Why Don't Famous Jews Thank God Like Tim Tebow?

Four Rabbis, a reverend and a religion professor tackle the outspoken faith of the Broncos' QB.

I learned how to "Tebow" long before I learned who Tim Tebow was.

This is partially because I'm clueless when it comes to professional sports, but mostly because, at this point, the Denver Broncos' starting quarterback is as famous for his Christian faith as he is for his football skills.

Don't get me wrong — Tebow's game is fascinating on its own. A big portion of the Tim Tebow myth comes from the exciting, often bizarre way the quarterback manages to stage comebacks and lead his team to last-minute wins, as he did last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Many Bears fans are still smarting from a similarly dramatic overtime loss to the Broncos earlier this season.

But what increasingly makes Tebow such a phenomenon is his intense, outspoken Christianity, specifically his habit of thanking Jesus constantly. He points up to the sky when he or his team make a great play, thanks Jesus Christ in post-game interviews and kneels to pray — or "Tebows" — so often during games that actors, athletes, even other NFL players have begun imitating him. Saturday Night Live recently lampooned Tebow in a skit that featured Jesus visiting the Bronco locker room.

Tebow joins an ever-growing group of pop culture icons who feel compelled to credit Jesus for their fame-inducing gifts that includes Miley Cyrus, Chuck Norris and Justin Bieber.

My question isn't why these people think God or Jesus has anything to do with their success, or why a higher power would feel compelled to intervene in sporting games or the music industry. As someone who was raised Jewish, my question is much more self-centered: Why don't famous Jews thank God the way famous Christians do?

I spoke with four rabbis, one local priest and a religion professor at to find out. 

Here's what they had to say.

An evangelical outspokenness

Rabbi Michael Sommer at in Highland Park suggests that, since Christianity encourages proselytizing, famous Christians like Tebow feel obligated to observe their faith publicly so they can spread it to others.

"We don't proselytize," Sommer said about Jews. "We don't believe that you have to believe as we believe or else."

Reverend David Perkins, from , acknowledges an evangelical outspokenness in Christianity, but he also points out that Jesus preached humility as well. He cites a verse in Matthew that encourages Christians to pray behind closed doors.

"We have this proclamation tradition," Perkins explained, "but we also have this humility tradition, and I think there's a tension between the two."

Jewish jokers

Because Judaism lacks an evangelical streak, according to Sommer, most Jews keep their practices to themselves.

Unless they're making fun of them.

"Jewish movie stars will go to high holidays, but they won't advertise it on TV," Sommer said. "Unless you're Larry David and you're poking fun at it."

What complicates this comparison is that famous Jews like Larry David maintain a culturally Jewish identity while disregarding any religious elements — something that doesn't happen in Christianity, according to Rabbi Michael Schwab at in Highland Park.

"You can identify yourself as a Jew and be proud of it … without being overtly connected to the religious side of things," Schwab said. "That's a little tougher to do with a Christian identity."

Rabbi Evan Moffic at in Highland Park, however, thinks the difference between how Tebow addresses his religion and how people like Larry David or Woody Allen address theirs comes down to intent.

"I think Tim Tebow is doing it as a source of pride," Moffic said, "Woody Allen and others do it as a way of making jokes."

Herbert Braunstein, a senior religion professor at Lake Forest College, agrees that Jewish celebrities, like Woody Allen, are more likely to make fun of their roots publicly than give thanks for them. These celebrities, he suggests, offer negative reflections on Jewish life that "comes from a lack of positive orientation of Jews other than bagels and lox."

Liberal Jews just don't know how

Even if Jewish celebrities wanted to thank God as theatrically as Tebow does, Rabbi Schwab argues that most wouldn't know how.

"Many of the Jews who are in the spotlight are simply not as religious," Schwab said. "Therefore, you can have a Jew who is famously identified as being Jewish who wouldn't speak in religious terms."

