The Super Bowl Maariv

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On the morning of the recent Super Bowl football game, a shul in New Jersey sent out this e-mail to its membership:

There will be a minyan for Maariv at __________ Synagogue (name deliberately omitted) at ten minutes after the beginning of the Super Bowl halftime.

How should one react to this? One could be benevolent , in the spirit of the Berditchever Rebbe who, paraphrasing himself, might have said: “O L-rd, how wondrous is Thy people. Even in the midst of the Super Bowl, they think of Thee!”

Or one could be severe and paraphrase Isaiah 1:12: “Mi bikesh zos miyedchem — who asks this of you, saith the Lo-d, to trample on My holy ground and daven with trivialities in your heart!”

Or one could simply laugh, in the spirit of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “L-rd, what fools these mortals be.”

This is one multiple choice where one could choose all three and still not be entirely wrong.

To be benevolent: This is a praiseworthy attempt to assure a minyan for Maariv. The membership is watching the football game (together with 111 million other people) and unless an accommodation is made, there will be no minyan. No one is asked to make the supreme sacrifice of missing part of the game for Maariv, so halftime is the best time — even though that might involve missing part of the halftime show. (But if one doesn’t dawdle over Maariv , even that segment might be salvaged …)

The severe view: The Super Bowl Maariv subtly suggests that while davening is always primary, on this day the game is primary and the davening secondary. The shul is in effect saying: Sorry, G-d, you will have to wait for Your Maariv until they finish the first half of the game.

This stringent approach would point to an obvious misunderstanding of the nature of prayer. Prayer is not simply a matter of reciting the proper words; it is a conversation with our Creator. Such a conversation cannot be conducted with hurried, unintelligible mumblings, and certainly not with minds cluttered by images of forward passes, interceptions, downfield blocks, and sacking the quarterback. This is a far cry from the Talmudic chassidim harishonim who would spend an hour preparing for prayer , and an hour afterwards to descend from prayer’s spiritual heights (Brachos 30b). And Shakespeare’s elfish Puck might add: it is not evil to daven to G-d while minds are on the game, but only a foolish mortal would make claim to kavanah.

Super Bowl Maariv involves an even deeper issue. The perennial challenge of the Jew is to be a child of Avraham HaIvriIvri meaning “the other side” — while living within the world, on “this side.” We live in two worlds but we are bidden to know that our essence — made up of our values and mitzvos — is on the “other side.” We cannot give both worlds equal time and equal standing. As Megillah 6a says: “If Caesaria is up, Jerusalem is down, and vice versa …”

Sadly, for most contemporary Jews there is no two-world tension at all. Bereft of even elementary Jewish learning and commitment, they are not aware of the existence of “the other side.” Jewish ignorance, intermarriage, even denial of one’s Jewishness have been the tragic results. Reform and Conservative movements attempted to salvage parts of our heritage, but they tried too hard to accommodate “this side,” and inevitably these movements became, sadly, ideologically bankrupt.

Even within Orthodoxy there is a divide as to how best to address the challenge, ranging from a) those who totally reject “this side” and strive for total isolation, to b) those who attempt valiantly to maintain the primacy of the “other side” while participating fully in “this side.” These brave souls traverse a narrow ridge between the abyss of assimilation on the one hand and the mountain of total separation on the other. This is a noble effort, but it comes with a warning sign: “This side” is very attractive and enticing, and if one is not careful with his footing, ludicrous consequences await — such as davening Maariv with a minyan without sacrificing the Super Bowl.

The Berditchever might say: this is a commendable attempt to create a living synthesis. But someone pretending to be Isaiah might counter: such attempts can create modern observant Jews who are hybrids of two irreconcilable worlds, a fusion that becomes confusion.

Question: If you were rav of that shul, what would you do? Adjust Maariv time to assure a minyan, or refuse to change the time and thereby educate that davening is not subservient to football? 

This article first appeared in Mishpacha.

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24 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    I once discussed with a friend that the Nefillim living before the great Mabul might have had something in common with the football Giants and Titans. He pointed out that the shoresh (3-letter root) of Nefillim is NFL.

