Ethics Holidays Jewish Media Yom Kippur

Karma Contrition: Joel Stein’s Child’s Nut Allergy & Rabbi Compares Helen Thomas to Hitler

This Yom Kippur, I plan to speak to my congregation about issuing apologies for things we shouldn’t have said. I know, that sounds like “nothing new under the sun,” but I’m going to look at how karma plays a role in our contrition.

Here’s an example: The witty Joel Stein, who writes the bi-weekly back page for Time Magazine, penned a funny, yet hurtful, LA Times column back in January 2009 claiming that American parents have gone nuts over nut allergies. He wrote, “Your kid doesn’t have an allergy to nuts. Your kid has a parent who needs to feel special.” Ouch!

Stein clearly won no fans from the parents of children with peanut allergies. And I’m sure there were a good number of those parents out there wishing that Joel Stein would get a taste of what they go through on a daily basis — carrying Epi Pens and worrying that their child would come into contact with an allergen. Stein wasn’t alone in writing cynical articles calling into question the mass hysteria caused by over-vigilant parents, but his wit came out as criticism and was very hurtful to many parents.

Fast forward to August 2010 and Joel Stein when karma comes knocking on Joel Stein’s door. In his mea culpa column in Time, Stein writes:

At the beginning of last year, I wrote a column that questioned whether the increase in food allergies among children was a matter of overreporting. It began with this carefully calibrated thought: “Your kid doesn’t have an allergy to nuts. Your kid has a parent who needs to feel special.” After that, I got a little harsh.

The column was not the first thing that came to mind after my 1-year-old son Laszlo started sneezing, then breaking out in hives, then rubbing his eyes, then crying through welded-shut eyes, then screaming and, finally, vomiting copiously at the entrance of the Childrens Hospital emergency room an hour after eating his first batch of blended mixed nuts. But it was the second thing. Because after my nut-allergy column came out, many parents wrote me furious e-mails saying they hoped that one day I would have a child with life-threatening allergies.

Stein maintained his trademark wit and mockery in the column, but managed to sneak in some contrition as well. Perhaps he was thinking that Yom Kippur was approaching and he owed an apology to all the peanut-allergy parents out there. He wrote, “I realize that the more I understand of other people’s difficulties, the less funny they are.” I’m sorry that Stein’s son Laszlo developed a peanut allergy, but I’m glad the writer saw the error of his ways and found the ability to apologize. That is the message of this season of repentance.

Another possible example of karma calling is Rabbi David Nesenoff getting tripped up in an interview with the Jerusalem Post. Nesenoff, a Conservative rabbi, made headlines last May after videotaping journalist Helen Thomas issuing a career-ending anti-Semitic opinion that Israeli Jews should return to Germany and Poland. Yesterday, in either an act of karma or gotcha journalism, Nesenoff put his own foot in his mouth.

Even though he retracted his comparison of Helen Thomas to Adolf Hitler, The Jerusalem Post made sure that both his comparison and the retraction became part of the public record. The Jerusalem Post reports that “Nesenoff proved he isn’t immune to impolitic remarks when he drew analogies between Thomas, Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler and sex offenders, before retracting the Hitler comparison… Nesenoff also went on to draw an analogy between Thomas, the long-time former UPI and Hearst Newspapers correspondent, and a high school teacher found guilty of sodomy, asking whether such an individual’s record in educating children shouldn’t be blemished by his offense.”

At the end of the phone interview, Nesenoff acknowledged that his comparisons were “a little exaggerated.” The rabbi then retracted the Hitler comparison and said he was sorry.

I don’t question the fact that Helen Thomas should have resigned after making her comments, but the type of journalism used by Nesenoff to acquire those comments was questionable. “What comes around goes around,” as they say. Nesenoff now finds himself apologizing for his own insensitive comments. This could be karma masked as gotcha journalism. Nesenoff tried to retract the statements he made which are damaging to his own character and integrity, but he learned the same lesson that he taught Helen Thomas: Anything you say can and will be used against you.

