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A Pair of Tefillin for Sandy Koufax

A Pair of Tefillin for Sandy Koufax

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October 6, 1965, the first game of the '65 World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers versus the Minnesota Twins. It's Yom Kippur night at Metropolitan Stadium, 47,797 in attendance. Sandy Koufax, lead pitcher of the LA Dodgers, refuses to play.

Koufax's refusal to pitch on Yom Kippur gained him the respect and admiration of many Jews. His courage gave many Jews the strength to not be ashamed of their Judaism.

The day after Yom Kippur, Koufax received a visit in his S. Paul hotel room from Rabbi Moshe Feller, regional director of the Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch -- the educational arm of the Lubavitcher Hasidic movement. Feller congratulated Koufax for not playing on Yom Kippur and for "the great assist he gave Rabbis and Jewish educators the world over."

Rabbi Feller also brought Sandy a pair of tefillin. "Since you bat right and throw left," he told the pitcher, "I wasn't sure what type to get you." (Tefillin are worn on the weaker arm -- right-handed people wrap them around their left arm, and lefties on their right arm.) "But considering what your left arm has accomplished, I decided to get you the type you put on your right arm."

Koufax accepted the gift and thanked Rabbi Feller for visiting. "The Talmud says that tefillin is representative of all the Mitzvot of the Torah," Feller later explained. "So I could not think of a better way to honor a person for enhancing Jewish values, than by presenting him with a pair of tefillin."

Two weeks later, at a Simchat Torah gathering, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, spoke about the Jewish pitcher who refused to play on Yom Kippur (the following is a free translation from the Yiddish). "The first condition in influencing a child," said the Rebbe, "is that the child must see a living example by his parents. If the child sees the parent studying Torah at a time when the parent would otherwise be involved in business dealings, thereby surrendering a few dollars of profit, and perhaps causing that he won't be written up as one of the top dealers -- this is an example of self-sacrifice for the child.

"Or when the parent gives up a half hour of watching television, reading the newspaper and discussing politics... even though he thinks that knows what [President] Johnson ought to do, and if Johnson would ask him, he would tell him to do it this way.... When he renounces all of this, and he doesn't even know what the World Series is, that's an example for your child... (Those who don't know what 'World Series' is -- good for them. I wish that I didn't know...)

"There was a young man, and in fact he had a beard, he went to see the pitcher that wouldn't pitch on Yom Kippur and he told him that he does not play baseball on Rosh Hashanah either. The young man told the pitcher that he would like to give him a present. He gave him a pair of tefillin. The pitcher told him that he still remembers tefillin, however, he did not want to put them at that time. The young man left, and that day the pitcher lost the game... But at the end it turned out that he won the World Series, and on his table there were the tefillin. In the end, even 'a distant individual will not be distanced' and he will merit to put them on, and another Jew will be added to those who have donned tefillin..."

Dovid Zaklikowski is the director of Lubavitch Archives, a freelance journalist and public speaker. Dovid and his wife Chana Raizel are the proud parents of four: Motti, Meir, Shaina & Moshe Binyomin.
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Discussion (7)
August 14, 2013
Thanks for this inspired history
Jose martinez perez
Mexico
February 29, 2012
let's get ike davis to put on tefillin
Another detail about Koufax's decision not to play on Yom Kippur: Don Drysdale pitched instead and got hit hard--the Dodgers lost, 8-2. After the game, a reporter told manager Walt Alston, "I bet you wish Drysdale was Jewish too."
Yitzchak
Jerusalem
May 19, 2010
Sandy Koufax
My name is Aidan. I am 7 years old and I love baseball. Im going to dress up as you for a report. I want to be great at baseball player as good as you.
Anonymous
LA, CA
January 4, 2010
Lafayette HS
Sandy satt next to me in Lafayette High School. I helped him a bit with his math and science stdies. Also at Lafayette was Fred Wilpon (a millionaire who owns the NY Mets) and Larry King CNN's intervuiewer. We also had football players Sam DeLucs and Nick De Chico/..Our teacher asked me to helo Sandy with his studies. I wonder whether he remembers me. I'm Larry Shikowitz
Larry Shikowitz
Rockaway, NJ
June 25, 2009
Hank Greenberg too
Let's not forget Hank Greenberg of the 1934 Detroit Tigers, the only player on the team not in a slump, refused to play on Yom Kippur. See poem below from 1934:
Came Yom Kippur

A Hank Greenberg Poem

Author: Edgar Guest ©. Published: 1934. Appeared In: Detroit Free Press

"Came Yom Kippur — holy fast day world wide over to the Jew,

And Hank Greenberg to his teaching and the old tradition true

Spent the day among his people and he didn't come to play.

Said Murphy to Mulrooney, 'We shall lose the game today!

We shall miss him on the infield and shall miss him at the bat

But he's true to his religion — and I honor him for that!'"
Anonymous
bklyn, ny
May 27, 2009
cool story
This is a great story. he inspires me so much.
Avraham
November 28, 2008
shekoyech koufax
sandy koufax is still an inspiration to american jews 40 years later. he gave such chizuk, strength, to american jews because he was a great jewish athlete and he stood up for his people, for the torah and Gd.
i don't know if frum people know how important he was for us, and still is.
yaakov
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