  2. Shmuel says:

    The letter i sent to Mishpacha:

    As a congregational rabbi and a great admirer of Rabbi Feldman’s illustrious career, I would like to comment on his questions regarding the “Superbowl Maariv.” To me, Rabbi Feldman’s article is surprising and appears to be “much ado about nothing.” Rabbi Feldman questions the propriety of the Superbowl Maariv, and the “fusion that becomes confusion” in the world of such minyanim while he has no problem using the phrasing of Shakespeare to make his point. Isn’t the fusion of quoting the likes of the Berditchever, the Navi Isaiah, and Shakespear’s “elfish” Puck to make that point equally confusing? 

    I would imagine that his reply would be that while Shakespeare’s words – clearly from “this side” as he puts it – have meaning worth drawing from, the Superbowl does not. Is that so clear to him? Might that be the more relevant question? Whether following professional teams and sports a “good thing” or a “bad thing” seems to be the question taken for granted while the Maariv question seems to require “second thoughts.” Should frum Jews be watching the game in the first place?

    If the answer is not a clear no (which I think your article intimates), then how does this dvar reshus play differently than the countless other scheduled items in the Jewish community calendar that are to be “followed by maariv?” [Is there a difference between the hastily convened maariv at a wedding attempted over the din of music and conversation? Is there some saving grace to minyanim formed on a bus on the way to or from work (when zmanei tefilah are not the issue)?] Why are we criticizing this shul, this community and this particular manifestation of the maariv problem? Unfortunately, I fear that I know the answer…

    And if the answer is yes, and the problem is the Superbowl itself, then shouldn’t that – with the anecdotally large amount of frum jews who watch the game – be the discussion appropriate for Mishpacha’s pages? [I am sure I am not the only one who noticed the “super” sales on take out food advertised in heimishe weeklies that weekend..]  I think the answers to Rabbi Feldman’s question can only come after this inward-focused discussion, and certainly should come before criticizing others. Rabbi Feldman doth protest too much, methinks. 

  3. Almoni says:

    Shlomo (above) gets it right on the nose. Scheduling minyanim to accomodate schedules and events is not “subservience”, its called “reality.” The same is true with the length of davening, by the way. In my community the rabbi of a shul complained that so many of the members are davening mincha/maariv at another shul, while leaving their own shul with often just a bare minyan. The obvious answer he received from many was that in the other shul they davened maariv right after mincha, with only a very short break. Whereas in his shul, they were machmir to wait nearly 20 minutes till it was halachic night. When people work all day they dont want to spend an hour in shul for mincha-maariv. The shul that recognizes this is not making tefillah “subservient” to family time, it’s just being smart.

  4. Robert Lebovits says:

    For all you NY/NJ residents rooting for the Giants: I would imagine you would not have wanted to tamper with maariv at all! After all, He Who Created the World is also in charge of who wins the Super Bowl. Wouldn’t you want Him on your side?

  5. Shlomo says:

    When we schedule shacharit for 8am instead of vatikin, are we making shacharit subservient to sleep?
    When we schedule weekday shacharit for 7am instead of 8am, or mincha for 1:15pm instead of mincha ketana, are we making the prayers subservient to work?
    When we schedule weekday mincha/maariv immediately adjacent to each other, without delaying maariv until zman kriyat shema, and certainly not taking the 2 hours in between that the gemara was talking about, are we making the prayers subservient to our laziness?

    Technically the answer to each of these could be yes. But you’d have to be an incredibly out of touch rabbi, in pretty much any community in the world, to get rid of all minyans that don’t fit these criteria. Maariv during the Super Bowl is no different.

  6. Michael L. says:

    You’re all missing the most important point:

    What time does the tailgate party start at the Siyum HaShas at Met Life Stadium on Aug 1st?

  7. Benjamin E. says:

    To what extent is this about the Superbowl per se and to what extent would it apply equivalently to something some might think of as more neutral or even positive? For instance – suppose it was the State of the Union address, or suppose a child was in some club or activity, the end of which, at some time during the year, conflicted with the earliest Maariv.

    In the first case, would it be seen as bad to delay it to hear the State of the Union address? (And assume the political leanings of the hypothetical president are irrelevant, or assume they are your favorite leanings.)

