Friday, September 23, 2011

To Play or not to Play

Devout Christian Euan Murray has questioned the need for Rugby World
Cup matches to be played on Sundays. "...the Sabbath day is a full day. It's not a case of a couple of hours in prayer then playing rugby” One must admire when a professional puts their religion before their work. I was reminded of the times this occurred for Jewish sportsmen. Most recent was last Yom Kippur: respect Avram Grant's absence for Yom Kippur, West Ham fans were told. While Avram’s prayers didn’t prevent the Hammers from getting relegated, in some American sports, however, prayers often brought much success. While it seems that on Rosh Hashanah some chose to play, most Jewish sportsmen keep off the field on Yom Kippur. The most Jewish sport in the world it seems is baseball. Over the last 80 years as many as 12 players have had the dilemma of playing on Yom Kippur. In 1965 Sandy Koufax refused to pitch for the LA Dodgers in Game One of the World Series because it was Yom Kippur. Drysdale pitched in his place, and he gave up seven runs in a couple of innings. "I bet right now you wish I was Jewish, too," Drysdale said to the manager when he pulled him from the game. The Dodgers lost to Minnesota. Koufax fasted and went to Shul. That evening he was back though and pitched to victory. His decision and his pitching brilliance remain a source of huge pride among American Jews. In 2001, Shawn Green, also of the Dodgers, followed in Koufax’s footsteps. "There is nothing I would rather do than play.. but some things take precedence over that." Much earlier in 1934, Hank Greenberg, anguished over whether to play on Rosh Hashanah. The local media sought out the opinions of local rabbis, with one newspapers headline: "Talmud Clears Greenberg for Holiday Play." "The team was fighting for first place," wrote Greenberg in his autobiography, "and I was probably the only batter in the line up whowas not in a slump. But in the Jewish religion, it is traditional that one observe the holiday solemnly, with prayer…. I wasn't sure what to do." He missed practice but finally chose to take the field. He hit two home runs to lead the Tigers to a 2-1 victory. The next day, the Detroit Free Press ran a banner headline, in Hebrew that read "Happy New Year, Hank". Came Yom Kippur Hank didn't come to play. The coach said: “We shall lose the game today!..But he's true to his religion -- and I honour him for that!” When he arrived at the synagogue, the service stopped, and the congregants gave him a round of applause. Jose Bautista, who pitched for five teams in a ten-year career that ended in 1997, told the Village Voice, "My family and I go to synagogue when we can and we pray every Friday. We fast on Yom Kippur and not only do I not pitch, I don't even go to the ball game." The Lubavitcher Rebbe once spoke of Koufax and said: "The first condition in influencing a child, is that the child must see a living example by his parents. If the child sees the parent studying Torah at a time when the parent would otherwise be involved in business dealings, this is an example of self-sacrifice for the child. When a parent gives up a half hour of watching television, reading the newspaper and discussing politics... When he renounces all of this that's an example for your child... “ So as the High Holydays approach let us give up one element and dedicate a part of our life to G-d. Shabbat Shalom.

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