The Tim Tebow-Hating Rabbi and Progressive Bigotry

We all have to count our blessings. One of my new blessings is that I do not attend Temple Beth El, in Stamford Ct., because the last person I would want teaching my children is their rabbi, Joshua Hammerman.

Hammerman is behaving like a different kind of “RINO,” a Rabbi In Name Only. Writing in this week’s issue of the progressive New York Jewish Week, Hammerman has displayed bigotry unworthy of the pulpit. (His article has since been pulled from the website. If you still wish to read the rabbi’s original post, you can check out the cached version here.)

Hammerman admits he has a Tim Tebow problem:

A poster boy of the Christian right, Tebow steadfastly thanks Jesus after every game and, while in college, often inscribed biblical messages on his eye paint. Homeschooled in Florida, this child of missionaries turned down his selection as a Playboy All American because it was, well, Playboy. His trademark prayerful touchdown celebration (imagine Rodin’s “Thinker” on bended knee, or your grandfather davening Tachanun with a football) has become a verb.

Funny — whenever something really special happens in my life I pause and say a Jewish prayer.

The prayer translates to:

Blessed are you, our God, who rules the universe, granting us life, sustaining us and enabling us to reach this day.

I wonder if that would scare the rabbi? If not, than it’s clear that Tim Tebow scares him solely because he is Christian.

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As if to gain sympathy from his progressive audience, the rabbi mentions that there is a YouTube video that makes fun of the fact that Tebow’s mom was sick during her pregnancy with him and she refused to abort her son despite doctor’s recommendation.

Now tiny Tim has grown and is on track to possibly appear in this season’s Super Bowl-on the field-and that is what scares me.

In this country, nothing, not even God, is more popular than football. Even in the wake of a summer long labor dispute, 23 of the 25 most watched TV programs this fall have been NFL games. When you combine the religion that is football with the religion that is religion, the mix can be dangerously flammable.

Really now–we are taught that God is everywhere, so why can’t He be on a football field (and why can’t He play for my Jets)? And what exactly does the rabbi mean by “flammable?” Observant people will start riots when talking football and religion? How ignorant and biased can the rabbi be? I have discussed football in shul over some whiskey after Shabbos services, and I can promise you there has never been a flammable situation (OK–there was that one time when one of the kids dropped a Havdalah candle during services, but that was scarcely anything to worry about).

Next Sunday, the Broncos host the New England Patriots in a game coveted so much by the networks that NBC and CBS sparred in unprecedented fashion over who would get to broadcast it. And why not? While the Patriots are adored by their fans (myself included), to many nationwide they are regarded as the Sons of Darkness, with their perfectly coiffed Hollywood quarterback and their brilliant – one might say diabolical – hoodie-clad coach. And, oh yes, the most identifiably Jewish owner in sports. Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Bob Kraft are all upstanding citizens, moral exemplars in their home communities, but in this Oberammergau of the Rockies, they are playing the role of Pilate.

What does the religion of the Patriots’ owner have to do with anything? No one would have ever come up with the silly idea that this was some sort of Good Friday passion play until the rabbi brought it up. It is beyond ignorant. Besides, Hammerman writes for the NEW YORK Jewish Week. The Patriots are the enemy (and Belichick is a deserter who has proven to be a cheater, also).

People are always looking for signs of God’s beneficence, and a victory by the Orange Crush over the blue-clad Patriots, from the bluest of blue states, will give fodder to a Christian revivalism that has already turned the Republican presidential race into a pander-thon to social conservatives, rekindling memories of those cultural icons of the ’80s, the Moral Majority and “Hee Haw.”

Rabbis are supposed to unify their congregations, and preach tolerance of other opinions. In the picture above, Hammerman is preaching at a tolerance for Muslims rally. Why wont he display the same tolerance for Christians or other people who disagree with his progressive stances? Maybe he should step back and think for a moment. Many Orthodox Jewish synagogues preach the same socially conservative beliefs as those he disparages, and many in the Conservative movement–of which he is a member–also share some of those beliefs (like me, for example).

The culture wars are alive and well, and, if the current climate in Washington is any indicator, the motors are being revved up for what will undoubtedly be the most cantankerous Presidential campaign ever. When supposedly well-educated candidates publicly question overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change and evolution and then gain electoral traction by fabricating conspiracies about a war on Christmas, these are not rational times.

There is a line in the Torah that says: “It [the Torah] is Not in Heaven” (Deuteronomy 30:12). It has been interpreted, according to rabbinic tradition, to mean that even though the Torah was sent from God, we are able to question and interpret it according to certain guidelines. The Talmud, one of the central books of Jewish law, is a series of arguments between learned people about what is the correct law.

Now, if the not-in-Heaven Torah and Jewish law in general are made up of differing arguments between scholars, how can Hammerman put down people who question a scientific theory that, the last time I checked, was not a sacred part of the Jewish canon?

Into the middle of it all rides Tebow. Absolutely confident that God is on his side, he comes across as a humbler version of the biblical Joseph, who, in this week’s Torah portion, audaciously lays claim to being the Chosen One, and then goes out and proves it. Tebow’s sanctimonious God-talk has led even pious peers like Kurt Warner to suggest that he cool it. Joseph could have used the same coaching.

Tebow believes that God is on his side in life–not in football! And if the rabbi would examine his prayer books instead of his progressive politics, he would realize that Judaism teaches the exact same thing:

I admire much of what Tebow stands for. His mom’s decision to risk her own life rather than abort her fetus flies against my own – and Judaism’s values, [Please don’t pretend you speak for all Judaism–because you are wrong!]- but neither am I pro-choice in all cases. His story is so improbable that if he were to win it all, a part of me would be wondering whether there is a Purpose behind it, just as I saw a divine hand in the equally unbelievable Red Sox victory of 2004. And it makes me wonder whether other Jews, the ones who don’t happen to have advanced degrees in religion and a few decades of rabbinic experience, might be even more seduced by this unfolding drama. Will legions of Southern Baptist missionaries hit the college campuses the very next day, spreading this new gospel of Tim? Already there is a “Jews for Tebow” Facebook page.

First of all, the Red Sox victory in 2004 had nothing to do with God. But the 1969 and 1996 Mets, as well as the Jets’ win in Super Bowl III, were clearly divinely inspired.

Tebow used to wear eye black citing Ephesians 2:8-10, which states, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith (in Jesus).” His avenue to salvation is not available to those Jews who wish to remain Jewish.

So? That is his belief, just as we believe that when the Moshiach (Messiah) comes to the Temple in Jerusalem when it is rebuilt, we will celebrate the Festivals as they did 2000-plus years ago. No Gentiles partaking of the Pascal lamb, but that doesn’t really matter because we also believe that “on that day the Lord will be one and His name one.” Does that mean Christians should be afraid of me? I don’t think so.

Unlike some other blue-staters, I do not fear people of faith. I fear people of certainty. The worldwide struggle going on right now is not between good and evil, but between certainty and doubt. It cuts across denominational lines: Progressive and Modern Orthodox Jews lie on one side of the divide, joining mainline Christians and moderate Muslims; and those on the other side are also Jews, Christians and Muslims; the people of certainty.

Of course it is between good and evil, rabbi. Progressives like you think that man should be dependent on government. Progressives preach against God because the government does not like competition. Progressives hate nothing more than when people wear their faith on their sleeves–if they are conservatives or share conservative beliefs.

Tim Tebow is an example for all–Jew, Muslim and Christian. Jews are taught that everything that God gives us is a blessing. Tebow is a living example of that. One of the first prayers Jews are supposed to make in the morning is thanking the Lord for making us wash our hands. Now, if we can thank God for commanding us to wash our hands, what is wrong with thanking God for scoring a touchdown in the NFL?

For me, only one thing is certain. On Sunday, I’ll be praying for the Patriots.

It is strange that Hammerman’s column in the Jewish Week is called “on one foot”–an homage to an old story about the great sage, Rabbi Hillel.

Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shammai were the two great scholars of their time, yet they were diametrically opposed in their approach. Hillel was known for his kindness, his gentleness, and his concern for humanity. Rabbi Shammai was an engineer, known for the strictness of his views. Throughout the Talmud, it is Rabbi Hillel’s approach that wins the argument.

The Talmud tells of a Gentile who came to Shammai saying that he would convert to Judaism if Shammai could teach him the whole Torah in the time that he could stand on one foot. Shammai drove him away with a builder’s measuring stick! So that same non-Jew went to Rabbi Hillel, who said: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study it.” And the Gentile did.

If the entire Torah, what we call the Etz Chaim–the Tree of Life–can be condensed into “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor,” maybe that principle is important enough for Rabbi Hammerman to remember when he talks about observant Christians like Tim Tebow.

Sorry, rabbi, but as a New Yorker and a Jets fan I will be rooting for the Broncos. I will also be praying that you remember what you were taught in the seminary about religious tolerance.

Now if the Broncos play the Jets in the NFL Playoffs, Mr. Tebow, I will have to apologize in advance–I will be praying you lose.

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