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Monday, October 21, 2019

Why Yom Kippur

Writing on the lack of success enjoyed by Jewish players and their teams on the recent Yom Kippur, Tablet's Armin Rosen hints at an interesting question: Why the focus among American Jewry for players playing or not playing on Yom Kippur (and, to a lesser extent, Rosh Hashanah). Rosen points out that we do not care or expect players not to play on Shabbat, which is arguably more important within the faith.

One answer is the impracticality of a player not playing every Shabbat. The MLB regular season is built around series of 3-4 games, including series every weekend, Friday through Sunday. Except for the Cubs, virtually every Friday game is at night and some (although a smaller percentage) Saturday games are played during the day. Figuring four Fridays and Saturday per month in a six-month season, a Jewish player who would not play on Shabbat would miss 24--48 games. No player could do that and no team could afford to employ that player. Especially not the Cubs, who play most of their Friday and Saturday games during the day.

A second answer is this matches the Jewish calendar for many American Jews. Most do not observe Shabbat. Many who attend Shabbat services otherwise treat it as an ordinary weekend day--I attend morning services, but the rest of the day I might hold a make-up class, coach my daughter's basketball team (in a temple-sponsored league, no less), or spend the day writing. Shabbat is not, for most, a break in the calendar. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are--schools are closed, many Jews do not work, and those are the two days on which a substantial portion of Jews go to synagogue. The logical leap--if I take this day off, so would a Jewish baseball player. Then it comes to the supposed Halachic difference between the joyous Rosh Hashanah and the somber Yom Kippur.

So fear not, Alex Bregman. Simcha Torah will be over before Game 1 begins tomorrow night.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 21, 2019 at 11:41 AM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink


I had not heard that about Greenberg. Seems difficult, since at least the first part of his career all games were during the day and weekend games almost certainly were.

There tends to be coverage of high-profile Muslim athletes (e.g., Hakeem Olajuwan) observing Ramadan and how the eating schedule affects their play.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Oct 22, 2019 2:54:57 PM

If third-hand recollection serves, Hank Greenberg avoided playing on Shabbat. (This is "recollection from editing scholarly works on sport history for an academic journal" — I'm no baseball fan.) Admittedly, that was during a different era.

It's also rather interesting that no one is asking the similar question for Muslim players with regard to Fridays and Eid. Or, for that matter, anyone else to whom a day or set of days is "sacred" — Pentecostalists and the Easter period, ardent Constitutionalists and 17 September. I'm not sure what this really says, but it says something.

Posted by: C.E. Petit | Oct 22, 2019 1:01:55 PM

Also yom kippur generally falls within the pennant race or post-season. If players miss a game for the Seder, a random evening in the first few weeks of the season or occasionally in the late pre-season, no one would notice. Might be different if the Seder flls on opening day.

Posted by: arthur | Oct 21, 2019 8:46:44 PM

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