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Lag B'Omer: Jewish Sports Day?

Sermon by Rabbi Melanie Aron

May 28, 2016

When I was a student at a Jewish day school in New York in the late 1960’s, we didn’t have much of a sports program. Israeli dodge ball- gaga, was about as exciting as it got, except for one day a year, Lag B’Omer. On Lag B’Omer we didn’t go to class at all, but spent the whole day outside. It was a field day with various sports competitions and it was sponsored by the Jewish studies team.

How did we end up with a Jewish sports day?

day of the Omer, which was celebrated this past Wednesday night and Thursday, is a minor holiday that is a day of joyous exception to the restrictions that very traditional Jews observe at this time of year. In very Orthodox communities there are no weddings during the Omer, nor can you listen to live music or cut your hair, as these are considered celebratory. Lag B’Omer is the day when these things are allowed. rdLag B’Omer, the 33

Akivah was a supporter of the rebellion against Rome lead by Bar Kochba, a rebellion that exacted a toll from the Romans but ultimately failed and left the Jewish community much worse off. In many places in the Talmud, which was written during the time the Romans ruled Israel, criticism of the Romans is hidden in comments about Esau, so as not to get the Jews into worse trouble, so it is entirely possible that Roman reprisals were described as a “plague”. The earliest sources mention it as the day the plague that struck Rabbi Akivah’s students ended. Modern historians wonder if the plague was a euphemism for Roman attacks on Akivah’s students.

I was taught that when the Roman’s outlawed the study of Torah, students would go out into the woods with bows and arrows, pretending to be competing in archery, when really they were learning Talmud. IT was a strange idea for us kids- that we would want to study and only be pretending to be playing games.   

Today it is rare to find a Jewish child who doesn’t compete in some kind of sport. Even the most studious, least athletic, high school students play on the badminton team. Parents spend their weekends driving all over the state as their children compete in a variety of sports and leagues. Girls who once had to choose between tennis and field hockey, or basketball with very limiting rules, now play a wide variety of sports, very competitively.

century. Their parents were immigrants who didn’t understand what it was all about, but the children lived for baseball. Maybe this was the case in your family as well. My father was an example of this, and taught me how to score a baseball game. He grew up near the old Dodger’s Ebbetts Field in Brooklyn, and when he could afford tickets, they would watch the game from nearby apartment buildings. Even Orthodox schools had baseball teams- think of the opening chapter of Chaim Potok’s the Chosen , when the main character’s Jewish school plays the boys from the very Orthodox yeshivah.thBaseball was the sport that caught Jewish school’s children imagination in the middle of the 20

Giants reprise their successes of 2010, 12 and 14, we will all be Giants fans.  whether baseball can be played on the intermediary days of Succot and Passover, and even whether playing with baseball cards should be allowed on Shabbat. A rabbi friend of mine from Washington DC is so baseball crazy that her congregation arranged for her to throw the opening pitch at Camden Yard in Baltimore in honor of her 20 years of service to their congregation. Locally, at least this month it has been the Warriors that got our attention, but if the  written within the Orthodox community on questions such as  There are even halachic responsa In earlier generations Jewish children pretended to be playing at sports when really they were studying Talmud. Today it is much more likely that the opposite would be true. And its not just kids who are caught up in the love of sports- a recent book documented the large number of sermons given about baseball by rabbis who are enthusiasts for the game.

Perhaps our field days on Lag B’Omer were a reminder of the need for some balance in life. For those of us once locked up most of the time in indoor classrooms, that meant finding a day to be outside. For our own society today, where sports can dominate our children’s lives and our family’s weekends, that might mean giving other aspects of our lives, their appropriate attention.

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