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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

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Baseball and Judaism

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Q: What is God’s favourite sport?

A: Baseball. Because the first words of the Bible are: “In the Big Inning.”


Although Judaism may be a bit older than baseball, the religion and the sport seem to have much in common, thanks to a unique athletic/religious bond that has not eluded learned, rabbinical minds.

“To the uninformed eye, Jewish rituals or the rules of baseball would seem strange,” writes Mitchell Hurvitz, rabbi and Red Sox fan. “Within both venues there are rules for when to stand, touch your heart, remove or place back your head covering, etc. The rabbi interprets the Torah, and the umpire interprets the rules of baseball. Judaism wants you to walk God’s path, without getting out of line, and the same is true for running the bases toward ‘home.’”  [http://bit.ly/jball02]

Even the Lubavitcher Rebbe taught a lesson about Yiddishkeit thanks to baseball. Once the Rebbe asked a visiting bar mitzvah boy to tell him his favourite game. When he responded “baseball,” the Rebbe expounded, “In your heart you have a big field. The two sides are the yetzer tov [the good inclination] and the yetzer hara, [the negative drives]. Until now they played kids’ stuff, but from now on the game’s for real. Remember, just as in baseball, the side which plays best will win. If you only want to, you can always overcome your yetzer hara.” [http://bit.ly/jball03]

William Kolbrener uncovered some other Jewish values in the game. “For the baseball fan, to view a temporary success as defining – ‘it’s great to be on top again’ – or the converse – ‘it’s all over now’– shows a failure to see the whole season, and, in the larger picture, to see how our lives and stories are not always subject to our control… Acknowledging that there are other variables, maybe even an infinite number, is the first step to recognizing the divine and the role of (what sometimes get simplified) as providence.” [http://bit.ly/jball04]

I’m not sure the mystics of Safed fielded a team when they compiled their esoteric teachings in the 16th century. But that hasn’t stopped Reuven Goldfarb from writing his Baseball Kabbalah. In it, he provides irrefutable parallels between the two mystical activities:

•  The 10 players (nine plus batter) on the field correspond to the number of Sefirot (Divine Emanations) that constitute the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.

• What about the umpires? They’re rabbinical judges. That’s why they wear dark colours.

•  And you’ve heard of the seventh inning stretch? Does that sound like Shabbat to you? [http://bit.ly/jball06]

We’ll let Rabbi Barry Leff bat last. “In both Judaism and baseball, while an individual is important, we win or lose as a community. One star player cannot drag a team into the World Series any more than one star rabbi or one star cantor or one star congregant or one star synagogue president can drag a congregation into a winning position. We affirm this every day when we recite the Shema, where the blessings and curses that come with obeying or disobeying the mitzvot are stated in the plural form –they come to us as a community, not necessarily to us as individuals.” [http://bit.ly/jball07]


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