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.