Fans have wondered if the journeyman outfielder, who posted a photo of himself wearing tzitzit, is Jewish
When Rafael Ortega stepped up to the plate for the Chicago Cubs on Sunday, a few Jewish fans at Wrigley Field couldn’t believe their ears: the music Ortega had chosen to cue his at-bat was “Thank You Hashem,” a song by a Haredi Orthodox recording artist that has become a staple at frum celebrations.
As video of the tune being played for a crowd of 40,000 spread on Twitter, people wondering whether the Venezuelan outfielder is Jewish found plenty of intrigue on his Instagram page.
They just played a “Thank You Hashem“ remix by today’s baseball game ?⚾️ pic.twitter.com/V6FNDRyVNK— Jack Langer (@jacklanger) April 24, 2022
In September, Ortega posted a picture of his children holding toy lulav-and-etrog kits alongside a banner proclaiming Happy Sukkot. He appended a hashtag proclaiming #BarujHashem — meaning Praise God — as he does in all of his posts. (Hashem is a Hebrew name used for God in non-prayer Jewish contexts.)
And the most recent post by Ortega’s wife is a photo of matzo, a Spanish-translated chumash (Torah book) and Kedem grape juice!
Open-and-shut case, right? Not so fast.
A closer examination of the Ortegas’ posts reveals that they embrace many of the tenets of Messianic Judaism, a religious movement that incorporates elements of Jewish practice into evangelical Christianity.
Messianic Jews believe that Jesus is the messiah, so they are generally not considered Jewish by other Jews. The most famous constituent Messianic Jewish group is the “Jews for Jesus” movement, which has been shunned by mainstream Judaism because it overtly tries to convert Jews to Christianity.
But because they celebrate Jewish holidays, refer to the Torah and even wear Jewish ritual garments like tzitzit (which Ortega is seen wearing in his Sukkot post), Messianic Jews can look Jewish — and when “Thank You Hashem” plays as Ortega takes his final practice swings, they can sound Jewish, too.
The giveaways in Ortega’s case are his references to “Yahweh” — the name Messianic Jews use for God — and, if you look hard enough, “Yeshua,” which is what they call Jesus.
Whether or not he was familiar with Ortega’s religious background, Yosef “Joey” Newcomb, the payyos-wearing singer who released “Thank You Hashem” as a single in 2019, seemed to appreciate the spirit in which the left-handed journeyman used it. Newcomb posted the video to his Instagram story Sunday afternoon with the comment, “Keep thanking Hashem!!!”
Ortega reposted Newcomb’s story with a response: “Always.”
Ortega did not reply to a message on Instagram sent Sunday night. The Forward reached out to Newcomb for comment Monday afternoon.