Prayer or the playoffs?

This year, with the MLB post season and Yom Kippur falling on the same day, how can a religious fan focus on the day of atonement?

By
October 2, 2014 15:23
3 minute read.
Nats

Washington Nationals take to the ball field. (photo credit: ARIEL COHEN)

This October, Jewish American sports-fans will be faced with a difficult decision: prayer or the playoffs?

Although the official schedule of the games varies for each of the eight Major League Baseball (MLB) team in the playoffs, for some, the first games have to be played on the Friday, Yom Kippur eve, and then Saturday on the holy day of fasting. Not so much a problem for the majority of MLB players, but definitely an issue for fans and owners of the team.

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The one way to avoid complications would be for an afternoon game on Friday before Kol Nidre services, followed by a night game on Saturday after the fast. But even in this best case scenario, American baseball fans will likely spend the day praying for their teams rather than atoning for their sins.

Let’s take the Washington Nationals for example, a team that doesn’t see the MLB postseason too often. This year however, the Nationals are in first place in their league. Miracles like this don’t come to Washington baseball often.

The team will play on Friday Erev Yom Kippur at 3:07 p.m.,  giving fans not enough time to make it to Friday evening services. On Saturday, the team is scheduled to play at 5:37 p.m. (but the holiday won't be over until around 7:30 p.m.) Team owner, Ted Lerner, plans to opt out of both games Friday and Saturday to attend to his religious duties.

Lerner -- who told The Jerusalem Post that he will spend the holiday with his family and at Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Maryland --had no control over when the playoff games were scheduled. Days before the league released the official playoff schedule, the Nationals spokesperson declared that “The Lerner family will not be attending the games if held during the Jewish High Holiday of Yom Kippur.”   

This isn't a new conflict though and in the past Jews have made historic stands in both baseball and Jewish-American history books.

Every young American-Jewish boy who signs up for Little League learns the stories of Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg, famous ball players who chose to take the bench (in synagogue), rather than hit the field during the baseball postseason. Koufax, a member of the 1965 Brooklyn Dodgers, refused to pitch in the World Series, because the game fell on Yom Kippur. Greenberg, a slugger for the 1934 Detroit Tigers, took his religious stand during a time of intense anti-Semitism in the United States. Legend has it that he was applauded as he walked into the synagogue that morning.   

American rabbi and avid baseball fan, Marc Raphael, believes that having to sit out of one game for the holiday is worth the sacrifice.

“Of course I do not think a baseball game should interfere with services,” he told the Post. “That is why playoffs, unlike football, are many games and it is no big deal if someone misses one game in a series that will have many games (best of seven). The only time anyone misses much is on the day of Yom Kippur, but there is plenty of time to watch about half the evening game and much of the afternoon game. Again, it seems no big deal as it is not a one-game event like the Super Bowl.”

Raphael admits that as a teen he brought a transistor radio to services and periodically left to take a walk and listen to bits of the ball game. He suggests that fans could still do this today, but using an iPhone to check stats.

As Raphael highlights, it’s clear today for Americans, baseball sometimes doubles as religion. And whether at the ballpark, or in synagogue, this Yom Kippur, everyone will be praying.


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