Baseball Holidays Jewish Sports Yom Kippur

Rookie Sensation Ryan Braun and Yom Kippur

Every year before Yom Kippur there has to be at least one article about whether a Jewish baseball player will play on the holiest day of the year. The Jewish community seems to get all excited about whether baseball players will suit up on Yom Kippur ever since 1934 when Detroit Tigers Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg chose to attend Yom Kippur prayer services at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in lieu of playing against the Boston Red Sox in a critical game in the middle of a pennant race.

Shawn Green - JewishThat year Greenberg played on Rosh Hashanah and hit two home runs that won the game, but didn’t play on Yom Kippur. Sandy Koufax made it a point to never play on Yom Kippur, even sitting out a World Series game in 1965 (although he did not go to synagogue). Some Jewish ballplayers like Shawn Green have been less consistent in taking off the Jewish holy day. In 2001, Green (then with the Dodgers) sat out an important pennant race game because of Yom Kippur. That same year Green appeared in more games than any other Dodger (161 of 162 games), and had the longest consecutive-game playing streak in the majors (408 games). That streak, however, came to an end when he didn’t play on Yom Kippur, a decision supported by the team. In more recent years, Shawn Green has opted to play in the night game on Erev Yom Kippur (Kol Nidrei) but not play on Yom Kippur day.

In a 2004 article for J, The Jewish news weekly of Northern California, Seth Swirsky explains, “In 2001, I wrote to [Shawn] Green asking him why, in the recent past, he had chosen not to play baseball on Yom Kippur. The letter was included in my book Something to Write Home About. This was Green’s inspiring response:

“Though I didn’t grow up in a religious household, I was raised with a strong sense of identity. I was a huge baseball fan, just like lots of kids. At the time I was growing up, there really weren’t any well-known Jewish players (at least as far as I knew). I was, however, very aware of Greenberg and Koufax and the tremendous role models they were for Jewish people everywhere.

“As my baseball career progressed, I always remembered the decisions that the two greatest Jewish ballplayers made, and I told myself that if I was ever in their position to, in any way, fill that role, I would. Thus, I feel a strong responsibility to make the right choices when it comes to such topics as not playing on Yom Kippur. I’m not trying to be ‘the next Greenberg or Koufax,’ but I am trying to do my part as a Jewish ballplayer.”

Even prominent rabbis like David Wolpe have tried to convince Shawn Green to sit out Yom Kippur. Some other prominent Jewish players in major league baseball like Gabe Kapler and Kevin Youkilis have also made news about their Yom Kippur playing decisions (Kapler usually plays; Youkilis sits it out).

Ryan Braun and Rabbi Jason MillerWell, this year there’s a new Jewish player making news in the big leagues. Ryan (“The Hebrew Hammer”) Braun (pictured at right) is on his way to becoming the first Jewish Rookie of the Year. I met Ryan Braun last month when he was staying with his team at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona during the Milwaukee Brewers’ series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. I found Ryan to be very friendly and I told him how great it is to have a Jewish athlete playing as well as he has been this year. In a very “small world” story, Ryan told me that he lived with his grandfather for a while in the same house that once belonged to Hank Greenberg.

Of course with Ryan Braun making a name for himself with his All-Star season, the JTA recently raised the question of whether he will play on Yom Kippur. Braun was quoted in the Milwaukee Jewish Sentinel saying, “Being Jewish is something I take great pride in. There aren’t too many Jewish athletes who have achieved success at the highest level, so it’s something I’m very proud of.” Hopefully, he’ll make the Jewish community proud and sit this one out even though his team needs him.

The Jewish community’s preoccupation with Jewish baseball players and Yom Kippur is likely due to the pennant races and playoffs at the end of the regular season when Yom Kippur falls. Afterall, if the NFL Superbowl or college bowl games ever overlapped with Yom Kippur, I’m sure we’d hear about more conflicted Jewish football players!
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Baseball Israel Sports

Baseball in Israel

Israel Baseball LeagueI haven’t posted to my blog since August 5th, the day I left for Israel. Much has happened in the past five weeks that I haven’t blogged about. The two weeks in Israel with the entire family were fantastic with too many highlights to name. However, one of the major highlights of the trip for me was throwing out the first pitch at an Israel Baseball League game.

This was the inaugural season for the IBL, Israel’s professional baseball league with six teams and three stadiums. When I called the IBL ticket office in Boston to order tickets for our synagogue group to see the Netanya Tigers take on the Ra’anana Express at Yarkon Field, I was asked if I would like to throw out the first pitch. Of course, I immediately replied that I would love to. The irony was that I was slated to throw out the opening pitch of a Columbus Clippers minor league game on Sunday, August 5, but since that was the day our group left for Israel I had to say no to the Clippers game. So now I was going to throw out the ceremonial first ball one week later in Petah Tikva. Even better!

