Orthodox Judaism Meets Major League Baseball

Major League Baseball made history this week—and then made it again. The 2021 MLB Draft, which began on Sunday, saw the first known practicing Orthodox Jewish player drafted, as 17-year-old pitcher Jacob Steinmetz of Woodmere, New York was selected in the third round by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Not only does he have a blazing fastball and an enigmatic curveball, he also has unwavering convictions in his devotion to Judaism. He eats only kosher foods, but he does play on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. To keep his convictions, he walks to games on the Sabbath as his only form of transportation, according to The Times of Israel. Steinmetz hopes to make more history by becoming the first practicing Orthodox Jewish player to make it to the big leagues.

After Steinmetz was selected on Monday, more history was made Tuesday. Elie Kligman, 18, from Las Vegas, Nevada was selected in the 20th and final round of the draft by the Washington Nationals. He plays catcher and shortstop and is a switch-hitter, batting both left-handed and right-handed. Kligman is even more observant than Steinmetz, as he does not play at all on the Sabbath. “That day of Shabbas is for God. I’m not going to change that,” he said. 

Steinmetz and Kligman are inspirations to anyone who has ever had to struggle with the decision of how to remain true to their beliefs while part of a sports team. In particular the decision not to play on the Sabbath or to observe it by walking to the game is admirable and marks a shift in athletic culture. Many have faced discipline for holding true to their convictions, whether as an Orthodox Jewish player not playing on the Sabbath or Christian players in younger leagues not playing on Sunday in favor of going to church. This is a big step forward in bridging the gap between people’s faithfulness to their beliefs and honoring their commitment to their teams.