A lesson was learned in both the case of Joel Stein and the case of Rabbi David Nesenoff. Both men got a taste of their own medicine and issued apologies. No matter how we get there, that is the ultimate goal of repentance — feeling contrite and owning up to your wrongdoing.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
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When Technology Needs a Day of Atonement Too

Cross-posted to Jewish Techs

I’ve been following the Offlining campaign pretty closely. It’s the brainchild of Eric Yaverbaum and Mark DiMassimo. They partnered to launch Offlining, an initiative to promote unplugging that was introduced on Father’s Day, to ask people to make a pledge to have 10 device-free dinners between then and Thanksgiving. To date, more than 10,500 have signed on to this pledge.

Yaverbaum told Jessica Ravitz, a reporter for, that he “is as guilty as anyone of making technological transgressions. He’s ignored family to check emails while at the dinner table and tuned out of actual conversations to tune into Twitter… I’m the guy who sleeps with his BlackBerry. I’m raising my hand and saying, ‘Yes, I’m an addict.'”

Perhaps that’s why Yaverbaum, who is Jewish, and DiMassimo, who is not, have decided to use the Jewish Day of Atonement as their next big day to get people to give their gadgets a rest. They encourage everyone, religious backgrounds aside, to make Yom Kippur (September 18) a technological device free day. That means that in addition to refraining from eating, drinking, showering, wearing leather shoes, applying perfume, and having sex, the Offlining guys are saying “no” to cellphones, Facebook, Twitter and texting too on Yom Kippur. Jews and non-Jews both use technology to do the precise things we ask forgiveness for on Yom Kippur, like gossiping, so I guess it makes sense to give those things a rest on this day.

As DiMassimo was quoted in the article as saying, “It’s annoying to be in a room with people, and yet not be really with them. My dad’s an electrical engineer, and he’s always said, ‘We invent this stuff to serve us, not for us to serve it.'”

The Offlining campaign isn’t the first attempt to get people to give their tech gadgets a rest. If you remember, Reboot launched a Sabbath Manifesto a few months ago to get people to avoid technology and connect with loved ones for a 25-hour period. Signing the Sabbath Manifesto not only meant putting cellphones and computers on hold for the day, but it also meant getting outside, avoiding commerce and resting.

Offlining has a catchy marketing campaign. Using DiMassimo’s advertising company, they’ve created posters with images of celebrities who have gotten into trouble through the use of modern communication technologies. The tagline is that you need not be Jewish to amend for your tweets (Lindsay Lohan), give up drunk dialing (Mel Gibson), or atone for your texts (Tiger Woods, of course) on Yom Kippur.

When I spoke to Ravitz last week about her upcoming article on the Offlining campaign (my quotes apparently didn’t make the final edit), I explained that “it’s great that Offlining’s campaign is directed at everyone, not just Jewish people, because we all use our technology to sin sometimes. Whether it’s texting gossip or belittling someone on Facebook, we need to put technology aside to really atone on Yom Kippur. Plus, without the nuisance of our phones and computers we’ll be able to concentrate on the task at hand much more attentively on the Day of Atonement (prayer and seeking repentance).”

On Yom Kippur we fast — refraining from food and drink — and it has a cleansing feel to it. I think that in the 21st century, a fasting from technology is a necessary cleanse as well.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
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Saying Sorry with Social Media

Cross-posted to Jewish Techs

Is tweeting teshuvah a cop out?

Last Yom Kippur, I delivered a sermon explaining how Jewish people have begun “doing teshuvah” — seeking repentance from others — through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. A week before Yom Kippur the religion editor of The Detroit Free Press, Niraj Warikoo, called to find out what I’d be speaking about on the Day of Atonement. My topic interested him and he wrote a cover story about how some people spend the week before the holiday asking acquaintances for forgiveness for perceived wrongdoings by offering blanket apologies in their Facebook status updates and tweets.