Together with my eldest son Josh and about a dozen people from our group, we boarded a charter bus and rushed from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in the middle of rush hour traffic to get to the game in time for my opening pitch. Fortunately, we made it in time and I threw a strike. Unfortunately, Josh had just woken up from a nap and started crying on the pitcher’s mound.

The game was a great experience. The playing field wasn’t much better than your average high school field, but the kosher “Burger Bar” concession stand was a great bonus. The level of play was somewhere between college ball and AA minor league. Most of the game was announced in English by an enthusiastic announcer who used some Hebrew every once in a while.

Justin Prinstein and Rabbi Jason Miller (Israel Baseball League)Proving what a small world it is, the winning pitcher for the Netanya Tigers was Justin Prinstein (pictured at right), who is from Detroit. Justin had a no-hitter going into the 7th and final inning, finally pitching a one-hit 4-0 shutout. We spoke after the game and Justin told me that he graduated from North Farmington High School (where my wife graduated), Farmington Hills Warner Middle School (where he knew my mother-in-law, the librarian), and Shaarey Zedek Religious School (where I taught hebrew school and remember meeting him and his sister Rachel).

Justin PrinsteinHere is the video of my opening pitch along with some other photos from the baseball game. With my official Netanya Tigers jersey, inaugural season baseball signed by Commissioner Daniel Kurtzer (former U.S. ambassador to Israel), and the ball I threw to begin the game, I will long remember this great experience. And with Josh singing the Ra’anana Express fight song every day, how could I forget it. I hope that professional baseball in Israel thrives for many years to come.

Israel Baseball League

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Baseball Jewish Sports

Jews, Baseball, and a Book

I love Jews. I love baseball. And I love books. So, I’ve really been looking forward to Jews and Baseball, Volume I: Entering the American Mainstream, 1871-1948 by Burton A. Boxerman and Benita W.Boxerman (Published by McFarland & Company, Inc.).

The Forward published a fair review of this book. This is clearly not a coffee table book. Nor is it one of those “Famous Jews in Sports”-type books that shows nice photos of Mark Spitz and a few heavyweight boxers before explaining that most Jews in sports are the owners and agents. This is a book with statistics and footnotes.

As the reviewer explains, “Although ultimately this book is about the men who played a game, it has the feel of a thesis, and that’s too bad. When you want real-life anecdotes, instead you get citations that often are merely repeats of other bobe-mayses. The book is 184 pages of text, and it also includes an additional 20 pages of notes and an eight-page bibliography.”

I’m excited to buy a copy, read it, and then use it for reference. Even if there haven’t been too many Jewish baseball players in the big leagues (an average of one per year in the past 140 years of the game), it’s fun to learn more about the MOTs (Members of the Tribe) who made it to the show… even if they weren’t Hank Greenberg or Shawn Greene.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Israel Sports

A League of their Own – The American Pastime in Israel

One new thing I hope to do in Israel this summer (I’m leading a congregational trip from August 5-17) is attend a professional baseball game.

Baseball has never been very big in Israel. In fact, I remember when Burt Faudem, a Detroit dentist who made aliyah, started a little league baseball league in Jerusalem back in the 1980s. I attended 1st grade at Hillel Day School with Dr. Faudem’s son Josh (see and at the end of that year the family moved to Israel. Josh was a pretty good ballplayer but when they moved to Jerusalem and no little league existed, Josh’s dad had to create a league made up of mostly North American immigrants.

Now Israel has professional baseball and my guess is that it will be successful. Here is an article about the recent startup that I first read at

טייק מי אוט טו ט’ה בול גיים

by Josh Frankel · Monday, June 25th, 2007

Israel Baseball League
3,112 fans from across Israel converged on the Baptist Village outside of Petach Tikva for the opening game of the Israel Baseball League. The baseball was real, the hotdogs were Kosher, and the kids had a great time. All around the diamond, children, many of whom at their first ball game ran around collecting foul balls, and getting anybody wearing a uniform to sign them. These players, many of whom were passed over in the recent draft got to feel like they were in the big leagues, or at least the Cape Cod league.

The game started with the players rubbing off a bit of rust, errors and sloppy play seemed the norm at the beginning, but soon the play ran smooth. There were strikeouts as slick curveballs got the edge of the black, double plays were made to look easy, and the deep outfield fences kept all but one rocket by Ryan Crotin in play.

