Since my posting about the decisions that Jewish professional athletes make about whether to play on Yom Kippur, I’ve received many inquiries as to whether Ryan Braun actually played on the Day of Atonement. Yes, he did play, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Braun will play: Third baseman Ryan Braun said he would play during the Jewish holy day Yom Kippur this weekend in Atlanta. Braun’s father is Jewish, but his mother is a Catholic and said he had not observed that holy day in the past.
“I don’t really celebrate the (Jewish) holidays so it won’t be much of an issue with me,” Braun said. “Growing up half-Jewish, half-Catholic, I’ve never really celebrated one holiday over the other.”
Yom Kippur begins at sundown Friday and continues to sundown Saturday, and Jews are supposed to fast during that period, including drinking no water. The Brewers play a night game Friday and an afternoon game Saturday against the Braves.
After my post, however, I realized that the focus is always on famous professional athletes when it comes to the Yom Kippur decision. What about all the Jewish college athletes playing in Yom Kippur football games throughout the NCAA? Does it matter that they’re not getting paid? What about other famous Jews choosing to work on Yom Kippur? Are we as interested in Jewish actors who take the day off from filming their next blockbuster movie? What if Jon Stewart filmed an episode of the Daily Show on Yom Kippur? Does the Jewish community even look to these Jewish celebrities as Jewish role models anyway or should their decisions to not observe Yom Kippur be judged any differently than your average Jew who chooses to work on the holy day?
Perhaps we can learn a lesson from the case of Ryan Braun. Yes, the Jewish world should celebrate his All-Star year, and that he might be the first Jewish player* to win the Rookie of the Year award (even though many will call his Judaism into question because he is not Jewish by matrilineal descent — that is, his mom’s not Jewish). But since he doesn’t make a big deal about Yom Kippur, why should the media cover his decision to play on Yom Kippur as if it’s a big deal to us.
When I met Ryan Braun and some of his Milwaukee Brewers teammates in Phoenix last month, I asked one player on the team if Braun was the only Jewish player on the Brewers (I thought Gabe Gross might be). He told me that he didn’t even know that Braun was Jewish.
*The Rookie of the Year award did not exist when Hank Greenberg played