Friday, November 04, 2005

Betting at Bar Mitzvahs: Meditations on Poker and Chabad

Harvey Araton's column in today's Times (sorry cheapskates: It's behind the pay curtain) tells poker-fiend Alex Rodriguez that if he "so desperately needs the competition fix of a poker game after six-plus months of baseball... [H]e could begin this winter by playing the bar mitzvah circuit."

The Bar Mitzvah circuit? Well, yes. According to Araton "hired dancers are out and hip dealers are in" working play-money poker tables at some of the chichier dos around town. They're also at Chinese auctions and other charity events. According to MoChassid, you can even catch a poker game in the lobby of some of the bigger shuls and I've seen it in the backyard of some of the best shteebles (ie: The sort of places that send out aggressively offensive letters telling woman how to dress during the week, while cheerfully honoring insiders traders and convicted criminals with high synagogue honors on weekends.)

I'll leave it to others to explain why the poker fad signals the end of Republic and all we hold dear. I'm more concerned about what it means for poker. You see poker, like Judaism, is flexible enough to accommodate all sorts of variations while still remaining authentically poker. Queen Follow the Queen, Buy a Card, and dozens of other games are all "Poker." The new fad, however, is all about one game: Texas Hold' Em, and the other games are being crowded out. It's getting harder and harder for me and my boys to put together a neighborhood game of dealer's choice (where the deal rotates and the dealer chooses the game) All anyone wants to do, it seems, is Hold 'Em Tournaments. The other games are being forgotten.

In other words, the poker fad is hurting my favorite card game, in much the same way the Lubovs are hurting Judaism. The richness and diversity of our religious tradition is a resource we ignore to our own detriment. As Lubovitch Judaism (and to a lesser extent Hasidic Judaism) becomes the face of "genuine" Judaism, we all lose a bit of our past.