Joshua Hammerman
Rabbi, award winning journalist, author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi"
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Why God — and Ben Franklin — pick the Patriots

I have a foolproof way to pick the Super Bowl winner using Jewish sources and I'm almost never wrong
Logo of Super Bowl 2018. (Wikipedia)
Logo of Super Bowl 2018. (Wikipedia)

This year’s Super Bowl pits the New England Patriots (again) against the Philadelphia Eagles. For many years, I’ve been using biblical and other Jewish sources to pick the winner, and I’m almost always right. Of course, being a lifelong Patriots fan kind of stacks the deck in my favor. Last year’s pick of 34-31, Patriots was almost exactly spot-on.

At first glance, it would seem Philly might have a case. After all, in the Bible, the eagle is referenced over 20 times. In most cases, this majestic bird seen as a warrior, swooping down on its prey (see Deut. 28:49, Job 9:26 and Jer. 48:40, for example). The eagle is also seen as unclean and detestable (Lev. 11:13), maternal and protective (Deut. 32:11, and, most famously, Exodus 19:4), youthful (Ps. 103:5), bald, (Micah 1:16) and mysterious (Proverbs 30:19).

The Talmud emphasizes the eagle’s speed and agility, and its spread wings have come to symbolize arms outstretched in prayer. The Hebrew word for eagle is “Nesher,” which has also been an honorary title for a great person. Maimonides was called “ha-Nesher Hagadol,” the Great Eagle.”

Although the eagle has its good side, it was primarily seen as the symbol of Israel’s enemies, most especially Rome. During Herod’s reign, a golden eagle perched above the Temple gates caused much consternation among the Jews living there, until it was eventually cut down. More recently, the eagle became the symbol of Poland and Prussia, and later Germany — all seen as foes of the Jews (these are somewhat offset by the American eagle).

So while there would seem to be plenty of evidence to suggest that the Eagles have divine support in their great quest next Sunday, the Patriots’ case is stronger.

Let’s start with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There is a clear etymological connection between “patriarchs” and “Patriots.” So we’ve got the fathers of monotheism on one hand, and the fathers of our country, on the other, an uncanny convergence. And they had a lot in common, not the least if which is that Patriot owner Bob Kraft’s brother is named Avram (Abraham, in Hebrew).

The patriot most noted for having left Boston to live in Philadelphia was Ben Franklin, whose footsteps were retraced by current Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, a Bostonian Jew who wandered from Chestnut Hill to Chestnut Street. Yet Franklin, Mr. Philly himself, is the one who most opposed the eagle as a symbol of America. Here’s an excerpt from Ben Franklin’s letter to his daughter on the subject.

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him. With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward.”

Patriots fans will note that the Pats have beaten three consecutive bird-teams for their most recent Lombardi trophies: the Eagles, Seahawks and Falcons. But Franklin would not have picked any of them as the nation’s standard. Among birds, Franklin preferred the turkey, a New England bird if there ever was one — and Plymouth Rock is only 38 miles from Foxboro, as the crow flies (if he is flying over the traffic on Route 495).

Franklin actually proposed that the rattlesnake become the symbol of this country. Why?

“She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage.”

Hmm. Sounds much like the way the Patriots respond to trash-talking by their opponents. But there’s more:

“As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shown and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal. Conscious of this, she never wounds ’till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.”

This describes the Pats to a T: they never appear as lethal as they really are. They are always respectful of the enemy. They tend to fall behind in big games (28-3 last year, if you haven’t heard) and then overtake their opponents in the end. It’s the Belichick way.

And finally, this observation from Franklin about the rattler:

“In winter, the warmth of a number together will preserve their lives, while singly, they would probably perish.”

Nothing defines the Patriots’ team concept better than that. Sixteen winters ago, when this dynasty began, they were the first to insist in being introduced at a Super Bowl together, as a team.

So, to summarize, Ben Franklin, the Patron Saint of Philly, did not pick the Eagles. He picked the rattlesnake — an animal that in Hebrew, by the way, is called a “Peten.” “Peten” sounds a lot like only one team currently alive in the NFL….and it ‘ain’t the Panthers. Plus, the Patriots actually used to have a player whose name is David Patten.

Yes, even Ben Franklin would have picked the Pats.

And not only does Peten mean snake, it is also the name of an Israeli Apache helicopter fighter. So the Pats can beat the Eagles at their own game — soaring, and the corrected lyrics to the Philly theme song should now read, “Fly, Patriots, Fly!”

Jeffrey Lurie is a terrific guy, but it’s hard to pick against his old friend Bob Kraft. I just wish God didn’t have to choose sides in a football game. But if God does, God may as well pick the team that has the profile of Elvis on its helmet.

The score? For that I turn to Proverbs 30:

“Three things are beyond me; four I can’t understand:

the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a snake on a rock,
the way of a ship at sea,
and the way of a man with a young woman.”

In this passage from Proverbs, although the Hebrew word for “snake” here is “nachash” and not “peten,” we can look at the order of the numbers: three comes before four, and eagle comes before snake. So the Eagles will score three and the Patriots four….touchdowns.

PATRIOTS 28 — EAGLES 21.

About the Author
Award-winning journalist, father, husband, son, friend, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and rabbi of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Author of Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi – Wisdom for Untethered Times and the upcoming book, "Embracing Auschwitz." Rabbi Hammerman was a winner of the Simon Rockower award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism, for his 2008 columns on the Bernard Madoff case, which appeared first on his blog and then were discussed widely in the media. In 2018, he received an award from the Religion News Association, honorable mention, for excellence in commentary, for articles written for the Washington Post, New York Jewish Week, and JTA. Among his many published personal essays are several written for the New York Times Magazine and Washington Post. He has been featured as About.com's Conservative representative in its "Ask the Rabbi" series and as "The Jewish Ethicist," fielding questions on the New York Jewish Week's website. Rabbi Hammerman is an avid fan of the Red Sox, Patriots and all things Boston; he also loves a good, Israeli hummus. He is an active alum of Brown University, often conducting alumni interviews of prospective students. He lives in Stamford with his wife, Dr. Mara Hammerman, a psychologist. They have two grown children, Ethan and Daniel, along with Chloe, Casey and Cassidy, three standard poodles. Contact Rabbi Hammerman: rabbi@tbe.org (203) 322-6901 x 307
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