For Tim Tebow's faithful Christian followers, the Denver Broncos' lopsided playoff loss Saturday night to the New England Patriots might have posed a theological problem. Where was God who had so graciously heeded Tebow's prayers in all of those previous come-from-behind victories this season? Did Tebow pray differently before this game? Did he kneel wrong this time? Did his petitions lack the usual fervency and intention? Was God too busy to respond to Tebow's calls for help?
Tebow's fans will certainly get over the tough post-season loss and remain grateful for an exciting season, during which the young southpaw quarterback amassed a nation of followers. The Tim Tebow craze heated up as the Denver Broncos' quarterback shepherded (sorry!) his team into the playoffs. In November I wrote about about how Tim Tebow and his kneeling in public prayer ("Tebowing") was the featured topic of any discussion of prayer in sports. No one had any idea that the Tebowing craze would continue to be such a hot topic late into the NFL season. Whether God is on his side or he's just a phenomenal athlete in crunch situations, Tebow has certainly become the topic on everyone's mind.
The most popular article written about the Jewish perspective on Tim Tebow was by my colleague Rabbi Joshua Hammerman of Connecticut. When I first read his article on The Jewish Week's website, I had to continuously go back and re-read each sentence because I couldn't believe what Hammerman was arguing. Apparently, neither did most people including Gary Rosenblatt, the editor of The Jewish Week, who had the article taken down from the website (but not before it was published in the print edition).
Out of respect for Hammerman, I decided not to comment on his article at the time. He was receiving a heavy amount of criticism from Tebow fans who took exception with his overly harsh critique of the quarterback. Hammerman's article read more like a satirical piece that was printed a few months before Purim, the Jewish holiday on which such satire is commonplace. Hammerman wrote, "If Tebow wins the Super Bowl, against all odds, it will buoy his faithful, and emboldened faithful can do insane things, like burning mosques, bashing gays and indiscriminately banishing immigrants." After The Jewish Week took down the article, Hammerman issued an apology to Tim Tebow, his fans and his family. The Jewish Week also issued an apology explaining that the article "violated our own standards calling for civility in posting comments on our website."
Rabbi Hammerman ate some crow and issued the following statement:
I have spent my entire career engaged in dialogue with people of all faiths while speaking out passionately against intolerance and extremism. I have the deepest respect for those who are committed to their faith, including Mr. Tebow. I realize the way in which I attempted to make my points was clumsy and inappropriate, calling to mind the kind of intolerance and extremism my article was intended to disparage. I sincerely apologize to Mr. Tebow, his family, the Broncos and Patriots and all those whom I may have offended.
The tide, however, seems to have shifted. Jews went from either not knowing what to make of Tim Tebow and his public displays of his Evangelical Christian faith to criticizing his fanaticism, as Rabbi Hammerman regretfully wrote. Now, groups called "Jews for Tebow" are sprouting up everywhere. A "Jews for Tebow" Facebook page has close to 500 Likes. Jewish fans are showing up to Tebow's games wearing "Jews for Tebow" shirts and rabbis are speaking positively about Tebow from the pulpit.
The "Jews for Tebow" Facebook page was created by a non-observant Israeli named Ike Thaler, who is not from Denver (he lives in South Florida). What prompted him to create the Tebow Facebook group on behalf of Jewish fans? He explains, "I have been a Tebow fan since his first year in College, but I decided to look for a forum to express my support for Tim Tebow as well as find a way to provide a different Tim Tebow fan page which includes more humor and the lighter side of the subject. I wanted to create a fan page like no other Tim Tebow fan page. Our page is 'not your parent's Tim Tebow fan page'."
Thaler's own faith has strengthened since becoming a Tebow fan. He claims that his loyalty and admiration have grown tenfold since seeing Tebow getting battered for expressing his religious beliefs. "I obviously disagree with his religious views, but I admire him for being so positive and sticking to his morals by expressing his priorities in serving God over the temptations that fame and the superstar status bring into his life. What a positive role model."
I'm noticing more Jewish people talking about Tebow and I get a lot of questions about my opinion on Tebowing. I think it's great that he has strong beliefs and isn't embarrassed to express those beliefs in public through his comments or his actions. Tebow is not forcing anyone else to believe what he does, but he is proud of his core beliefs.