Orthodox Jews, on the other hand, give thanks to God all the time, according to New York-based rabbi Geoff Mitelman, a friend of Rabbi Sommer's. If you ask an orthodox Jew how they are, and they're doing well, they'll respond "Baruch Hashem," which is Hebrew for "Thank God." Aside from reggae singer Matisyahu and Kosher Sex author Shmuley Boteach, however, there aren't many orthodox Jewish celebrities.

"Liberal Jews," Mitelman said, "don't have the language to talk about God in the way that works for them." 

Human agency or God's will?

Mitelman also argues that Judaism emphasizes human agency, meaning that, if Tim Tebow was Jewish, he wouldn't feel compelled to thank God after a successful play because he would assume he had done it himself.

"We are partners with God," Mitelman said, "but we have to be the ones to do it."

Yet Christianity maintains a similar ideology, according to Rev. Perkins. He argues that you can credit God for giving you a gift, but that ultimately you choose to use it to the best of your ability.

"I don't think God takes sides in athletic disputes," Perkins said. He added, jokingly, that he refuses to say "Go Bears" from the pulpit on Sundays, despite protests from some in his congregation.

"If you lose the game, does that mean God wanted you to lose? It brings up all types of questions of the intentions of God."

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Larry January 13, 2012 at 12:38 PM
Unlike Christianity, being Jewish is more than a religion. You can be Jewish without being at all religious. And indeed most Jewish celebrities are just that. You can't be a Christian without believing in God. While a Jew who doesn't practice Judaism may not be a "good Jew", he is never excluded from the Jewish people, and is still "Jewish". When Jews came to America, it was virtually impossible to observe Judaism carefully, and much was lost by many. As I understand it, a Christian who loses his faith is no longer a Christian. As the rabbi stated in the article, Orthodox Jews never stop thanking God. The very first thing we say when we awaken in the morning is "I give thanks before you, living and everlasting King, who has returned my soul to me in kindness, for your faithfulness is great." After performing the basest of bodily functions, we say a prayer thanking God for the marvels of the human body and how miraculously it works. Before eating anything we say a blessing, praising God as the creator of the food we are eating. After we eat we say other blessings of thanksgiving. God is always present and we have many ways of reminding ourselves of his presence. The reason Jewish men wear a yarmulke or a hat on their heads at all times is to remind them that however high they think their brain is, there is always Someone above them. But we should always remember "vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit"... God is present whether or not He is called upon!
Drew Lerman January 13, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Larry, I think it is possible to be a Christian who lacks faith in God, but retains faith in the values of Christianity. And same with Judaism. It's a fine distinction, but I think there's a difference between a "bagel-and-lox" Jew with no interest in traditional Jewish values, and a Jew who doesn't believe in God but does have interest in traditional Jewish values. Thanks for another thought-provoking article, Jacob.
irving drobny January 13, 2012 at 03:48 PM
most jews are secular. those that are belive in a greater power & not a personal deity. they tend to be abstract about that power.
William January 13, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Its funny that anytime youi meet a jew you are told they are jewish, but Christians will never tell you that, "Im a Baptist". Its almost the first thing out of their mouths. Is this an inferiority complex in a CHRISTIAN country.
suebeedue January 13, 2012 at 10:41 PM
The Jews were called by God to be a nation separate from all other nations, They were under the Mosaic law that forbid them to marry outside of their faith or even have much interaction. God blessed them and protected them, and at the same time gave them laws to follow. Jesus came to show the Jews that they were free from this law. The nation as a whole rejected Jesus as the Messiah, but individuals of the nation followed him and were told to preach to all the nations of the world now. The lowly ones of the earth responded to this message and were called to be to teach and preach to others about God's kingdom rule, spoken of in both the new and the old testament.
