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Go Giants!

The following is a letter I sent on Wednesday to the orthodox community of Kansas City.

Dear Rabbi Rockoff and Congregation BIAV,

Thank you and for accepting Adath Israel’s friendly wager over the World Series between the Giants and Royals.

I’m a little concerned however, that you might have misunderstood our motive for contacting you. Our goal is not simply to bet on the outcome of the series but also to take advantage of this opportunity to add a more Jewish and spiritual dimension to this Fall classic.

How’s that you ask? As we agreed, one of our congregations will sponsor a Kiddush for the community of the winning team (hopefully the Giants). “Kiddush” comes from the same family of words as “Kodesh”, “K’dusha”, “Kiddushin” and we can’t forget about “Kaddish”. All of these words indicate holiness and sanctity. One of the main goals of Judaism is to elevate the mundane. As G-d said to the Israelites before giving them the Ten Commandment, “You shall be to me a kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation” (Ex.19/6).

Being holy doesn’t necessarily mean withdrawing from worldly pursuits and activities but rather engaging them in a way that sanctifies them. For example, eating is a pretty basic human need. However, by keeping kosher and saying blessings before and after eating, we sanctify the experience. We make it Kodesh. 

When one celebrates anything with a Kiddush, to a certain degree they are sanctifying that which is being celebrated. They are making a statement that G-d is somehow connected. Although this idea might resonate when it comes to lifecycle milestones, recovering from illness, or some type of significant personal accomplishment, what could this possibly have to do with baseball and the World Series?

Many people have noted the various parallels between Judaism and baseball: both venerate tradition, both emphasize community, both attach importance to special foods (think of ballpark franks, and don’t forget the peanuts and Cracker Jacks). Both have their rituals – e.g., the ceremonial throwing out of the first pitch, the seventh-inning stretch. There are even baseball high holidays, such as the All-Star game and the World Series. Some people find an almost halachic quality to baseball in that its rules are sharp and defined as to what’s fair and what’s foul, where the players must stand, and what they must wear (baseball, too, requires that you keep your head covered!). There are even rabbi-like umpires to keep you on the straight and narrow, telling you when you have transgressed and meting out penance for the sinners.

Baseball, at its core, is what Judaism is at its core. Each player strives to do the best he can, always to improve and work on himself. Baseball and Judaism alike operate most effectively as a result of teamwork and within community. Even the greatest player is nothing without his teammates and fans. Even the greatest Jew needs to be part of a community to be most fully Jewish.

So my friends, by celebrating baseball and the World Series with a Kiddush - either paying for it or eating it - we recognize how such a seemingly mundane activity is actually a great example of how G-d expects us to live our lives.

May the best team win (hopefully, the Giants). 

Rabbi Joel Landau