Super Bowl Sunday of the Torah Scholars
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
The call came more than a month ago. It was a bit of an odd request,
and at the time I didn't associate it with any particular date or event.
The person explained that there was going to be a large chavrusa [study-partner]
learning program in Brooklyn on a Sunday evening three weeks hence. He
invited me to spend a few hours learning in the beit midrash. I
told him "If my calendar is empty and my study-partner will be there,
It would be no big deal. The whole trip to Flatbush on a car-free Belt
Parkway would take a half-hour at the most. Also by then I realized that
it was Super Bowl Sunday, and it's hard to make appointments for fundraising
or plan a dinner or a simcha (celebratory event) in the Five Towns (part
of Nassau County on Long Island, NY) during those few hours. They were
calling the learning program "Super Seder" because it was being
held on the same evening as what is probably one of the most watched annual
sporting events in the USA, the American Football final championship round,
the Super Bowl.
I had no regrets about accepting the invitation, nor did I care that
for some reason my name was in the paper. I wasn't speaking, or performing.
I wasn't even throwing a football. I really didn't expect to see a lot
of people there. I figured that if people were die-hard sports enthusiasts
they wouldn't come, and if they didn't care about these types of events,
why would that particular Sunday evening be different from any other?
I anticipated that there would be 50 or so guys learning in the Agudah
of Avenue L, the shul that was hosting the learning program in
the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. I was shocked when I walked in the beis
midrash (study hall); it was filled with almost 500 people of all
ages! When I commented to no one in particular, "Wow! I really didn't
expect such a crowd," someone said, "Why don't you go upstairs?"
When I reached the top floor, I was (you should pardon the pun) floored.
The ballroom was packed wall-to-wall with men and boys.
I don't know how many of the participants, either upstairs or downstairs,
would have actually watched the ballgame, but I don't think that was the
point. It wasn't only about diverting attention on a night when most of
America is focused on frivolity. Rather, it was a unique and auspicious
opportunity to transform a time that is designated for misappropriated
energy and turn it into holiness.
I understood that for some of the adult men, this was not an easy task.
To many people, sporting events and spectating them is a social must.
For others, it's a business opportunity, and if not for an exceedingly
vulgar half-time show, would it really be so terrible to watch a bunch
of non-Jews from Kansas City (Missouri) and California beat each other
Like it or not, America not only runs on Dunkin' Donuts. It also runs
on sports. Billions of dollars are spent on ads, promotions, apparel and
other peripherals driving home the message that watching the Super Bowl
is a sacred duty in American culture.
In the Talmudic Tractate Megillah, it tells us that one day in
the future, the stadiums and sports arenas of Edom will be converted into
places where Jewish notables will teach Torah in public. I always wondered
why it was that the very places in which the crowds cheered wildly and
enthusiastically would be converted to amphitheaters of Torah. But perhaps
Rabbi Eli Mansour put it best in his address to the crowd in the shul
that evening: "The hands of Esav that are very busy on the field
and at the casinos and at parties need the counteraction of the voice
It is certainly not my job to judge any of the enthusiasts or celebrants
at sports events. The various articles, commentaries and even halachic
analyses of the recent and untimely passing of a basketball star in some
parts of the Orthodox-Jewish media bear testimony to the fact that it
has even seeped into the consciousness of Torah-observant Jews.
At the same time, things have certainly changed since I was a kid. With
the immorality and decadence of sports figures making headlines each day,
the hero worship of the past generation is almost nonexistent.
But, having lived in Pittsburgh for several years, I recognize that loyalties
for beloved teams die hard. Upon meeting a native of the city, Jew or
gentile, I always get a smile when I add, "How 'bout them Steelers?"
after my initial hello.
Shortly after my mother's passing in 2015, I led the Mincha (afternoon
prayer) in a local synagogue. A fellow mourner who also prayed there sometimes,
a wonderful doctor who had gone to a university in western Missouri, mentioned
that he was sure I'd noticed the poor state of the extra-large siddur
(prayer book) designated for the prayer leader. He asked me if I would
go 50/50 on a new one with him. For a little more than ten dollars it
was a bargain and I pulled out the cash on the spot. He assured me that
he would buy the siddur and inscribe my mother's name in it, along with
his dedication. Done.
A few weeks later I returned to the shul and merited to again lead the
prayer service. Right there on the lectern was the new large siddur, inscribed
with the following dedication:
In memory of Rebbetzin Tzirel Kamenetzky and in honor of the victory
of the Kansas City Royals over the New York Mets."
Only in America.
Source: "Ami Magazine" of February 12, 2020, pages 108,
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky is the head of Yeshiva Toras Chaim Bais Bimyamin
at South Shore, in Hewlitt, NY, and the author of the Parsha Parables