Jews ante up,
om Vegas to the house next door.
HARRY KIRS BAUM
is Tuesday night, and nine yarmulke-clad men
sit at a large oak table during another "study
group" session, something they've done for
Bar mitzvah and wedding pictures from years ago
form a backdrop on the walls of this small dining room
at the Katz home in Oak Park.
Most of the men are retired. One of the youngest,
Allen Ishakis of Southfield, keeps the rest in line and
on topic, but sometimes he needs help, particularly in
the midst of one lesson.
"Give that one to Moishe," says Ishalcis; leaning over
the table. "David, that's for you."
Once the hand is dealt, the "study group" starts
"Check," says Dave Dombey of Southfield. Two oth-
"Thirty cents," says Moishe Carmen of Oak Park.
"Check," says another.
"I said 30 cents!" repeats Carmen, showing two
kings. "Hey, hey, no respect for the kings?"
"I can't see that far," says yet another.
They have no respect for me," Carmen says.
"Down, Moishe," everyone replies.
On this Tuesday night — and every other Tuesday
night for the past 30-something years — the "study
group" topic is poker.
Poker is hot. Some 80 million Americans play the
game in casinos, on the Internet or at very small-stakes
home games like this one. Prime-time television tour-
naments feature professionals and celebrities playing
what's called the Cadillac of poker games: Texas no-
limit Hold'em. The game has made some top-ranked
Jewish pros famous, like Howard Lederer and his sister
But to the "study group," that's just television.
"We don't play those kind of games," says Jerry
Liebman of Southfield. "This is a family game. It's not
about money, it's about telling jokes and meeting once
They play five or six different games, with names like
Criss-Cross, Red-and-Black and Miami. All high-low
games, so two winners always split the
Nosh food, a bottle of Canadian
Club and small red plastic cups sit on a
photographer gets within range.
This "shy" gentleman shouldn't worry about coming
up with bail money, said James Halushka, deputy pros-
ecutor of Oakland County.
"Technically, if there are payoffs, it's illegal gambling,
and it's a crime," he said. "Realistically, and I can't
speak for everybody, but no - one is going to go after a
friendly, low-stakes game among friends. When it starts
becoming a business or we're talking about huge
amounts of money, then it's a different story"
Halushka also said that Internet gambling is legal in
Michigan if the site emanates from somewhere legal.
"If you're betting on a Web site based in Vegas,
there's not a problem," he said.
Dave Dombey of Southfield shuffles.
fold-up card table nearby.
Paula Katz bides her time in the kitchen. Setting up
the nosh table has become an almost subconscious
chore, and she goes to bed early on "study group" nights
In a corner of the living room, Jeff, their son, sits
quietly at a desk and surfs the Net.
"I watch them play and it's amusing," he says. "They
tend to liven up the room."
One man at the table, worried that a photograph
might "bring the heat," declines to give his name and
buries his head in his hands whenever the Jewish News
According to the Bicycle Playing Card Web site, card
playing began in China in the 10th century
"Four-suited decks with court cards evolved in the
Moslem world and were imported by Europeans before
1370," the Web site states. "At one time, the king of
hearts represented Charlemagne; the king of diamonds
was Julius Caesar; the king of dubs was Alexander the
Great; and the king of spades was King David from the
Bible. It is from French designs that the cards we use
today are derived."
The sword held by the king of spades represents the
sword King David took from Goliath after killing him
with a slingshot. The slingshot was also shown in play-
ing cards until the 19th century, according to Jim
McManus, author of Positively Fifth Street: Murderers,
Cheetahs and the Binion's World Series of Poker (Farrar,
Straus and Giroux, $26).
People have gambled since ancient times, said Rabbi
Dr. Steven A. Kaufman, professor of Bible and cognate
literature at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of
Religion in Cincinnati.
"Professional gamblers, which are referred to in rab-
binical literature as mescheck dekubiot [those who play
dice], were barred from giving witness in court cases,
but so were women and minors, so take that as you
will," said Dr. Kaufman, himself a poker player (see
accompanying story). "Gamblers were assumed to be
dubious characters that essentially had to be able to lie
with a straight face. Therefore, you wouldn't want them
as a witness.
"In the Middle Ages, the issues became more corn-
munity oriented. Unlike modern times, the Jewish
community had its own rules and regulations."
In some medieval Jewish communities, the local
vaad (rabbinical board) made proclamations that Jews