Two Orthodox Jewish MLB pitchers juggle baseball and religion

It’s a decision that hasn’t come up much, if at all, over the past century and a half of Major League Baseball. Two young pitchers, freshly drafted by MLB and ready to start their careers, face a choice when it comes to playing the seventh day of the week: The Sabbath? Or cursors?

The Orthodox Jewish athletes were selected in the MLB draft last week by National League teams. Pitcher Elie Kligman, 18, was drafted by the Washington Nationals, while pitcher Jacob Steinmetz, 17, is the Arizona Diamondbacks’ choice.

Neither player has officially signed with either team yet.

Mr Kligman, 18, said he would not play the game on Shabbat, the Hebrew term for the weekly day of rest. Mr Steinmetz, 17, will not be getting into a vehicle on the Sabbath, but has told various media outlets he will be launching.

Speaking to the Washington Times during a road game with the Israel Olympic baseball team, Mr. Kligman said he would have to develop a specific strategy if he signs with the Nationals.

“I think that’s just all the team wants me to do,” Mr. Kligman said. “If they wanted me to go to the park, I have to be there. But you know, obviously, as long as they are in the settings to keep [the Sabbath], so I think I’ll just do what I need to do.

The timing of the Sabbath in Judaism can pose special problems for baseball players. An observer player might miss not just a Friday night game, an early Saturday afternoon – even, in some cases, the start of a Saturday night game.

Deciding what to do on the Sabbath – and what to abstain from – can be tricky. In addition to the 613 commandments found in the Hebrew Bible, called “the Old Testament” by Christians, there are rules and regulations contained in the Talmud, which contains rabbinical teachings and commentaries on the teachings of the Bible.

Drawing inspiration from the second book of the Hebrew Scriptures, rabbis over the centuries have defined 39 categories of activities that fall under the category of “work,” which is prohibited in Exodus 31: 14-15. These categories, called “melachot” in Hebrew, cover a range of activities, including agricultural and construction tasks. While sports are not defined, an academic suggested that some things that happen while playing baseball would fall under the rubric.

“I think with baseball you can come up with any type of job that would apply, including just you know, digging up grass, while you walk the field,” the conservative rabbi said. Joshua Hammerman of Temple Beth El in Stamford, Connecticut. “It’s, it’s a form of work. Not only digging grass, but also throwing the ball some distance can involve work and the rabbis have been going back and forth on issues like this, hitting a ball.

Baseball historian, writer Ron Kaplan, wrote in a comment from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, only 1% of the 22,000 major league players over the years – about 230 – were Jewish. Some of these players, like Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, have had varying degrees of compliance. Mr. Koufax, for example, refused to cast on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, but he would do so on the Sabbath, Rabbi Hammerman noted.

“I’m sure he didn’t like it. I’m sure he was aware of that, “Rabbi Hammerman said of Mr. Koufax, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.” He was very aware of his Jewish identity. But he did [play], and that’s a compromise he had to make. He drew the line during the holidays, especially on Rosh Hashanah [the Jewish New Year] and Yom Kippur.

Although neither Mr. Kligman nor Mr. Steinmetz, as Orthodox Jewish believers, are likely to consult a conservative branch cleric for Sabbath advice, Rabbi Hammerman told a reporter how he would advise them.

“I think it would become a matter of personal conscience. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that, ”he explained, noting the conservative tradition of having the main Sabbath service on Friday evenings to allow immigrant voters who had to work on the Sabbath to have yet another worship experience. . But, he said, “It’s very difficult to justify it in terms of tradition.”

The issue of the Sabbath in the National League, however, can become a moot point. The two teenagers have college prospects ahead of them – Mr. Steinmetz of Fordham University in the Bronx, a borough of New York. Mr Kligman’s father, Marc Kligman, a lawyer and sports agent, said his son has yet to choose a school.

While it is possible for young athletes to bypass the majors for college – senior Mr. Kligman said his son might want “a little more seasoning” – it is also possible that one or both will have to reconcile their beliefs with the demands of baseball. .

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