Recent false Messiahs: Shabbtai Zvi, Jacob Frank and Johnny Damon. Let me explain.

A Jewschool exclusive, written by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer. (See below.)
It is clear to any baseball fan, and to anyone with a sense of history, that the Red Sox are the Jews, and the Yankees are Ancient Rome, Assyria, or pick your classic nation-state villain. The Yankees are a world-class dynasty, always pull it out, conquer the world with their braggadocio. And the Red Sox are the band of rebels that always find a way to come close to redemption, but blow it in the end. Think Bar Kochba: sure they attain independence for a few years (win the division title) but when it comes to restoring the monarchy (World Series), not a chance.
Until 2004. That year was “next year.” The first World Series victory since 1918. It was the year I got married, and my brother joked in his toast (in mid-July), that I am a true-believer, and “this is the year” for the Sox. But it turned out to really be the year: Johnny Damon and the Sox crew
pulled off the greatest baseball comeback of all time, down 3-0 against the Yankees, with perhaps the most exciting week of baseball yet.
Yet here we are, still living in an unredeemed world. How can it be? As a kid, religion and baseball were always intertwined. I got Bar Mitzvahed during the 1986 World Series, when the Sox lost to the Mets in stunning fashion. That was the year Peter Gammons wrote a column that began: “How will it feel if the Red Sox ever win?…How in God’s name will it feel?”
It felt great. Incredible, in fact. Celebrating at a “Red Sox bar” in the heart of NYC, all the fans finally coming out of hiding. But what do you do afterward? This is baseball, after all, so shouldn’t everything change when the Sox win? I find myself wondering: Is it better to be crushed by the near-misses or to be lulled by victory?
There are those who are getting used to the Sox winning ways. Time to cast off the tragic New England mindset, and grow into a dynasty. But that ignores the essence of the Sox, their Jewish neshama. As Mike Barnicle once wrote: “Baseball is not a life and death matter, but the Red Sox are.”Are they, though, if they turn into Rome?
So I am watching this World Series with confusion. Of course I am pulling for the Sox, and I am astounded at their comeback against Cleveland. But when the New York Times publishes a column calling the Red Sox the new Yankees, all cannot be right. The cosmos seems out of order. One can only hope that true Messianic redemption will feel different.
Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, a Sox fan living in exlile, is executive director of Mechon Hadar: An Institute for Prayer, Personal Growth and Jewish Study. Mechon Hadar has launched the first full-time independent egalitarian yeshiva in the United States: Yeshivat Hadar To see some highlights of our 2007 summer, click here.

10 thoughts on “Recent false Messiahs: Shabbtai Zvi, Jacob Frank and Johnny Damon. Let me explain.

  1. It is clear to any baseball fan, and to anyone with a sense of history, that the Red Sox are the Jews, and the Yankees are Ancient Rome, Assyria, or pick your classic nation-state villain.
    You lost me at “hello.”

  2. Is “independent” a necessary qualifier? Is it not also the first full-time egalitarian yeshiva (not counting rabbinical schools)?

  3. It is the first full time egalitarian yeshiva in the US. The Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem was, I believe, the first full time egalitarian yeshiva. As its name indicates, it is affiliated with the Conservative Movement. Yeshivat Hadar is not affiliated with any Jewish movement. Hence the “independent”.

  4. First of all, kuods to Elie for articulating my own sense of ambivalence about the radical change in fortune that the Sox have found since 2004. But I must challenge Uzi – what is the difference between a program calling itself a yeshiva that runs for two-months during the summer and a full-time beit-midrash program run at a summer camp (e.g. Lishma at Ramah-CA, North Woods Kollel at Ramah-WI)? I understand how the programs themselves are quite different, but I think the “independent” qualifier is there for a reason, as the beit-midrash programs take place at Conservative camps, even if they may embrace a different affiliations and/or observance practices.

  5. Andy,
    I agree that the reason for the “independent” was to indicate that it is not affiliated or funded with the help of any specific movement. Of course it is a yeshiva. I think one difference between a beit midrash program and a full time yeshiva is the level of immersion. It also seems that the programs run out of the Ramah camps view their beit midrash programs as one aspect of the entire camp community. If they really thought they were creating yeshivot at camp why not call it that?

  6. Which history is that? the one where they sell their best player to put on a broadway show? the one where they were the last team to integrate? the one where they spent 51.11111111 million dollars on a three starter before he threw a pitch in the majors?
    Please. This joke is long over and wasn’t funny the first time I heard it. No one was making this crap up about the Blue Jays being Rome when it was their turn to knock the crap out of the also-rans on Yawkey Way in the late 80s and early 90s. If you’re going to talk about having a sense of history, at least know your own.
    I’m sorry winning a world series has caused you to question your identity. To me, that’s the biggest sign that your analogy of which team represents what is, at the very least, ass backwards or total bullshit. Win or lose, I’m a Yankees fan, and no matter what, I’m a Jew.

  7. “get those niggers off the field!” that’s the legacy of the red sox– it was shouted by a member of sox management during jackie robinson’s tryout in 1945. there are other episodes that are emblematic of the institutional racism of the red sox: the 12-year gap between the robinson’s debut and the first black boston player, the refusal of prominent black free agents to consider boston as an option, the odd lack of interest in signing willie mays, and so on. the pervasive racism of the red sox stands in stark contrast to my perception of what i consider to be the open-mindedness of jews, and it gravely disappoints me to see someone link the two.
    in addition, when jews have gone into hiding, it has generally *not* been for trivial reasons. sox fans hid because they were ashamed of their team. jews hid because they risked persecution and death. if sox fans reveled in the 2004 victory after hiding for the previous 86 years, i’m not sure that they deserve the joy that comes with winning. it’s easy to root for a team when it wins, and to hide when it loses.
    i’m a jew even when the yankees are losing 95 games, and i’m a yankee fan even when my religion is being misappropriated.

  8. As an NL fan, the Red Sox are basically the same as the Yankees as far as any “evil empire” talk goes. At least the Yankees make their players abide by some code of conduct. Manny Rameriez watching his home run leave the ballpark to pull his team within 4 runs isn’t him being a loveable scamp, it’s him being a dick. I would be embarassed if he were a Jew.
    If the Yankees are Rome, the Red Sox are Constantinople. Don’t give me any of this Red Sox are underdogs crap, they buy their championships, just the same as the Yankees. At least Yankees fans are willing to admit it.

  9. Actually the better analogy to the Sox rise in power is not to a messianic age, but to the very real establishment of the state of Israel. Jews have had to adjust an identity based in large part on powerlessness to the idea of Jewish power. Similarly, Red Sox Nation has to adjust to the fact that just as its World Series exile is over, it can no longer base its identity on its victimhood. But just as being stateless and powerless isn’t the sum total of what it means to be a Jew, getting close and losing isn’t the sum total of what it means to be a Red Sox fan.
    On the other hand, my team, the Phillies (10,028 losses and counting), will continue to give its fans plenty of masochistic pleasures.

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