Sunday, September 19, 2010

Judaism and Sports

Last week I received a call from the producer of "Mojo in the Morning," a popular morning radio talk show on 95.5 FM here in Detroit. She asked if I'd be willing to offer a prayer for the Detroit Lions. Knowing how funny the show is, I wasn't concerned that the prayer would be taken seriously. So, I agreed to give a tongue-in-cheek prayer for our city's woeful NFL team (audio below).

The following are the prayerful words I offered:

Our God and the God of our ancestors. The God of Billy Sims, the God of Barry Sanders, and the God of Eddie Murray. (It’s always good to invoke the name of a placekicker… God likes placekickers). Almighty God, Ruler of the universe, who is mindful of the desire for a playoff-reaching football team in this great city, Grant your mercy to the Detroit Lions. Heal their injuries, allow them to overcome their misery, and let us all forget their many seasons of woe. Let the defense divide before them like the Red Sea so they may go forth and scoreth and spiketh thy ball. In victory may they conquer every enemy team that comes before them. Give sight to the blind referees who error in judgement before Thee. And may You grant the Detroit Lions the power to grasp the Superbowl trophy. Ken Yehi Ratzon… And so may it be. And let all of the Detroit Lions’ faithful say 'AMEN.'

Now, I don't know if that prayer will work for a team that actually went 0-16 two seasons ago, but it was fun to be a guest on Mojo. An hour after speaking to the Mojo crew, I received an unrelated phone call from Alan Zeitlin, a reporter for NY Blueprint and The NY Jewish Week. He contacted me regarding an article he was writing entitled "By God, Should LeBron be Forgiven?"

Zeitlin wanted to know if I thought LeBron James, the star basketball player who upset just about every citizen of Cleveland by leaving the Cavaliers as a free agent to play for the Miami Heat over the summer, should offer an apology to the people of Cleveland for his actions. I explained that, while LeBron didn't owe the city of Cleveland an apology, it would be nice if he did some soul searching about the way he went about his departure and then offered a sincere "sorry" to Cavaliers' owner Dan Gilbert for not returning his calls in the weeks prior to his decision.

What was most interesting about Zeitlin's phone call was the response he told me he received from other rabbis to whom he posed the LeBron question. Many refused to answer the question, explaining that professional sports shouldn't be taken so seriously and Jewish people should get their priorities in order. One rabbi went so far as to call professional sports "idolatry." Now, I agree that it's important that we have our priorities in order (especially in the days before Yom Kippur), but I see nothing wrong with being interested in sports and discussing the off-the-court actions of superstar athletes.

Yes, there are many important issues going on in the world that should occupy our attention ahead of whether a star athlete should apologize to the city he departed as a free agent. However, sports in our country hold great entertainment value for adults and children. Cleveland fans have a right to be disappointed by LeBron's exit and the way in which he exited. For professional sports franchise owners like Dan Gilbert, it is also a business and a financial investment, and he has every right to criticize an employee for leaving even if it was within the employee's legal rights to do so.

I maintain that there is nothing wrong with having a discussion about whether a star athlete should do teshuvah (repentance). After all, many children look up to star athletes as role models and questioning their integrity and actions is fair game.

Praying for a football team to win a game? Well, that's just tongue-in-cheek humor that makes for funny morning radio bits.

Rabbi Jason leads a prayer for the
Detroit Lions on the "Mojo in the Morning" radio show.


Rabbi Adam Watstein said...

Fantastic!!! They should post it nationally. "spiketh thy ball" sent me laughing off my chair....
Shana tovah

Micah Kelber said...

Fantastic. Happy New Year.

Rabbi Jim Michaels said...

Good job, Jason. Too bad it didn’t have any affect today. However, since I believe that the G-d works in G-d’s own time, there will come a time when the prayer will be answered and the Lions will have a good season. And let us all say…we should live so long.

G’mar tov!


(Formerly from Flint, MI, where losing seasons have been commonplace for many years.)

Bob Layman said...

I don't mean to rub in, but the Eagles won today. Ka-nesher ya'ir kino, al gozalav y'rahef... Try a different prayer next time.

Neil F. Blumofe said...

Thank you for sharing. Great work. Funny, accessible and good navigation between worlds. Wishing you all good things and a healthy year of inspiration.

Todd G said...

I thought the prayer was great and offered a nice counter to Mojo's co-host, Spike's, rabid enthusiasm for the Eagles! Keep up the good work.

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