Op-Ed: A Tisha B'Av Message for the All-Star's
This Tuesday is Tisha B'Av, the 25 hour fast day commemorating the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples in Jerusalem. It is considered to be the single saddest day on the Jewish calendar. It is a day when we consider the past and contemplate the future. It is a day of mourning, but it is a day of hope as well.
But this year it may also be a day of baseball. What? Well, Major League Baseball's annual Midsummer Classic, the 84th All-Star Game, will be played this Tuesday night in the city with probably the most hard-core Jewish baseball fans in America, New York.
In Israel, the fast will be long over by the time the American League and National League All-Stars take the field at the New York Mets' home park, Citi Field, at 8pm EST on Tuesday night. However, if you are on the east coast, the fast will be in its final hour when the game begins, which is not so bad, but if you are a Jewish baseball fan on the west coast or in the Midwest, the whole game will be played during the fast.
I am not blaming MLB, or its Jewish Commissioner Bud Selig, because the All-Star game is always played on a Tuesday night in mid-July. This is not one of the High Holidays (in recent years the NFL has moved up football games that were going to be played on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur eve to accommodate Jewish fans) and Tisha B'Av is not nearly as well known.
There is no Jewish law explicitly forbidding watching baseball on TV on Tisha B'Av (ok, it may not be very appropriate, but it's not strictly forbidden), so Jewish baseball fans will have to decide what to do. (I suppose you could tape the game, but who tapes an exhibition game like the All-Star game?) I imagine that some hard-core baseball fans in the East Coast will tune in as soon as the fast is over (if not sooner), perhaps breaking their fast in front of their TVs while catching the game in progress. Elsewhere in America, I can picture fasting Jewish baseball fans laying hungrily on their sofas watching the game, counting the hours till the fast ends at nightfall.
On the surface of it, there is no real connection between baseball's All-Star game and Tisha B'Av. The MLB All-Star Game features the best players in both leagues, based on voting by the fans and the manager's selections, what could that possibly have to do with Tisha B'Av?
The story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza is perhaps the most well known rabbinic text associated with the destruction of the Second Temple. To recap, briefly: There was a man – never identified in the story – who threw a party and intended to invite his good friend Kamtza. His servant, however, erred and mistakenly invited his enemy, Bar Kamtza. When the host realized the mistake he immediately and very publicly demanded that Bar Kamtza leave the party. Obviously embarrassed, Bar Kamtza made a series of offers – even, ultimately, offering to pay for the entire party – hoping to persuade the host to allow him to remain. Unmoved, the host callously threw him out of the party. The Talmud recounts that Bar Kamtza was so offended, not only by the host, but also by the silence of the guests – some of whom were great rabbis – that he slandered the Jewish people to the Caesar. One thing led to another and the result of this sad story was, ultimately, the destruction of the Temple (Gittin 55b-56a).
One continuing controversy of the MLB All-Star Game concerns the player selection process. Specifically, the rule that each team has to have at least one representative on its league's All-Star roster. Supporters of the rule point out that this prevents the large-market teams from totally dominating the squad, and keeps fan and media interest in the game, as fans would not be interested in the game if their team did not have any players involved. (As a kid, I remember watching the All-Star game on TV just to see if the lone player from my favorite perennial losing pro team would get into that game.) Opponents of the rule contend that the purpose of the game is to spotlight Major League Baseball's best players, and that some players from stronger teams are left off the roster in favor of possibly less deserving players from weaker teams.
Both these arguments are strengthened by the greater urgency of winning the game, due to the rule that the winning league attains home field advantage in the World Series. A number of compromises have been suggested in the media, such as limiting the number of representatives a particular team could have, requiring only that a certain percentage of the 30 teams be represented, or expanding the size of the All-Star rosters to mitigate the issue.
In other American team sports, like basketball and football, not every team is represented with a player at their annual All-Star games. If your favorite team had a bad year, or no outstanding players, they wouldn't have a player take part. As a lifelong Golden State Warrior basketball fan I can tell you that waiting 16 years for one player to be chosen to play in the NBA All-Star Game (David Lee this past year, the first Warrior All-Star since 1997) is too long of a wait.
The whole story of Kamtza & Bar Kamtza happened because one person felt that another person had no right to be at and didn't belong at the big party. Even if the one lone player from your favorite major league baseball team got selected for the All-Star game but never left the bench or bullpen and never got to actually play in the game he was selected for, at least he got to tip his cap to the cheering fans when his name was announced with all the other All-Stars before the game. That one player, unlike Bar Kamtza, was never thrown out of the party.
On Tisha B'Av, let's try to remember that everyone is important. Everyone is an All-Star in their own way. We may all be different, but we are all on the same team.