Major League Baseball Should Fix the Yom Kippur Dilemma (Guest Blog)

Why must Jewish fans, players and league officials confront religious dilemmas about watching playoff games during the holiest Day of Atonement?

Last Updated: October 9, 2019 @ 5:04 AM

In Washington, D.C., we are blissfully recovering from Monday night’s game when the Nationals beat the Dodgers to tie up the playoff series 2-2. We are hoarse from yelling and need serious manicures from all the nail biting innings.

East Coast Jewish fans are religiously thrilled our match-up will begin on Wednesday night at 8:30 p.m. ET because the start time comes after sundown of our holiest Day of Atonement. We are supposed to observe the holiday by praying in synagogue, not eating or drinking, and not watching baseball.

It’s not fair to those Jewish fans living on the West Coast as the game starts there at 5:30 p.m., which is before sundown. Although I want my home team Nats to win, I do feel empathy for those Jewish Dodgers fans who are confronting religious dilemmas about watching the game during Yom Kippur.

It’s even worse for Jewish Cardinals and Braves fans, as the game is scheduled at 5:02 p.m. in Atlanta on Yom Kippur afternoon. I know of one Cards fan who has the difficult choice of saying a memorial prayer for her sister in synagogue or watching the start of the game she adores.

These questions of what to do about Yom Kippur come up also for players in baseball history. Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg faced his Yom Kippur challenge in 1934 when he decided to attend synagogue instead of the Detroit Tiger stadium during a pennant race when he was the top hitter. Greenberg is duly honored for that religious stand during a time of domestic anti-Semitism because he wanted to honor his observant parents. And fate intervened during the 1935 World Series when he broke his wrist and did not have the ability to choose when Yom Kippur came up again to during the World Series his team was playing in.

Ace Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax confronted a similar issue 31 years later in the first game of the 1965 World series between the Dodgers and the Minnesota Twins. He switched to pitching the next day and was similarly hailed as a hero for sitting out that day while his substitute Don Drysdale lost game one. Koufax wound up winning MVP for his pitching during the rest of the series.

Koufax is now a special adviser for the Dodgers and it will be interesting to see if he shows up before sundown.  Another person certainly conflicted will be Stan Kasten, the president and part owner of the Dodgers. The Lerner family members, who are the owners of the Nationals, also face the religious challenge.

When I interviewed AL Rosen, past player and baseball executive, he explained how a fan criticized him for seeing him on television at a Yankees game on Yom Kippur. Rosen wrote back asking the fan why he was even watching television on Yom Kippur.

These annual end- and postseason playing choices could be easily avoided if Major League Baseball officials could be more considerate to their Jewish fans, players and owners by not scheduling a game during Yom Kippur. MLB could emulate two of our branches of government in Washington —the U.S. Congress and the Supreme Court. The Congress has been on recess last and this week, allowing their Jewish members not to be in conflict observing their holidays.

In an interview I conducted with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for my documentary on television pioneer Gertrude Berg (who played Mrs. Goldberg), she noted that the Supreme Court has a policy not to have any cases argued on Yom Kippur out of respect for Jewish lawyers.  She said the practice was inspired by Hank Greenberg and the choice he had to make in 1934.

Just think how much larger MLB’s fan base would be if they did not schedule any game for those 24 hours of religious observation and allowing for time differences. And for me and my friends who are coming to my house to break the fast of Yom Kippur, we will be watching the final matchup between the Nats and the Dodgers at sundown. We will be rooting and hoping that our prayers have been answered.

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