Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Running Interference: Hank Greenberg as Mixed Metaphor

When a Torah-observant rabbinic figure participates in a Church service honoring a newly elected American President, the episode creates an interesting problem for other Rabbonim in the future, who choose not to do so. When I have faced that situation in the past, I have explained the situation gingerly to my political sponsor, who always has respected the halakhic position. I would in the future, too. The situation becomes more awkward if asked on the rebound: “But wasn’t there some Orthodox Rabbi back in 2009 who attended the church service for Obama’s inauguration?”

The image that most immediately comes to mind is that of Hank Greenberg not playing on Yom Kippur in 1934. He was not at all a religious Jew – that is, he was very forthright that religion and he were not, shall we say, both ends of a doubleheader. He was not a guy who atoned once a year with deep charatah. But he very demonstratively took Yom Kippur day off to make a statement. He won so much respect for his position, as evinced in the famous ditty penned by the columnist for the Detroit Free Press: “We shall miss him on the infield and shall miss him at the bat / But he's true to his religion--and I honor him for that.”

No Jew ever again has had a problem taking off a Day of Awe after Greenberg did it. He blazed the way for Koufax, Shawn Green, and others.

But what if he had played on Yom Kippur? If Hank Greenberg had played on Yom Kippur, he would have made it a zillion times harder for Koufax, Green, and the others later. That, too, is part of the analysis.

I remember my first September as a litigation associate at a very "WASPy" prominent law firm where I began my litigation career. Came Rosh Hashanah, and they knew I would take off a day. When I mentioned I would be gone for two days, they told me that Weinberg only takes one day, and Goldberg only takes one day, and Iceberg only takes one day. (Names changed.) "So how can you justify taking two?" Then came Sukkot.

The best was Sh’mini Atzeret. That always freaked them the out.

My experience was complicated having had "One-Day Jews" preceding me.

Years later, a fellow phoned me to thank me. He said he had approached the management and his partner and told them he needed to take two days for Rosh Hashanah, and then another two days were coming for the hut holiday, and then . . . uh, Sh’mini Atzeret. And the partners rolled their eyes, confirmed that, yes, they "knew all about this stuff," and one even added: “I suppose that means you won’t go hunting with me either when I take the other associates on my annual hunting trip?”

It’s nice when someone else already has run interference for you. Hank Greenberg ran interference -- even though the metaphor mixes a football term with a baseball legend. And it is deeply disquieting when you have to take a stand complicated by someone else who has placed an iceberg in the way.

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