Thursday, June 8, 2023 -
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The Sermon Clock

“We’re rabbis. We’re supposed to have influence! This is really weird. We can get to Joe Biden if we need to. We can get to Netanyahu. Blinken. We’re probably the only group around that can get to both Putin and Zelensky. Zelensky’s Jewish and Putin has all these rabbi friends, our colleagues. But now we’re going nuts! We can’t get to the commissioner of Major League Baseball and he’s ruining us. Never in American Jewish history have we faced such a crisis.

“Boy, our ancestors thought intermarriage was a crisis. And kashrus. Now we’ve got the shidduch crisis — but add ‘em all up together and it’s nothing compared to the Pitcher’s Clock and Batter’s Clock. They thought they were tinkering with baseball; OK, so maybe they meant well. But the consequences — who cares if you call them unintended consequences?! — are ruining us. Judaism is going down the tubes. And the Catholics, Protestants and Muslims aren’t far behind, if they’re behind at all.

“Whoever thought that the newfangled baseball rule — a pitcher has to deliver a pitch within 15 seconds of getting the ball back, and a batter has to step up to the plate within 8 seconds of taking a break — whoever thought this would have anything to do with religion?

“You know the old joke, ‘Washington, First in War. First in Peace. Last in the American League.’ So Washington is now in the National League, but the total cultural control of Major League Baseball has never been clearer. It’s ruining religion.

“We can’t control our people. The shuls are going to empty out. People pay attention to baseball and are clamoring for a Sermon Clock. And a Cantor’s Clock. If baseball can speed up its game, why do we need all these longwinded sermons and highfalutin musical twists and turns? All around the Major Leagues, games have dropped by a whole hour! People want to get out of shul earlier. They want a Sermon Clock! They want a Cantor’s Clock! What are we going to do?”

There was a lot of handwringing at the rabbis’ meeting. No one knew what to do. Religion isn’t baseball, they all kept saying. Didn’t help. People like the pitcher’s clock and if it works for the pitcher, why not the rabbi? Why not the cantor? Who do they think they are, anyway?

Amidst all this fruitless back-and-forth, not to mention the anguish, an idea finally emerged — sort of. It wasn’t a solution, but it was a mighty fine temporization. Almost as an aside, one retired rabbi simply said that it took years and years for Major League Baseball to come up with the Pitcher’s Clock. Baseball games got longer and longer over many, many years. It was like inning creep.

First the games were a few minutes longer, then a few more minutes. It took years before baseball’s notoriously neurotic, nitpicking statisticians even began to measure the lengthening of the game. Then, once they started measuring, they measured for years. Then COVID game and nobody was noticing anyway; the fans were just glad to have any game at all. After COVID, MLB had to dream up this Pitcher’s Clock idea. Then they had to fine tune it — 24 seconds, as in basketball? It was a whole discussion.

“Here’s what we need to do,” said the retired rabbi. “We’ll be very magnanimous. We’ll say, ‘Of course we need to bring the davening back to a reasonable length. Of course we’ll consider new ideas. Of course we’ll put the Sermon Clock on the table. And the Cantor’s Clock. But we’ll need to study all this. We’ll need to figure it all out. We don’t want to kill the davening any more than MLB’s commissioner wanted to kill the game. We need to take time to get this right!”

Oooh, oooh, will that take a long time! So many rabbis. So many shuls. So many different sermonic and cantorial styles. So many different starting times and ending times. This is going to be very complicated — “and the more complicated the better!” concluded the retired rabbi, to a lot of confident cheers that finally brought a bit of uplift to the lugubrious meeting.

“But,” one of the rabbis interjected, “sooner or later we’re going to have to announce the Sermon Clock. We can’t temporize forever.”

“Hey,”came a ready reply in a chorus of multiple rabbinic voices, “our business is Eternity. We’ll be able to keep this going, don’t you fret. We don’t even need the Commissioner of Baseball. With him or without him, we’ll keep our game strong. Remember, the only reason, really, he’s still in business is because of all these ridiculous, multi-gazillion dollar TV contracts. Without them, they’d have to pay their players the same crumbs they pay us. Our commitment is stronger than theirs! So don’t you fret. There’s never going to be a Sermon Clock, or a Cantor’s Clock.”

“Maybe, though,” a side rabbinic voice chimed in, “maybe the idea isn’t all bad after all. Beat ‘em at their own game. What we really need is a Board Meeting Clock. Sure! They want a clock? We’ll give ‘em a clock.

A Board Meeting Clock! It’ll speed things up a lot more than a Sermon Clock — and smooth out a lot of other stuff, too.” Wink, wink.

Copyright © 2023 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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IJN Executive Editor | [email protected]

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