    In the second case, if someone simply chose to attend a later Maariv minyan as a result of needing to pick up their child from the activity, would we tell that man or woman that (s)he is effectively saying, “Sorry, God, you will have to wait for your Maariv until my five-year-old finishes their activity?” Or would we find this an acceptable synthesis of two conflicting priorities? Would it make a difference what the activity was? Would it matter if it was (A) a chess club, (B) a mishna club, or (C) volunteering at a homeless shelter?

    I suspect our feeling about all of these would be different and fall on a spectrum of sorts rather than being black or white (i.e., rather than reading their efforts in a binary fashion as either a pure, honorable synthesis or as a despicable displacement of God), and the question is where this falls in that spectrum.

  8. cvmay says:

    “but honestly, if you are chareidi , you don’t watch the superbowl even bedieved”

    Hello, this is year 2012 and your info is so off base (or goal line)!

  9. lacosta says:

    more a west coast -mincha- problem….

    but honestly, if you are chareidi , you don’t watch the superbowl even bedieved

    and if you are MO, you won’t miss it even bedieved…

    so isn’t this just another attempt to slam the whole derech of MO jews?
    they are NOT giving up university, culture, tv, sports, movies etc …

    maybe that’s why it’s just easier to call them outside the Border and attack everything they do–the Game they watch is treif and so is their davening……

  10. Dovid says:

    I think Michael makes an excellent point. In today’s absurd reality of everyone trying to out-frum the next guy and arrogant condescension toward other hashkafos, we can use all the Berditchevism we can get. Let’s try to get in the habit at looking favorably at other frum kehilos without having to make an editorial comment about everything.

  11. Yehoshua Mandelcorn says:

    “Isaiah 1:12: “Mi bikesh zos miyedchem — who asks this of you, saith the Lo-d, to trample on My holy ground”
    This was directed at religious service being used to cover up total corruption, not at a lack of diligence in religious worship itself.

  12. dr. bill says:

    i attended a lecture at Cardoza comparing doctrines of daat torah, papal infallibility and instances where secular legal systems presumed some level of absoluteness. it was moved up 1/2 hour (from 5-7 to 430 to 630) not to conflict with the superbowl. i commented to one of the speakers that I only saw a few people rush for the doors to catch the superbowl. it took me 1 hour to drive home. my son gave a shiur during half-time on one of my pet topics; i was told he was clearer than me. so I do not claim to be a representative family. That said, maariv in the NY area could easily have been scheduled before the game (and undoubtedly was – check the calendar of the unnamed shul) or certainly after the game. those times, roughly 545 and 10, are more usual than half-time round 8pm. as well, those who suspect an attempt to avoid the half-time show are probably correct. at worse, it may have replaced the 10pm minyan; not the worse sin in the world. again a rabbi wisely getting people to daven with a minyan if the game ran late.

  13. Aryeh L. says:

    G-d forbid, some frum Yids enjoy a football game. And oye, the bittel Torah!

  14. Michael says:

    My take – Klal Yisrael today doesn’t have enough talmidim of the Berdichiver, but we have a lot who embrace the stringent approach. I’m not sure who is right or wrong in this case, but orienting people to the Berdichiver’s perspective can only do Klal Yisrael well.

  15. Mark says:

    We watched the Super Bowl *AT* shul on their large screen. We all davened Ma’ariv before the game started. When halftime began, we switched the video feed to the Yeshiva University halftime show that consisted of a few short divrei Torah, and then had a raffle for all the children present.

  16. shmuel says:

    I think I would take an in between position –have ma’ariv at the normally scheduled time, but not object if those who insist on not missing the game want (quietly) to have a separate minyan that accomodates the game’s schedule. Kind of like a lichatchila and a bidieved.

  17. joel rich says:

    First of all there was plenty of time to daven maariv prior to the game or after for those who wanted to do so -but then again I’m guessing that was not the main point of this post since I assume there would be no objection to announcing that a guest speaker was coming to town and maariv would be davened right after the presentation.

