Yom Kippur, Baseball, and Sandy Koufax

Resource Roundup

Yom Kippur, Baseball, and Sandy Koufax

By: Dr. Anita Meinbach  |

With Yom Kippur approaching, it is important to remember baseball great Sandy Koufax and the way in which he responded to a moral dilemma. His decision was a defining moment that would “go down in Jewish lore, to be recalled annually on the Day of Atonement…” (Mark Rodsky (New York Jewish Week, 2017). “There was no hard decision for me,” he [Koufax] would say later in an ESPN documentary released in 2000. “It was just a thing of respect. I wasn’t trying to make a statement, and I had no idea that it would impact that many people.”

Rationale: Life is filled with choices and moral dilemmas. How we respond to these reflect who we are, what we believe, and what values are most important to us. Sandy Koufax had the courage to put faith above the pressures of fans and team, and his actions have been a source of pride and reflection for generations of Jews across the country.

Sandy Koufax and Yom Kippur: The Link That Lasts Forever
Sandy Koufax is remembered for what he did, and most especially, for what he didn’t do!  

 Jews and Baseball: Sandy Koufax and Yom Kippur

A clip from the documentary “JEWS & BASEBALL” (PBS) featuring an exclusive interview with Sandy Koufax about not pitching on Yom Kippur in the World Series in 1966 - directed by Peter Miller, narrated by Dustin Hoffman, music by Michael Roth.


Sandy Koufax by Jonah Winter (Ages 6-8)
“In this striking picture book biography, an old-timer tells us what made Sandy Koufax such an amazing baseball player. We learn that the beginning of his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers was rocky, that he was shy with his teammates, and experienced discrimination as one of the only Jews in the game. We hear that he actually quit, only to return the next season—different—firing one rocket after another over the plate. We watch him refuse to play in the 1965 World Series because it is a Jewish high holy day. And we see him in pain because of an overused left arm, eventually retiring at the peak of his career. Finally, we are told that people are still “scratchin’ their heads over Sandy,” who remains a modest hero and a mystery to this day.” Amazon

Sandy Koufax by Matt Doeden (Ages 8-12)
“…this look at the famous baseball pitcher’s life focuses almost entirely on his professional baseball career from the late ‘50s to the mid-60’s. Koufax came to sports from a Brooklyn Jewish home. His grandfather Max influenced his upbringing and instilled Jewish values and religion…” At the beginning of one of his team’s World Series appearances, Koufax’ refusal to pitch on Yom Kippur brought his commitment to his faith into the public eye. The facts are presented clearly, accurately, and chronologically and with notes that help baseball novices understand its terminology… (from a review by Steve Silverman)

Koufax by Edward Gruver
In Koufax, Edward Gruver tells the life story of Sandy Koufax, a man many consider to be the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time. Gruver includes extensive interviews with the player's childhood friends, Brooklyn Dodgers teammates, opponents, front office personnel, and sports journalists who covered his career. Amazon


Additional Relevant Articles
Sandy Koufax’s refusal to pitch on Yom Kippur still resonates” Jim Kaple ESPN Senior Writer The thoughts of many are examined in this comprehensive look at the moral dilemma faced by Koufax -whether to play on day 1 of the World Series or respect his religion.

The article quotes, for example, John Thorn, Major League Baseball's official historian, who was born to two Holocaust survivors in a displaced persons camp in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1947. The family immigrated to America in 1949, and Thorn fell in love with baseball. Thorn was in college when Koufax chose not to pitch on Yom Kippur. "When Sandy took his stance,'' Thorn says, "it made me proud to be Jewish, proud to be an American and proud to be a baseball fan.''

Sandy Koufax Responded to a Greater Calling on Yom Kippur in 1965
Both Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenburg’s decision not to play in a World Series game that fell on Rosh Hashanah. This article explores their motivation and the response of a nation!

Additional Resources:
 A Discussion of Moral Dilemmas 
For teachers wanting to involve students in a discussion of moral dilemmas, the following resources will prove helpful (use as age appropriate): 
Lawrence Kohlberg's theory of moral development is an adaptation of the developmental theory of Jean Piaget. According to the theory, moral reasoning develops in six stages, each more adequate at responding to moral dilemmas than the one before. 
--How do we help our students reach the highest level of moral development-level 6- having a personal code of behavior to follow, “I’m nice because I am. I work hard because I do.”? Read more here
--Review this comprehensive look at Kohlberg’s stages and a presentation of scenarios that ask students (upper elementary—high school) to consider various moral issues and choices. 

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Tagged in Sports , Yom Kippur