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Take Me Out to the Ballgame

08/08/2017 02:07:58 PM


August 8, 2017
by Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf

Walking in to the Marin Osher JCC a few days ago, I passed through the biblical garden. A biblical garden is one filled with the bounty described in this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Ekev. It describes a rich and beautiful land that was the final destination for the Israelites. “God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill; a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey; a land where you may eat food… and lack nothing.”  As I walked through the biblical garden, I stopped to look at the pomegranates hanging from the tree. Some are just starting to turn red. Soon, it will be time for Rosh Hashanah and fresh squeezed pomegranate juice. But we still have a few weeks of summer to enjoy first: swimming, peaches and baseball!

A summer favorite, baseball provides hours of enjoyment for fans. As I was doing some research into Jewish history and baseball recently, I came across an interesting article on Jewish lessons that come from baseball. It was written by Rabbi Jay Kelman—an orthodox rabbi and devoted baseball fan. I was curious to learn: How is baseball like Judaism?  

First, he explains, baseball teaches about the Jewish concept of teshuva—of return.  “One scores by coming back home to where one started, paralleling the process of teshuva where we return to where we stood before we sinned.”  A great lesson, indeed, I thought! A batter begins at home plate, engaging in the game, making quick decisions and living out the possibilities as he travels around the bases. Ultimately, he returns “home,” having experienced many interactions along the way.  

Rabbi Kelman goes on to explain other connections between Judaism and the great American pastime. “Even non-baseball fans know (the rule,) three strikes and you are out. But what many do not know is that this concept appears first in our tradition. The Rambam (Maimonides) teaches that…the first two times one commits a sin it does not enter into the calculation of mitzvot (commandments) vs. aveirot (sins). We get two free passes, so to speak. Only when one sins for the third time—a spiritual strikeout—are all sins taken into account.”  How cool is that??

And then, Rabbi Kelman explains, there’s the way the game is played. “Baseball is the most individual of the team sports. While there is a minimum of ten players on the field at any given time, the batter faces the pitcher alone… We may daven (pray in a community) with a minyan (minimum of ten adults) but each person is alone in prayer.” Ok—I was sold!

Given how much we have to learn about Judaism from baseball, we are especially lucky to have two opportunities in August to participate in baseball through a Jewish lens. This Thursday night, August 10, Marty Lurie, the announcer for KNBR and Giants Radio’s pre and post  game host is coming back to CSI. He’ll focus on baseball and U.S. history. This is a fundraiser for our Religious School and promises to be a terrific evening!

And on Monday, August 21, join fellow CSI congregants for Jewish Heritage Night at the Giants game. Fifty-two years after Sandy Koufax’s famous refusal to pitch a World Series game on Yom Kippur, we now have our own heritage night at the ball game. We’ve come a long way.

Here’s to a few more warm summer days ahead!

Sat, March 17 2018 1 Nisan 5778