As Yom Kippur begins Tuesday evening, Gil Kleiner plans to be in services at the Beth El Congregation without his iPhone, which will be sitting silently in his office at the synagogue registering an ESPN mobile app alert every time the Orioles score a run in their pursuit of the American League East pennant.
He wouldn't think of having the gadget with him during services on the most significant day of the Jewish calendar, but after, without turning on a television or computer, he says, "I can walk by it and take a peak, see what's going on."
So Kleiner, who is the Pikesville congregation's executive director, manages what was once a frequent tension for Jewish Orioles fans, with postseason or significant late-season games often falling during the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Fifteen Yom Kippurs have come and gone since 1997, when the Orioles last finished a season with a winning record and in first place in their division. Called simultaneously to the synagogue and the ballpark, television, computer or Droid, Jewish fans may once again find themselves torn.
This is, after all, the Day of Atonement, a day set aside for reflecting on the previous year's transgressions and committing oneself to more virtuous living next year, praying God's patience with our imperfect efforts.
The strictest observers abstain for 24 hours from working, eating, bathing, using perfume, wearing leather shoes and having sex. Even more liberal traditions encourage taking the day off from work, fasting and attending religious services — certainly not following baseball.
"We're supposed to focus on our own spiritual path," says Rabbi Daniel Burg, of Beth Am Synagogue in the city's Reservoir Hill neighborhood. That said, Burg, who moved to Baltimore from Chicago two years ago, is a lifetime Cubs fan, and well understands the excitement of a winning season after a long drought.
"The pennant race is no small matter," says Burg, who presides over a Conservative congregation. Asked what advice he would have for a member of his congregation who wants to attend services and follow Tuesday night's game, he gives a simple answer: "Three letters: DVR."
If congregants are going to check on the game during services, he says, he imagines they'll be discreet about it.
Baltimore congregants/Orioles fans have been known for discretion in these matters.
Rabbi Mark G. Loeb, who presided at Beth El before his death in 2009, liked to tell a story about conducting a High Holy Days service when the Orioles were in the playoffs, and sensing a particular buzz in the room. He noticed many of the men had white wires running out of their ears into their jackets, as they were listening to the game on transistor radios.
Loeb's successor at Beth El, a Conservative congregation, Rabbi Steven Schwartz, included that anecdote in his sermon a little over a week ago for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, adding that Loeb eventually started announcing game scores during services.
"It guaranteed a rapt audience," Schwartz told his congregation, according to a sermon text. "When he stepped to the mic, people didn't know if he was going to give a score update or say something about what was being read from the Torah."
Schwartz says in an interview that he announced the game score that Sunday, Sept. 16, as Rosh Hashanah was beginning and the Orioles were beating the Oakland Athletics, but he doesn't plan to do so for the Orioles-Toronto Blue Jays game Tuesday night. He knows that many of his congregants will leave the evening service, go home and switch on the game.
"It's not ideal, it's not what the holiday should be about," Schwartz says. "That's Jewish life today. My personal feeling is we should not pretend otherwise. Let's acknowledge what the reality is. We can still find meanings in the day."
One member of his congregation, Bruce Friedman, an avid Orioles fan, says he'll be in synagogue Tuesday night and won't be checking on the score. When he goes home, he won't turn the television on, but he says he lives in a house full of sports fans. It's possible either of his two teenage sons or his wife could switch on the game, although "they know how I feel about observing, they know how I feel about religion."
Even before there were iPhone ESPN apps, Jewish baseball fans found subtle ways to keep tabs on crucial games. Jeffrey S. Gurock, author of "Judaism's Encounter with American Sports," describes anecdotal accounts of Jewish Yankees fans in the Bronx in the 1950s stepping out of synagogue and down the street to check out the World Series on televisions displayed in the window of an appliance store.
To Gurock, a professor of American Jewish history at Yeshiva University in New York, the Yom Kippur-baseball dynamic captures an essential cultural tension in a diverse nation: how to honor one's traditions and "balance the desire to participate in this great celebration of American culture, watching a pennant race."
Rabbi Burg of Beth Am figures it could be worse.
"Thank God the Super Bowl doesn't come this time of year," he says.