Ed Adams January 14, 2012 at 05:36 AM
In Europe there are lots of "cultural" Catholics. In fact, about 1/2 of French who say they're Catholics also say they don't believe in God. Cultural Christianity is also widespread in Scandinavia.
amazonfan January 14, 2012 at 07:00 PM
Larry, I don't really believe in 'good' Jews. If someone is Jewish, then how they practice (or don't practice) their Judaism is up to them. Nobody has the right to judge their Jewishness. Drew, what traditional Jewish values are you referring to specifically?
Dina January 15, 2012 at 05:31 AM
@suebeedue, so how long have you studied Judaism? How much Hebrew do you know? according to the torah, anyone who changed the teachings was a false prophet. What does this make the Jesus you are Taking at? Or the
Rod Morgan January 15, 2012 at 12:34 PM
Perhaps the next question should be, why does Tim Teboe "pray" so publicly? In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned his followers not to pose in public when they pray, as the religious leaders of his day (and ours) were known to do. He said to pray in privacy, and God who is with us in our privacy will hear our prayers.
Speedy Evans January 15, 2012 at 06:12 PM
tebow sent the wrong knee-mail an got tweeted 45-10
Grant Comeau January 15, 2012 at 09:49 PM
"Why Don't Famous Jews Thank God Like Tim Tebow?" Because they're not so obnoxious as to think the supposedly all powerful creator of the entire universe gives a crap about their little football game? Just a thought.
forest barbieri January 15, 2012 at 11:24 PM
Interesting observation: I am waiting to see a touchdown pass from the Dalai Lama. Everyone observes their beliefs in ways that matter to them and for believers or non believers, that is what is important and a wonderful right within our country. Tebow may be a "born again Christian" somewhat the Christian version of Orthodox Judaism, feeling compelled to thank god regularly :) MUCH rather have that for a sports role model than the Sex, Drugs, Pedifiles et al.
Bill Valenti January 16, 2012 at 05:36 PM
Seems Jews, Buddhists and Hindus value quiet expression of their faith, unlike Tebow and other Christians that I call "Lookatmevangelicals": religious peacocks who are compelled to shout their prayers for all to hear, and strut their self-righteousness for all to see. I admire those who quietly live their faith, doing good works to help their fellow man, with no expectation of worldly reward.
Joseph Hafif January 16, 2012 at 05:46 PM
I grew up in an ultra-orthodox Jewish community and I have to disagree with this analysis. Jews do everything they can to let everybody around them know that they are different, from wearing yarmulkes to refusing to ride in a car on the sabbath to eating kosher foods on exclusively kosher plates. Some even dress in clothes that mimick their heroes from centuries ago.Everywhere they go they ask the world around them to accomodate their traditional religious practices.
forest barbieri January 16, 2012 at 09:40 PM
Bill------Really? "Seems Jews, Buddhists and Hindus value quiet expression of their faith, unlike Tebow and other Christians that I call "Lookatmevangelicals": religious peacocks" So let me see how you define quietly....Buddists: I guess burning yourself up and starving yourself is a quiet expression. I am assuming that Jewish Ultra Orthodox throwing rocks at cars or at an 11 year old Jewish Girl who attends a regular school or for that matter attacking IDF forces are also quiet expressions of faith? Again, as I am somewhat neutral having attended many different services with no vested interest in any particular religion, I also know many Christians that also quietly practice their faith. I am a believer in a foundation of our country, allowing and accepting everyones practices as long as it does not step on anothers right to practice as they see fit. Football is a form of the entertainment business and in the entertainment business , any publicity is usually good publicity so I say, Rock On Tebow and I am still waiting for the Dalai Lama to unleash a seconds left 70 yard "Hail Mary" pass! "Hail Mary", now where is that from and how did that get into the game?
veggiedude January 17, 2012 at 06:25 PM
How can jews ever forget the Holocaust?
Shmuel January 20, 2012 at 02:42 AM