Several newspapers, blogs, and the AP picked up the story from the Free Press. Warren Riddle on Switched, AOL’s tech blog, wrote, “At least one member of the Jewish clergy, Rabbi Jason Miller of Michigan, is asserting that the rise of social networking is diminishing the significance of repentance. He believes that people are using sites like Facebook and Twitter to issue mass, unspecific apologies in order to eliminate uncomfortable, individual personal interaction. Miller said that, in order to protect the true meaning of Yom Kippur, ‘There should be an effort, a little challenge to go up to another person and seek forgiveness, to admit our wrongdoing.’ Incorporating technology into religious holidays and services is a hotly debated issue. Some groups welcome modern and creative ways of attracting new members, specifically young folks, while other religious leaders bemoan technological advances. Miller’s comments, though, should cross all denominations. Some sentiments and feelings are best and most effectively expressed in person — unless, of course, you’re comfortable with your failures being eternally stored for public judgment.”

Of course, I’m sure that when it became possible to send letters quickly through the postal service, there were rabbis who felt that it wasn’t appropriate to send requests for teshuvah through the mail. And when the telephone was invented, there must have been opposition to this impersonal way of seeking repentance. Just like several years ago when many questioned if it was appropriate to offer forgiveness in an email message. While face-to-face is undoubtedly the best way to seek true repentance from our friends and family, we must also face the reality that social networking and text messaging are how many of us communicate on a daily basis, and some will use those media to apologize before Yom Kippur.

My recommendation, however, is that if you are going to ask someone for teshuvah on Twitter of Facebook, at least make it a personal plea and send the message privately.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
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Dave Matthews to Play Kol Nidrei

In his song “Leave Me Praying,” Dave Matthews sings, “And then I will tell my son and my daughters to hold it so dear.” But I don’t think the singer-songwriter is talking about Yom Kippur that the next generation should hold dear. And in Chicago this Yom Kippur, many young Jews will not be singing “Leave Me Praying,” but rather they’ll be telling their parents to “Leave Me Alone” when they choose to go to Wrigley Field instead of Kol Nidrei services for a Dave Matthews Band concert.

Every so often, a conflict occurs for young people on Yom Kippur that tests their religious convictions and commitment to their heritage. One year when I was working at the University of Michigan Hillel Foundation in Ann Arbor, Yom Kippur fell on a Saturday in which a home football game was scheduled. The attendance in the service I was leading dropped by about 80% an hour before kickoff. College Football 1, Day of Atonement, 0.

Rabbi Taron Tachman probably has his own stories about seeing Jewish college students struggle with Yom Kippur conflicts from when he served as the director of Eastern Michigan Hillel before he began rabbinical school. A Dave Matthews fan, Taron seems pretty upset about DMB’s concert date in Chicago.

On the OY! CHICAGO blog (for Jews in the Loop) Taron posted a column entitled “Dave Matthews vs. Yom Kippur: What Would You Say,” in which he uses Dave Matthews’ song lyrics to express his dismay at the concert date which conflicts with his Yom Kippur obligations. He writes, “Not since Sandy Koufax agonized over whether or not to pitch the World Series, has a choice this big been put before the Jewish people. Yom Kippur 5771: Should a Jew go to synagogue or to the Dave Matthews Band concert at Wrigley Field?”

While I’m a realist and recognize that the stands in Wrigley Field will include many Jewish young people who will skip out on Kol Nidrei services, I’m hopeful that they’ll drag themselves into synagogue the next morning.

I have to also give Rabbi Tachman credit for doing a good job of trying to convince them to choose Yom Kippur over the Dave Matthews concert. He concludes his post as follows:

And yet, after all this, if you are still debating over going to DMB on Kol Nidre or skipping Yom Kippur altogether, consider these important words: I call Heaven and earth to witness you this day that I have set before you life or death, blessing or curse; choose life, therefore that you and your descendant may live! (Ha, ha—how’s that for a guilt trip! Sweet you rock and sweet you roll!)