The teams on the field were as diverse as any pro team in the States. Some of them were college grads passed over in the recent draft, others were in school and choose to play their summer ball over here in Israel rather then hanging out in Kansas or Westchester, and there were a few pro-ball veterans who had finished off their careers and made aliyah. Players were recruited from all over the world, and just as in American baseball, the Latin American players made themselves known. Maximo Nelson, a tall, lanky Dominican player was rumored to throw 96mph heat, though he seemed to struggle a bit with his control. One player told me that the guy had major league stuff, but simply hadn’t broken into the American farm system because the State Department wouldn’t give him a visa.

Aside from the regular ball players, what made these teams specials were the Jewish guys. While they often seemed a bit shorter, these players were perhaps the happiest. Some of them were sabbath observant American kids, with tools, who had never gotten to play competitive ball before, and then there were the Israelis. They were few, but the crowd gave these guys the biggest hand. Having grown up in Israel they somehow managed to learn the game and now were given a stage of their own.

Clive Russell, the director of Major League Baseball’s operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa was on hand at the game, and he seemed quietly impressed. He had been to Israel before, but this game was the best he had ever seen both in terms of talent and as far as the crowd. He was pleased that baseball was on its way here, and gave Israel a solid chance at fielding a team for the next World Baseball Classic, but he said the Israeli league needs to wean itself off its dependency on American ex-patriots. “In Italy,” he told me, “there is a league that plays level A ball, and 80% of the players are home grown.” This league, by comparison only had a smattering of native players, and the fans, well, there were many that couldn’t speak Hebrew, and I doubt anyone didn’t know English.

The league has a lot of upside, and as long as they can keep it profitable it should last. Baseball season is off-season for the country’s main sports obsessions – soccer and basketball, and that means that the games are getting lots of attention on the local sports stations. Surely any kid with half a sense of adventure would choose to travel to Europe to play than get put up in a barn in order to compete in a summer league in Iowa. And with the growing popularity of baseball around the world, a European championship might not be so far in the future.

Meanwhile, play ball!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Detroit Pistons Sports

Pistons Bling for $15,000!

Proving once more that you can buy anything on eBay, there is a 2004 Detroit Pistons World Championship ring up for auction right now. The starting bid is $15,000 and the owner of the ring is listed as being from White Lake Township.

Just my personal opinion, but I think that if the owner of the ring were smart then he’d wait a couple weeks until the Pistons win another championship before auctioning the ring.

It would be interesting to know who’s ring this is and why they want to part with it.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

On National TV

I was at the Detroit Pistons-Cleveland Cavaliers game yesterday at the Quicken Loans Arena. Here is a video clip from the nationally televised broadcast of me taking a picture with my son, Josh, sitting in front of me. Watch immediately after they first show Rasheed Wallace at the Free Throw Line.



Rabbi Jason Miller - Detroit Pistons vs. Cleveland Cavaliers Game(Left to Right: Coach Flip Saunders, Josh Miller, Tayshaun Prince)
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Baseball Jewish Sports

MOT Adam Stern helps defeat U.S. in Baseball Classic

Jewish minor leaguer Adam Stern hit a home-run in addition to four RBIs to help Canada defeat the U.S. in the World Baseball Classic. While I hate to see the U.S. lose in our own national pastime, I must say it’s nice to see this Jewish player make headlines.

From the Associated Press

Stern leads Team Canada in Classic upset

PHOENIX, Ariz. – The country where hockey is king stole America’s pastime on a chilly Arizona afternoon.

Adam Stern, a young backup outfielder for the Boston Red Sox, hit an inside-the-park homer, drove in four runs and made two sensational catches in center to lead Canada over the U.S. 8-6 yesterday in the World Baseball Classic.

“We were definitely pumped up to play this team,” Stern said.

Jason Varitek’s 448-foot grand slam helped bring the United States back from an 8-0 deficit, but a Canadian team made up largely of minor leaguers held on.

“It’s a very quiet locker room right now,” U.S. manager Buck Martinez said. “I think everybody is feeling like they got kicked in the stomach.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Basketball Detroit Education Jewish Sports

Afternoon with Mr. D

Last Wednesday I had a very intriguing discussion over lunch with Mr. Bill Davidson, owner of Guardian Industries, and sports franchises the Detroit Pistons (NBA), Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL), and Detroit Shock (WNBA). Each of these sports teams are the reigning champions of their respective league.

I was invited to lunch with Mr. D. along with a few other recent graduates of the William Davidson Graduate School of Education at The Jewish Theological Seminary. I was very impressed with our candid discussion about the Seminary, Jewish Education, and the Conservative Movement. It was also impressive to tour Guardian Industries’ world headquarters (located in Auburn Hills) which looks out onto the Palace of Auburn Hills and the Pistons’ practice facility.

Here are some photos from the day:

Clockwise: Mr. D. and me; Mr. D. in office; Mr. D.’s 3 NBA championship rings; Photo of Bill Laimbeer in Guardian dining room
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |