What’s Jewish About the Super Bowl?

February 2021  Keeping Connected

Dear Friends,

Most months, for 32 years, I have written a newsletter article for whatever congregation I have been serving. That is a lot of articles! Oftentimes I look to the holidays or happenings in the month ahead for inspiration, which is what I did for this February’s Keeping Connected, and as you all know, February 7th is the SUPER BOWL! You might be asking yourself, what’s Jewish about the Super Bowl and why would the rabbi write about it. I often challenge myself to see what’s Jewish about things especially when the connection might not be evident. For instance, what’s Jewish about re-cycling? That’s an easy one, because as a Jewish community we are obligated to perform the mitzvah of Shomrei Adamah; to protect the earth. Here’s another one. What’s Jewish about inviting so many people to your seder that your family thinks you are meshuganah? That’s an easy one as well. As Jews we are commanded with the mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim; to welcome people into your home. Yes, hospitality is a Mitzvah! You might also ask yourself, why is that when someone you love isn’t feeling well, you feel compelled to make chicken soup for them. Of course there is a mitzvah about that as well! Bikkur Cholim is the responsibility of caring for or visiting those who are sick.

Now we will get into metaphors. Why are Israelis compared to cactus plants? I mean whoever thought of a cactus as Jewish? Israelis have been known to be prickly on the outside, because of the challenges they face, but they are also known for being sweet and wonderful on the inside. Now let’s think about a really challenging one. What’s Jewish about turtles? Go ahead, think about it. For me, the turtle is a powerful symbol of a creature that lives a really, really long time. A turtle doesn’t try to get anywhere very fast, it just wants to persevere. So, when times are tough, a turtle knows how to use its shell for protection. The Jewish people are kind of like this. We have been around a really, really long time. We know how to adapt to new environments and cultures to survive and when times are tough, we have a shell of strength that helps us weather challenges.

Let’s get back to the Super Bowl. Once again, I found myself asking, “What’s Jewish about the Super Bowl?”. After some thought I wondered whether the Internet could tell me and I googled that very question. Drum roll please…… Yes, there is a lot of Jewishness about that one day of the year when over 100 million folks watch this competition. Let me share with you some of what I learned.

First, Jews love to play the game, “Who is Jewish?”. We take great pride in knowing factoids like there are 5 Jewish cabinet members currently serving in our government and that at least 20% of Nobel prizes have been awarded to Jews. So, of course we love to kvell about the Jewish owners and players in the NFL; there is Adam Bisnowaty of the Giants who this past summer spoke out strongly against anti-Semitism. There is also Josh Rosen of the Buccaneers and Mitchell and Geoff Schwartz, the first Jewish brothers to play in the NFL since 1923. Mitchell Scwartz won a Super Bowl ring last year with the Chiefs. Of course there are our own NE Patriots, Julian Edelman and owner Robert Kraft.

The next insights about the connection between Judaism and the Super Bowl, I learned from David Kilimnick on the Aish website:

Sunday Games

Every other sport has Friday night and Saturday games. The NFL is the only league that loves Jews… You can celebrate the Shabbat and love professional football. That is why religious Jews don’t like high school football, college football, or badminton.

It is a Holiday

We love days with no work. This is why we love Shabbat and Passover. We would love football more if we got a day off in the middle of the week and it was called Super Bowl Tuesday. Better yet, make it a three day Super Bowl yontif.

There is Food

We go for the party, the dinner. At first Jews had no idea the Super Bowl was about football. They thought it was the celebration of the kitchenware the guacamole was being served in. Last Super Bowl party I went to, most of the people had no idea there was a game going on. They were too involved with the dips. I later asked my friend about the game and he gave me a play by play about the spread, and how the potato salad went perfectly with the cold cuts. Yes. There was brisket. It is a holiday.

Only One Day of Commitment

You can skip the rest of the season and still consider yourself a fan. It’s like not going to shul the whole year and then showing up on Yom Kippur.

Jews Love Tradition

We do the same thing every year. The same holidays, same prayers, same complaints about the rabbi. The Super Bowl is also the same. Every year, right there on the field, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. That is tradition. (Rabbi’s note – Some things have changed!)

We Love Throwing Up Our Hands and Saying “Come On Ref!”

Jews love expressing disappointment. To all of the Rams and Patriot fans out there, half of you will be experiencing this. (Rabbi’s note – this article was for Super Bowl LIII)

Finally, I also love using Gematria, the system of using looking to the numerical equivalents of Jewish letters, to find meaning and insight. So what would Gematria say about this year’s Super Bowl LV? I was drawn to the words for “strength” (koach- 34) and “to be well” (yativ – 21). May this year, the year of the 55th Super Bowl, bring us strength and I pray for all of us to be well.

Happy Super Bowl Sunday!

Rabbi Shoshana Perry

PS – February is also filled with lots of other great events and services. Please join us!