Pews Or Bleachers? A Yom Kippur Dilemma


The Lerner family, owners of the National League’s Washington Nationals baseball team, have spoken: they won’t be attending any playoff games that take place on Yom Kippur, they told the press last week. Taking after famed Jewish baseball player Sandy Koufax, they’ve decided the High Holiday is no time for games.

But what about your average Jewish baseball fan? Many Jewish Washington Nationals fans find themselves in a fix, with the Nats gearing up to play their first playoff game on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.

Adam Isaacson, a Bethesda, Maryland resident and Nats devotee, is not trading in a chance to watch the Nats play in a playoff game in order to attend Yom Kippur services. Though he would normally go to his family's break-fast, Isaacson and some of his family are opting out this year to attend the big game.

“Any holiday is a chance to be with family. The capacity with which you are together should not matter,” said Isaacson, explaining his decision. “Whether it's in synagogue, breaking the fast at dinner, or going to a baseball game with my son, father and father-in law, being together and sharing a moment is what matters.”

To be sure, this is not the first time Jews are faced with the dilemma of choosing between an anticipated sporting event and the High Holy Days. New York Yankee player Derek Jeter played the final regular season home game of his career on Rosh Hashanah, much to the dismay of Jewish Yankee fans in the New York area.

But despite the steep competition this Yom Kippur, local rabbis are optimistic that service attendance will not be drastically affected by the game.

Rabbi Mark Novak, founding rabbi of Minyan Oneg Shabbat (and a self proclaimed baseball “fanatic”), is confident that Jews who normally attend services will continue to do so, game or not.

“For both observant Jews, as well as Jews who do not normally treat Judaism as a spiritual issue, the game doesn’t pose any conflict,” he said.

Aryeh Kalendar, a student coordinator of Ometz, the egalitarian Jewish group on the campus of University Maryland, acknowledged that the games will affect his congregation.

“This weekend is going to present somewhat unique challenges for our services on campus,” he said. “Our constituents will be making tough decisions regarding whether they will come pray with us or be watching or attending the games. We understand that this will certainly affect the amount of people who attend services both on Friday night, as well as on Shabbat.”

For those congregants who choose to go to the games, Kalendar said that his congregation will maintain an open-door policy. “We hope everyone makes the decision that is right for them,” he finished.