And finally…as everybody tells you, you pay for what you get and though High Holy Days tickets can sometimes be a bit more expensive than a single Dave Matthews Band concert (but not by much), what you will hopefully get by going to synagogue is a chance to seek up, with a renewed sense of purpose, meaning, inspiration and direction. You will be partaking in a tradition thousands of years old, joining friends, family and community, and at the same time supporting institutions that transform so many lives for the better.

Truly this decision is so right, and the best of what’s around. I mean really, what would you say?

All I can hope for is that young people realize they can go to the next town and catch another Dave Matthews concert, but Yom Kippur only comes once a year. And maybe Dave will play a few chords of Kol Nidrei… you never know!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Baseball Biography News Sports Yom Kippur

Armando Galarraga & BP

This afternoon I had the chance to watch Armando Galarraga go up against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers. This was my first opportunity to see the Detroit Tigers pitcher live since his eventful, near perfect game ten days ago. Watching him on the mound, I kept thinking how graceful he acted following the perfect game that was taken from him by an umpire’s mistake and how other professional athletes might have reacted (or over-reacted) in the same situation.

Newsweek editor Jon Meacham (pictured) aptly characterized the level of maturity and class exemplified by both Galarraga and umpire Jim Joyce in his editorial comparing Joyce’s behavior with that of the CEO of British Petroleum (BP), Tony Hayward. In “What an Umpire Could Teach BP,” Meacham writes:

There is no comparison between a baseball game and the nation’s worst environmental disaster, but there is a lesson to be learned from how Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga handled what was, in their world, an epic event. Be honest, admit mistakes, and keep moving. That is perhaps the only way to cope with tragedy of any scale.

Thank you Jon Meacham for helping me get started on my Yom Kippur sermon for this year. The comparison of Jim Joyce’s ability to admit error and apologize with BP’s series of gaffes in the gulf and lack of contrition sets the tone for a day of self-discovery and repentance.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Baseball Celebrities Detroit Jewish Yom Kippur

Calling it Right

I had the wonderful opportunity this past Wednesday night to see Detroit Tigers radio broadcasting legend Ernie Harwell interviewed by Mitch Albom at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. To raise money for several local Detroit organizations that help the homeless, author, sports journalist, and radio personality Mitch Albom hosted an event to launch his new book. “An Intimate Evening with Mitch Albom and Friends” featured Anita Baker, author Dave Barry, and Ernie Harwell.

Rev_Henry_CovingtonAlbom discussed his new book “Have a Little Faith,” and dialogued with Rev. Henry Covington (pictured at left), the former drug addict and ex-con who is now the Pentecostal pastor at Pilgrim Church and the founder of the I Am My Brother’s Keeper Ministry to Detroit’s homeless, who is one of the subjects of Albom’s book. He also interviewed local Detroit rabbi Harold Loss, the spiritual leader of the mega-church-sized Temple Israel in West Bloomfield who filled in for the late Rabbi Albert Lewis, Mitch Albom’s rabbi from Cherry Hill, NJ who is featured in “Have a Little Faith” as well.

Ernie Harwell Statue at Comerica ParkFor me, the highlight of the evening was not meeting with the likes of Dave Barry and Anita Baker backstage during the pre-glow event, but rather sitting back in the audience and watching Ernie Harwell shmooze up Mitch Albom on stage. Ernie Harwell is a part of my life; much of my childhood was spent listening to Ernie Harwell’s voice as he called the Tigers games on the radio as I laid in bed on school nights.

In July, the 91-year-old Ernie Harwell was diagnosed with brain cancer. He knows he doesn’t have long to live. The Detroit Tigers honored him a couple weeks ago during a home game at Comerica Park, but he hasn’t made many public appearances lately. He wasn’t sure he could even make it to the Fox Theatre for Mitch Albom’s event, but he did. And he was amazing!

Albom, sitting on a living room sofa asked Harwell to speak about his faith and how he has come to accept the life-ending disease he now faces. He talked about finding faith as a young man and how it has helped him persevere through many challenges in his life, including his current sickness.