    More to the point you mention “Super Bowl Maariv involves an even deeper issue. The perennial challenge of the Jew is to be a child of Avraham HaIvri — Ivri meaning “the other side” — while living within the world, on “this side.” We live in two worlds but we are bidden to know that our essence — made up of our values and mitzvos — is on the “other side.” We cannot give both worlds equal time and equal standing. As Megillah 6a says: “If Caesaria is up, Jerusalem is down, and vice versa …”

    I would suggest we are children of Avraham who recognized himself as ger v’toshav anochi – as Rav JB Soloveitchik pointed out we are both citizens and strangers and it is not a zero sum game-we have responsibilities in both worlds. It certainly is easier to retreat into the beit medrash but there is a difference of opinion as to whether this is the ratzon hashem. One can then get into the whole is any diversion allowed etc. and why HKB”H created us with a need for relaxation etc.

    So as a long way to a short answer, if my community had a multiplicity of minyanim so that one could catch a maariv easily enough, I would not make a special half time minyan but if the community could only have one minyan, I would always try to schedule it when maximum participation ws possible. And I would continually try to educate my baala battim on the positve use of time and managing multiple priorities. There are rarely easy answers in life.

    KT

  18. Mr. Cohen says:

    Video tape technology makes it easy to record the Super Bowl, and then replay the recording later,
    as many times as desired.

    In other words, a person who wants to watch the Super Bowl does not need to sit in front of
    his television while the game is occurring; he can tape it and watch it at any time.
    Video tape technology offers the additional advantage of permitting viewers to save time
    by fast-forwarding past commercials and boring parts.

    In conclusion, it should not be necessary to delay maariv because of the Super Bowl,
    because Jews should tape the Super Bowl and watch it later.

    PS: I would like to see Rabbi Emanuel Feldman write an article about people who “convert to Judaism”
    because they want to marry a Jew.

  19. Toronto Yid says:

    When I first read the first few lines, I was thinking, “a much more appropriate way to spend that time than watching Madonna’s prizut!”

  20. Michael Feldstein says:

    All this theoretical discussion about the nature of prayer and what we are prioritizing is all very nice and interesting, but ultimately this is a case of getting a minyan or not. Many folks in communities with large Orthodox populations don’t appreciate the struggles that smaller communities have in getting a minyan for maariv. So in a smaller community, if you want to assure a minyan, you schedule maariv at the time that is most convenient and gives you the best chance of success. The rest is commentary.

  21. moi says:

    The answer? Know thy congregation. Even in New Jersey, there is a vast difference between Lakewood and a remote exurb served by a single Chabad House. Even in some densely populated communities, there are shuls that serve the more ardently religious, and those that get known for being kiddush clubs with an optional shacharis.

  22. Bob Miller says:

    Maybe the true aim of scheduling Maariv at halftime was to limit viewing of the notoriously un-tzniusdik alleged kabbalist Madonna and her supporting cast.

  23. DF says:

    The question posits a false premise, that refusing to change the time indicates davening is not subservient to football. By implication, to change the time would mean it is subservient.

    That’s simply not true. In the first case no one ever said they would not daven maariv if the time wasnt changed, they simply (we assume) would not show up for minyan. The two are completely different. Rabbi Feldman himself writes in his “Tales out of shul” that sometimes he would daven mincha and maariv at home. Moreover, this discussion concerns one minyan (and a reshus, at that) for one night of the year. There are no implications whatsover to be drawn from it. Finally, and most importantly, we are speaking here of ballei battim who, on average, work long and hard hours to provide for their families, and pay for the various community institutions. With such limited time, to come to shul on ANY day, let alone the Super Bowl, is a sacrifice. As we all know, there are a lot more orthodox Jews in shul on Shabbos that are nowhere to be seen during the week. The correct instinct here is the first one, ie, an expression of amazement at Jews so committed that even during the biggest national “event” of the year, they are thinking about a maariv minyan. That’s pretty amazing, and that’s where the inquiry should end.

  24. Shalom says:

    Interesting topic! Something you may not have considered is that the Maariv may be an attempt to draw the congregants away from the half-time show, the annual display of prime-time Pritzus at its worst. When the Maariv serves such a holy purpose perhaps it’s better to rearrange the schedule to address the reality. YU had a halftime webcast I believe, a similar effort to make the most of the situation. Thanks for the question!