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September 21, 2005

Are Jews, like, doomed?

Church was concerned because his former girlfriend was Jewish. He turned to Moeller, "I said, like, Jewish people, they don't believe in Jesus. Does that mean they're doomed? Jon nodded, like, that's what it meant. My ex-girlfriend! I was like, man, if they only knew. Other religions don't know any better. It's up to us to spread the word."

In Baseball Now, More Teams Pray Before They Play
Washington Post, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2005

I'm beginning to think that in fact Jews are, like, doomed. But not for the reason Ryan Church, outfielder for the Washington Nationals, believes.

Church was in church (let's get the stupid wordplay out of the way early) or, really, in baseball chapel, and he was simply asking the volunteer chaplain a doctrinal question. According to the Post article, baseball teams are now providing chaplains for their players. But not everyone attends.
Nationals manager Frank Robinson would not comment. "Frank doesn't do religion," said team spokesman John Dever. When team members gathered to pray, Robinson stayed in his office, watching ESPN, with hitting coach Tom McCraw. McCraw cracked the door and said: "I don't go to chapel. I'm a sinner."

Some of the other players, such as third baseman Vinnie Castilla, said they prefer to pray at home or in church. Assistant General Manager Tony Siegle doesn't attend chapel either: "I'm Jewish."

Those who do attend seem to find spiritual sustenance. ("It's about guys needing Christ," [Jon] Moeller [the chaplain] said. "It could be the security guard, or it could be Nick Johnson. RFK becomes a church on Sundays.") And the players and chaplains do have to deal with the obvious theological issues. ("I get a ton of people saying, 'Hey, Wayne, you gotta pray harder for the Brewers,'" said Wayne Beilgard, chapel leader for the Milwaukee Brewers. "I tell them, 'God doesn't choose sides in baseball. God is not a Yankees fan.'")

So what could be wrong, right? What could be wrong, according to Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom Talmud Torah, an Orthodox congregation in Washington that calls itself the National Synagogue, is that it appeared to him that "the locker room of the Nationals is being used to preach hatred." Hatred, he said. The Nationals (the team, not the shul) have now suspended the volunteer chaplain, and Ryan Church has issued an abject apology, as the Washington Post reports today.

Many Christians believe as part of their religious doctrine that acceptance of Jesus is necessary for salvation. Pardon me if I disagree with them. I'm a very committed Jew; I don't believe that Jesus is the Messiah; and I have no expection of ending up in Hell, if such a place should exist. Yet, and this is very important, it's totally out of line to tell these Christians that their views are based on hatred. They are not. They are based on faith and love.

Jews in America need not be so fearful of believing Christians. We are not in medieval or pre-modern Europe, where "the Jews killed Jesus" was incitement to murder. We are in the United States, where most Christians who believe we are "doomed" will figure it's just our dumb choice, and the absolute worst that will happen is that some of them will try to convert us. So what? The correct answer of an American Jew to a proposal to convert is a polite but firm "No, thank you."

It is our own obligation as Jews to provide spiritual sustenance for others of us, and any Jew's conversion from Judaism represents our own failure, not some kind of evil behavior on the part of the Christians. We are blessed with freedom in this country, and every Jew has a choice to remain a Jew or not. Our strategy for preventing conversion, loss of affiliation, and intermarriage should be to support Jewish education and outreach, organizations like the National Jewish Outreach Program, and others groups that offer sustenance to Jews and help them choose to remain Jewish.

What makes the charge of "hatred" levied by Rabbi Herzfeld even worse is that the Christian view that acceptance of Jesus is necessary for salvation is not based on hatred of Jews at all. It's based on a desire to show Jews and other non-believers in Jesus what Christians see as the truth. It's based on faith -- and love -- even if, in our opinion, it is profoundly mistaken. When Ryan Church said, "I was like, man, if they only knew. Other religions don't know any better. It's up to us to spread the word," he was trying to say that he wanted to help others. And he's not coming after us with a sword, or even a baseball bat. (Nor, might I add, is his rhetoric even remotely similar to the rhetoric of another large religion, of which a non-trivial number of adherents actually is trying to kill us.)

It's embarrassing to me, and I think it should be embarrassing to Jews generally, that Ryan Church was forced to apologize. So let me say this to him:

I apologize to you for the fact that a prominent Jew castigated you for believing in your faith. I don't agree with your religious doctrine, but I'm happy you believe in it. I think Jews are better off in this country when Christians believe in their religion than when everyone is secular; secularism is a greater threat to Jewish continuity than religious pluralism. Irving Kristol once wrote that the danger facing American Jews today is not that Christians want to persecute them, but that Christians want to marry their children. So I'm glad your Jewish girlfriend is no longer your girlfriend, because I hope that she, like all Jews, can find a Jewish soulmate to marry. Nothing against you; I hope you find a wonderful Christian woman to take as a wife. Anyway, I think you're painfully aware by now that we Jews are very sensitive about being told we are doomed, even though that's what you believe. But if we are doomed, it's not for the reason you say; it's because we're not doing enough to keep Jews Jewish. Please keep believing what you believe in. We'll just have to agree to disagree on our faith. Oh, and by the way, the answer is "No, thank you."