At my Rosh Hashanah services last week (full disclosure: I’m Jewish), you just had to stand in the entrance way if you wanted to find Nats season ticket holders discussing when the game times would be, and what they would do. (And asking Washington Post reporters whether they had any inside information.)
Well, we’re now closer to an answer. And while it wasn’t the doomsday scenario — a night game on Friday or a day game on Saturday — it isn’t great news for observant Jews. On Saturday — Yom Kippur — the Nats are scheduled to begin play at 5:37. The holiday, and most services, don’t end until around 7:30.
“I would think that if one wants to take Yom Kippur seriously, attending a game at that time is problematic,” said Rabbi Lyle Fishman from Ohr Kodesh Congregation, a conservative synagogue in Chevy Chase.
Friday is trickier. If the Pirates win on Wednesday, the Nats will play Pittsburgh at 12:07 p.m. on Friday. That time frame could still be rushed for many fans, but certainly possible.
If the Giants win, however, the Nats will play San Francisco at 3:07. Many Kol Nidre services begin between 6 and 6:30. Even if the game goes quickly, and one were to skip the traditional pre-Yom Kippur meal, that 3:07 start time would make things nearly impossible. Even watching the entire game at home could disrupt the traditional rhythm of the holiday.
“I think the spirit of the day says that we should try to place ourselves in the right frame of mind, and maybe that’s not exactly how we want to do it,” said Rabbi David Kalender from Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax. “We’re all cheering for Pittsburgh tomorrow night.”
I’ve already heard from one fan who plans to go to Friday night services at the 6th and I synagogue in Chinatown, certainly one of the easiest shuls to access from Nats Park. That temple has four Friday night services beginning between 6 and 6:30; three are already sold out. There is also a later service at the Georgetown Law School.
But for most Jewish fans, the choice will be pretty clear: If you want to go to a 3:07 game, you’re not going to make it to services on time. And if you want to follow Yom Kippur in a traditional fashion, the Saturday game is also likely out, although it would be possible to see the later innings on television.
“I’ve already told many people: They can’t go to the game,” said Rabbi Daniel Zemel of Temple Micah in Northwest, which happens to be my own congregation. “Sandy Koufax has to be the role model for this. It seems kind of obvious to me.”
Koufax, of course, missed a start in the 1965 World Series to observe Yom Kippur, a story drilled into the minds of many young Jewish baseball fans. And as fans and rabbis have pointed out, the baseball stakes here aren’t nearly as high; this isn’t the World Series, and the Nats are favored to host many more playoff games after this weekend.
“I am thankful that it’s a best-of-five series, and thankful that there are best-of-seven series to come, which means I’m going to have a lot of time to watch my beloved Nats,” Kalender said. “I understand that every game matters, but it’s only one game out of an entire series, and one series out of three.”
Fishman even said one could construct a Yom Kippur sermon on how to “make Jewish decisions in a world that is often going in other directions,” although that’s not what he plans on talking about this year.
The rabbis reported different levels of discussion in their respective congregations about this issue, but all knew of the conflict immediately. And all seemed to agree that if you have to ask what you should do, you probably already know.
“From a traditional Jewish approach, which is certainly where I’m coming from, this day is the holiest day of the year, and it’s got both legal restrictions and also a spiritual focus that we’re supposed to have,” Kalender said. “I think people know what tradition would say. People are asking themselves their own questions — where I am focused on this day? — and that’s more of an internal question. I think they know the official answer already.”
“Look, everybody develops his or her own Jewish life and his or her own calendar,” Fishman added. “If a person actually asks me the question, ‘Am I permitted to do X on Yom Kippur?’ I would say the answer to many of those questions would be ‘You’re not permitted to do that on Yom Kippur.’ But I know people are going to make their own decisions.”
“I’ll say one thing: this is part of the great pathos of being a baseball fan” Zemel said. “When your team loses, you have pain and agony. Sometimes even when your team wins, you have a different kind of pain and agony. This is the pathos of being a devoted baseball fan and a Jew simultaneously, and it could not happen at a better time of the year, because this is when we take stock of what our lives are really about, and therefore we’re taking stock of what our values are really about…. At the end of the day, it depends where you want to spend your time on that day, what your life is about.”
Here’s just a sampling of the reaction from Nats fans when the game times were announced on Monday.