Thursday, November 10, 2011

Joe Pa and Judaism

I am a big time college football fan. As a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, I have followed my beloved Longhorns through their ups and downs. Thankfully it has been mostly ups since the arrival of Mack Brown including one National Championship, and one injury removed from a second national championship.

So a part of me likes to think that I understand the passion and excitement of college football. LinkThe realist in me also understands that college athletics is a huge money making endeavor for colleges and college football is at the forefront of it. Hence all of the recent turmoil with the changing landscape of conference alignment. I for one am sad to see the end of the Texas – Texas A&M rivalry. I truly hope Texas A&M is on the right track for their program and are not hit by a train (i.e. every team in the SEC).

All that being said, I too have been following the events that have transpired with Penn State and their beloved coach Joe Paterno.

I have been thinking about Joe’s alleged response to the allegations that his then assistant coach Jerry Sandusky abused young boys. The argument for Joe is that he reported it to his superiors, and that is what is mandated by the law.

But I began reflecting on what Jewish tradition might say. In terms of the performance of mitzvot, rabbis list the minimum one needs to do in order to fulfill a mitzvah. For example, when building a sukkah, it needs to be at minimum, tall enough to sit in and fit at least one person (Shulchan Aruch Orah Hayyim 633:1).But of course the goal is to do so much more than the minimum. The goal is to build a structure where one can truly celebrate this wonderful fall festival. Hence, the bare minimum really is never enough.

Also there is the principle of tzedek, tzekek tirdof, justice, justice, you shall pursue, (Deuteronomy 16:20). One of the classic interpretations of this phrase is we are obligated to seek out justice and to make sure it is done and applied fairly. Not just to pass it on to others to handle.

Joe Paterno has a tremendous legacy. Sadly it is now tarnished because though he may have followed the letter of the law, its spirit, Jewish or otherwise, was left by the wayside, and truly innocent victims suffered accordingly. May his example remind all of us to pursue justice whenever possible, to speak of for those who have no voice, and to try to go above and beyond the mere letter of the law. And if this is so, Joe’s legacy can serve both as a warning and as an opportunity for us all