One of B’nai Israel’s favorite annual programs will be held again, on Wednesday, August 10, with Marty Lurie, as we talk baseball and Judaism around a shared theme: Rules.
One could look at this program as something light and somewhat removed from the central theme of Judaism as a system for living. Yet, this special evening, the sixth yearly visit with Marty Lurie, sheds a different perspective on Jewish values through the lens and metaphor of baseball, and vice versa.
Reflecting on common characteristics between baseball and Judaism allows us to better appreciate the numerous ways Judaism helps us make sense of life.
This year our focus is on rules and how they change, or not, with the times. The fact that Judaism is so rule-based, i.e. built on “Halacha”/”law”, with the Hebrew coming from the word “to walk/to go” indicates that “Mitzvah” is what makes Judaism go. Whatever rituals we have, and people observe, are intended to focus us on choices of action by which to live. The rules indicate that ours is a system of action in community, built on shared and agreed upon responsibility.
Those who enjoy baseball may look at it as America’s favorite pastime. And, Marty, who hosts weekend talk shows before and after Giants broadcasts, likes to reflect on it as a marathon taking you from spring through fall, with its ebbs and flows (the Giants are definitely ebbing as I write these words!). Furthermore, with the world seeming so fragile and riddled with alarming turmoil, as we never know where the next traumatic event will occur, it is comforting to have baseball as a thread of sanity and enjoyment, a good and even healthy escape from troubles.
Drawing comparisons between baseball and Judaism provides an opportunity to reflect on how Judaism also enables us to find ways and perspectives to transcend, even as we address, the distressing conditions in the world.
The rules that govern Judaism and baseball provide the context and infrastructure that has allowed for continuity, over 150 years for baseball and over 3000 years for Judaism, and have enabled us to hand down traditions and values, whether memories of parents and children throwing the ball around, or of parents and children celebrating Passover, holidays and Shabbat, through the ages. It is the rules that assure such continuity. In Judaism you need 10 people to say Kaddish and to do a full prayer service, something true now, as it was for 2000 years and more.
Each system has its challenges in terms of addressing changes that come with time. Baseball does it in terms of technological advances allowing for replay and questions now as to whether to replace the individuality of each home plate umpire making unique interpretations of the strike zone when it is possible to determine that with cameras. In Judaism, we have been determining the calendar mechanically over 2000 years replacing the human element of spotting the new moon and lighting torches and sounding horns to inform the Diaspora of a new month.
Most recently the Conservative Movement of Judaism under whose flag I serve as rabbi has determined that legumes should be allowed for Passover after many hundreds of years in which they were forbidden.
Both systems face the challenge of juggling the values of tradition and change. Each sheds light on the meaning and application of the other, especially as Marty and I explore these questions and more, when we get together at these annual visits.
We are fortunate to have him and he is very kind to share of his time with us. Be sure to join us on August 10. It is a wonderful way to prepare us for the coming year and all the activities that await us as we enjoy our unique community structure for nurturing us during especially challenging times.
See you then!