the Greenberg-Koufax Yom Kippur Precedent: In 1934, Hank Greenberg went to temple rather than play a game against the Yankees during a pennant race. In 1965, Sandy Koufax declined to pitch Game 1 of the World Series out of respect for his religion.

They are still heroes to their faith. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Shawn Green sat out a critical game in 2001 to observe Yom Kippur.

This year, the question has been put to Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, who play the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday afternoon in the decisive Game 5 of their National League division series. The game begins just after 4 p.m. Central, and Yom Kippur starts at sunset at 6:23 p.m. In theory, Braun could put in five or six innings, then scoot to temple.

During Rosh Hashana last week, Michael S. asked on Twitter, with some ire: “Why did Ryan Braun even play last night?!?! He better not play on Yom Kippur!”

Except that Braun is not religious. Although his father is Jewish, his mother is Catholic, so he is not a Jew according to religious law. Braun played on Rosh Hashana and will play Friday. Perhaps it should not be an issue, but it has become one in some quarters, particularly on the Internet.

“The Jewish community is always looking for Jewish baseball heroes,” said Rabbi Jason Miller of Farmington Hills, Mich., who blogs about Jews and sports. “Braun is not considered a Jewish player, yet Orthodox Jews would cite him as their Jewish hero.”

Ian Kinsler of the Texas Rangers also has a Catholic mother but celebrated Jewish and Christian holidays as a child, according to Sports Illustrated. If he felt qualms about playing Saturday, he need not fret. Game 1 of the A.L.C.S. between Texas and the Tigers will not begin until after Yom Kippur ends at sundown.

Anticipating what Braun and Kinsler would do, The Tablet, a Jewish publication, said on its Web site recently, “Millions of Jewish boys and their mothers are watching.”

Ron Kaplan, the sports and features editor of New Jersey Jewish News, said he gets requests from readers wondering if a player is Jewish or if he will play on Yom Kippur. One letter he received this week advocated that Kinsler sit out Yom Kippur.

Kaplan said that Jews are excited to see Jewish ballplayers because there are not many of them. “Jews are so underrepresented,” he said, “so whenever there’s somebody who has any tangential relationship to their religion, we claim them as our own.”

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