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Dodger Star Will Observe, and Play on, Yom Kippur

September 24, 2004|Steve Springer and Jason Reid | Times Staff Writers

SAN DIEGO — After wrestling for weeks with an impending collision of faith and work, Dodger slugger Shawn Green said Thursday that he would play in one of two crucial games scheduled this weekend during Yom Kippur, Judaism's holiest observance.

"I talked with family and friends and got advice from a lot of people. When it came down to it, I realized that I just had to do what I feel is right and what's most consistent with my beliefs," Green said. "Everyone has different ways of expressing their beliefs. For me as a Jewish person and a teammate, I feel that this is the right decision for me."

Green, one of the Dodgers' biggest stars, will play tonight and sit out Saturday's 1 p.m. game at San Francisco as the Dodgers seek to maintain their narrow hold on first place in the National League West. The Dodgers, who have not reached the playoffs since 1996, have spent much of the season in first place, fueling the hopes of fans who have turned out at Dodger Stadium in near-record numbers.

Green's decision recalls one by Sandy Koufax 39 years ago in which he sat out the first game of the World Series, also because of Yom Kippur.

The holy day begins at sundown tonight and ends at sundown Saturday, a period that Jewish law says should be devoted to prayer and self-analysis. Jews are required to abstain from work and any forms of pleasure, including eating and drinking. Green said he would begin fasting at sundown tonight.

Because Yom Kippur often arrives after the baseball season is over, and because there are only about 10 Jews in the major leagues, few players ever face such a wrenching choice.

This week, Green had told teammates and club officials he probably would sit out only Saturday, then wavered, suggesting he might skip both games. "I'm trying to do the right thing, and it's hard to know what that is," he said Wednesday. But in a news conference at Petco Park before Thursday night's game with the San Diego Padres, Green said his final decision was the correct one.

"I struggled with it. I definitely learned a lot through the experience, how important it is to do what you feel in your heart," he said. "Everyone can have their opinions, but religion is your relationship with God and how you want to handle it."

Although there has been support for Green's decision in the Jewish community, it has not been universal.

"I respect Mr. Green's commitment to the team," said conservative Rabbi Charles Savenor, associate dean of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. "It's impressive to see his connection to the club, but I implore him to reconsider his choice as to how to observe Yom Kippur. There are so few opportunities that people have in this world to make a public statement as to who they are and what they are. This is half a statement, and half a statement doesn't really say anything. It sort of misses the point."

Although not responding directly to Savenor's comments, Green said he was prepared for criticism.

"I accept that," he said. "If someone is going to be upset with me handling this in a way that reflects my views and my religious beliefs, then so be it. I can't worry about that."

Others were more accepting.

"Who are we to judge another person's decisions? Each person has to grapple with what their faith means to them," said Rabbi Richard Camras of Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills, a conservative congregation.

"As a fellow human being, it's not for me to pass judgment. As a rabbi, I have to say that our tradition requires one on Yom Kippur to be in the synagogue with their fellow congregants. I think Shawn Green has been clearly conflicted."

Said Rabbi Asher Biron of the orthodox Valley Torah High School in North Hollywood, "We would have preferred that Shawn hit one out of the park by totally observing the sanctity of the 25-hour period of Yom Kippur, but credit must nevertheless be given to him for at least hitting a sacrifice fly.... Green has shown, on his level, commitment to the holiness of the day and identification with his people."

Green also received approval from his teammates. "I support him 100%," pitcher Eric Gagne said. "If he would have sat out two games, that's also fine with me. You cannot make a judgment on family and religion."

Added third baseman Adrian Beltre: "Everyone understands how hard this was for Greenie. He wants to help the team, but this is something that's very personal for him. He's a big part of the lineup, so it's good to have him out there for that first game. We need him."

Green, a 31-year-old outfielder-first baseman, has been an important part of the team's revival under owner Frank McCourt, who bought the team from News Corp. in January. Green has 27 home runs, including a dramatic blast Sunday with two outs in the ninth inning and a no-ball, two-strike count that beat Colorado, 7-6. Although Green's home run total is far short of the club-record 49 he hit in 2001, it represents a rebound from last season, when, plagued by an ailing shoulder, he hit 19.

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