Mitch Albom described Ernie Harwell’s voice as being “what baseball would sound like if baseball could talk.” Albom also praised Harwell for having the patience to let the game of baseball move at its slow pace, and to allow the sounds of the game to be heard and appreciated by the radio audience. Harwell paraphrased Shakespeare by explaining “The game’s the thing.” “It can’t be rushed,” he said.

I enjoyed listening to Harwell talk about the days when baseball clubs couldn’t afford to send their radio guys on the road with the team. The play-by-play would come over a telegraph and Harwell, sitting in a broadcast studio, would call the game from the telegraph making sound effects to add some excitement. Some of the broadcast, Harwell admitted, he would make up since all he actually knew about the game were the stats coming over the telegraph machine. While waiting for the stats to come through, Harwell would make up a story, saying a dog just ran across the field or a fan fell out of the stands. Harwell also spoke nostalgically about the Tigers winning the World Series in 1968 and calling a play in which Jackie Robinson stole home plate (see the video below).

Through the several standing ovations on Wednesday night at the Fox Theatre, all I could think about was what a true mentsch Ernie Harwell is and how much he’s a part of the fabric of Detroit and of major league baseball. Long after Ernie’s left this world, I know I will still hear his voice in my head calling baseball games. He will forever be the “Voice of Tigers Baseball.”

* * *

And speaking about calling baseball games on the radio, I couldn’t believe what I heard about Mike Blowers, the former Seattle Mariner and current radio commentator for the organization. On the radio last Sunday, as Jews were in synagogue listening to the Kol Nidrei service and being released from the vows they’d make in the coming year, Blowers made a vow that something would happen in the upcoming baseball game. His prediction was reminiscent of Nostradamus.

Jeremy Moses, in a post on the blog titled “The Messiah Does Baseball Color Commentary,” writes:

You don’t believe in the Messiah? You don’t think the Apocalypse is coming? As of yesterday morning, I’ll admit that I was skeptical as well. But now, I believe it is fair to say that former Major League Baseball player, Mike Blowers, is Moshiach.

But before I prove my point, let’s look at some of the pre-conditions. According to [an article on Messianism on], the Messiah will not come on Shabbat. Good, because I believe he came on Sunday. Second, the rabbis believed the Messiah would come on the eve of Passover. Well, Sunday was Erev Yom Kippur, so I think it’s fair to say that the rabbis had the right idea, but got the wrong holiday.

Finally, according to Sotah 9:15, “In the footsteps of the Messiah, arrogance [chutzpah] will increase; prices will rise; grapes will be abundant but wine will be costly; the government will turn into heresy; and there will be no reproach.” That kind of sounds like today’s world, especially in this economy.

Well, I don’t know that Mike Blowers is the messiah, but this really is an unbelievable prediction. Blowers calls it perfectly. First, he says Seattle Mariners rookie infielder Matt Tuiasosopo would be the Player of the Game. Next, he predicts that Tuiasosopo would hit his first Major League home run. Not only that, but he guesses it will come in his second at bat, off a fastball on a 3-1 count and that Tuiasosopo would hit it into the second deck. Unbelievable call!

Watch the video below and then try to figure out why Mike Blowers didn’t spend his time at the racetrack instead of trying to play professional baseball where he journeyed from team to team including three stints with the Mariners.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Jewish Judaism and Technology Religion Yom Kippur

Shofar So Good

Another “Day of Atonement” has come and gone. While Rosh Hashanah is the official beginning of the new Jewish year, it always seems that it is not until the conclusion of Yom Kippur that the new year really commences. So, I say “Bring it on 5770!” you can’t be any worse than the past year that brought us the Madoff scandal, Swine Flu, and the death of so many celebrities including Michael Jackson, Ed McMahon, Patrick Swayze, Teddy Kennedy, Walter Cronkite, William Safire, Farrah Fawcett, Paul Harvey, John Updike, etc. etc.

While, traditionally, there are 100 shofar blasts blown on Rosh Hashanah, the call of the shofar to end Yom Kippur always seems to make headlines. There certainly is the pomp and circumstance that surrounds the powerful “Tekiyah G’dolah” signaling the end of the fast day.