Unfortunately, I feel that many of the answers from a Jewish perspective did not accurately portray the Jewish attitude as described in the Talmud, the Jews' primary source of analysis and explanation of the Torah, and the source for much of Jewish law as is practiced today. Every day Jews around the world say the famous passages referred to as The Sh'maa, three times per day. Morning, Evening, and just before going to sleep. In the beginning of the first paragraph, we state that we are to love the Lord G-d, with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our might. What does that mean, to "love" God? It means that I must conduct myself in such a way that I become a conduit for others to love G-d, too. We call this "sanctifying the name of G-d", or in Hebrew, "Kiddush Hashem". There are Jews thoughout history that have caused this to happen in a big way, each using the talents and abilities given to them by G-d. When you, as an obviously religious person, go to the post office or other place of business, and you receive more change back than you should have received, and you say, excuse me, you gave me too much change back, you have, in a not too small a way, sanctified the name of G-d. If G-d forbid, a person does the opposite of a "Kiddush Hashem", that is called a "Chillul Hashem", disgraciing the name of G-d. That's when a person causes another to distance himself from G-d due to some disgusting or otherwise reproachable behaviour.
Shmuel January 20, 2012 at 03:01 AM
Continuation of my previous comment.... I also disagree with the statement by Rabbi Geoff Mitelman because I think many people will misconstrue what he said: "Mitelman also argues that Judaism emphasizes human agency, meaning that, if Tim Tebow was Jewish, he wouldn't feel compelled to thank God after a successful play because he would assume he had done it himself." "We are partners with God," Mitelman said, "but we have to be the ones to do it." As a believing Jew, of course he would feel compelled to thank G-d after a successful play! An important Jewish principle of faith is that G-d is the only real power in this world. Another important principle is that G-d cherishes our prayers and answers them. Sometimes, the answer is "yes", sometimes, "no". But no one should ever think that their prayer was not heard. Therefore, yes, a believing Jew knows in his heart that any achievement, any success, any failure (in our shortsightedness we sometimes incorrectly think of failures as divine disapproval) can only be through G-d's Will. So that yes, we are physically executing an action or deed, but, as written in scripture, "G-d is our Shadow" , meaning as we "move" G-d "moves" (so to speak) with us. to be continued...
Shmuel January 20, 2012 at 03:05 AM
continuation from my previous comment. If Tim Tibow is serious and sincere about his faith, then what you see on the outside, should be the same person on the inside. The fervor he exhibits while praying publicly is equal to or less than his fervor when he prays privately. Since I do not know Tim at all let alone well, I certainly can't comment on his sincerity. Rather, I think it more important for each and every one of us to work on our own individual sincerity, and leave the issue of Tim's sincerity to G-d and Tim!
Billy Kravitz January 21, 2013 at 10:13 AM
to suebeedue..the laws that unitarian oriented Jews follow are considered blessings and not a burden. they were meant to foster communal life, much as trinitarian church laws do for Christians. Organised Judaism did not follow Jesus because he preached no new thing. Talmudic rabbis (of which he was one) were saying the same things. the people attending the Sermon on the Mount didn't walk away saying 'We have seen God's only human son!'... They walked home saying - That nice, young rabbi is my kind of rabbi...Yeah, he's good... Now, what are we gonna have for dinner?.... Love thy neighbor was NEVER meant to have limits. Every time certain believers attempted to do that, God always responds with something along the lines of - YOU were considered STRANGERS in Egypt. You know what that's like. There are no strangers. ...Even says - when you find a sojourner in your midst be even more to them than one of your own, since they expect so very much less...And we ALWAYS believed in the world to come. The gates of Heaven were NEVER closed. But The Lord tells us we were created to serve as conduits of righteousness into THIS WORLD. We are not to worry about THE NEXT WORLD. We are simple to have faith and walk humbly with Our God (book of Michael)... Christians had to pretend certain things about our faith to make their faith inevitable. which is not to say it is invalid. Any faith that makes its people BETTER PEOPLE is valid THE RIGHTEOUS OF ALL GROUPS SHALL SHARE IN THE WORLD TO COME


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