When the Detroit Free Press informed me they would like to take my photo to accompany an article in which I was interviewed, they of course requested that I blow shofar for the photo. I forgot to bring one of mine and I couldn’t locate a shofar at my synagogue since all of our shofar blowers bring their own (“B.Y.O.S.” I suppose). So, I told the Freep’s photographer to give me a few minutes and I headed over to the Jewish Community Center where I borrowed a brand new shofar from the Judaica display.
(The Photo by Patricia Beck of the Detroit Free Press is above.)

Much more interesting than the photo of me blowing shofar is NPR’s profile of Dizzy Gillespie’s goddaughter, Jennie Litvack (at left), who blows shofar at Congregation Adas Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Washington, D.C.

The shofar player had a close relationship with the great jazz trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie, who called her his goddaughter. As for her relationship with Gillespie, Litvack says she got to know him when she was 12 years old.

“We developed a very special relationship.” Litvack says playing the shofar is something Gillespie would do, but she never saw him or heard him do it. “He was a Baha’i,” she says. “We used to have great conversations about Judaism and Baha’ism and the oneness of mankind. But I do say when I play, I also feel Diz, I feel his connection with me, and that feels really special.”

In the Free Press article, I was asked what the themes of my Yom Kippur sermons would be about. The reporter, Niraj Warikoo, seemed interested in the sermon I delivered on Yom Kippur morning about how we communicate with each other and ask forgiveness in the Digital Age. Using social media websites like Facebook and Twitter to communicate with the many people in our lives is fine to do, I explained, but when it comes time for performing teshuvah (asking forgiveness from our friends for our shortcomings) a personal connection is the ideal.

Right before Kol Nidrei services (the beginning of the Yom Kippur holiday) on Sunday, I noticed the following status update from one of my Facebook connections, Rob Kutner (former writer for the “Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and current writer for the “Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien”):

Rob Kutner asks forgiveness of anyone he may have wronged unintentionally this past year, and wishes Jews an easy fast, and everyone else an easy Monday. Sun at 6:55pm

Seems like the “easy way out” rather than picking up the phone or sending a personalized, carefully-worded email message to the individuals he wronged unintentionally. (I actually wonder if he wants forgiveness from those that he wronged intentionally.)

With the recent attraction of the six-word memoir and status updating “tweets” limited to 140 characters, we are downsizing our communication. While I’m a fan of these social networking sites, I certainly hope we’ll take the time to actually talk to those closest to us… especially when it’s forgiveness we’re looking for.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Holidays Jewish Rabbi Yom Kippur

Stress Management

The High Holy Days really test rabbis’ ability to handle stress…

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Fashion Holidays Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur was a Croc this Year

I definitely felt that my wife, kids, and I were the only ones not wearing Crocs this summer in Israel. Those weird-looking, plastic, comfy shoes have become the biggest foot fad since the Air Jordans. Ami Eden, in the JTA, reports that Crocs have taken over as the must-have shoes for Yom Kippur fashion… or at least a way to adhere to the “leather shoes are a no-no” rule. I’m going to stick with my black Chuck Taylor All-Stars for Yom Kippur. But maybe I’ll get a pair of Crocs for Tisha B’Av.

The Orthodox Union even ruled that Crocs are permissible on the Day of Atonement.

Eden writes in the JTA:

From secular beachgoers in Tel Aviv to right-wing Orthodox settlers in Hebron, Crocs — the bulbous-toed, open-back, rubber summer shoe — already were ubiquitous in Israel. Now, reports from several synagogues across America suggest, Crocs have surpassed Chuck Taylors, Keds, flip-flops and a host of other options to become the Yom Kippur shoe in the United States.

“It was so comfortable; I couldn’t believe how cushy it was,” said Steinerman, who opted for the subtle suit-matching black rather than one of the flashier Crocs colors. “Converse doesn’t have the right support. This was a big upgrade.”

From Facebook to My Space, Internet users have discussed the Crocs-on-Yom Kippur trend. And the reviews were not all positive. [more]

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