How many times have you noticed this phenomenon? A big coed swimming pool with a gym right next to it! Oh, and upon closer scrutiny we notice a synagogue or even some sort of school with religious programs attached to it. And the name in big bill board letters along the wall of the building! “
” or ‘Rambam Institute”. Mamonides Center
How many times have I read the following terms: orthodox sport team, orthodox player or frum wrestler? I ask myself, what is the basis for such names and descriptions?
Is competitive sports part of the Jewish heritage? Or perhaps it is thoughtless imitation of the ways of the nations as it has been so many times in the history of the Jewish people knows as the “people of the Book”?
Don’t forget, I’m a stranger! Doing my research! I am trying to understand this new (for me) reality!
There seems to be two opposing points of view. On one side of the spectrum we have those where sport is a big part of their lives and on the other side there are those that prohibit sports totally! I live in a neighborhood where the School/Yeshivos don’t have a competitive sports program other then during recess when each “team” wants to be the winner. My son attends a yeshiva where ball playing is not allowed at all! Now both sides feel that they are the ones following tradition & mesora! Where does the truth lie?
The proponents of physical activity appear to base their hashkafa on the words of the Rambam, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and various other sources. A perfunctory reading of these sources yields the following. (I didn’t have the privilege to learn it in the yeshiva but B-H, I was able to read here and there and this is what I found)
“Keep your body in perfect condition” Mishney Torah 3:3 of Rambam.
“Toil in moderate degree is good for the physical health” Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 32:21
“Take up everything into your way of life which brings it health and strength” Horeb 430
So there we have it. Clearly Chazal’s statements encourage physical activity! All of the
three authors quoted above wrote those lines in their major volumes in the chapter dedicated to the health of man. It is required to take care of the health of the individual. Proper diet and exercise are the primary tools to achieve this goal.
Ok. I see the reasoning for physical activity, but something is telling me that the sources quoted above can’t serve as support for the participation or careers in competitive sports!
Is this feeling too extreme? Well, you know those Gerim and Baaley Tshuva they tend to be extreme…
Let us take a closer look at the sources we quoted above. A more complete reading shows a different picture.
“It is wrong to watch your health only to be in the good shape (…) Keep your body in perfect condition so that your soul can know G-d.” Mishney Torah 3:3
“Before a meal, one should take a walk, do some work or exercise until you body warms up. Do physical labor in the morning, working up to sweat, then take a break cooling off, and eat after that.” Mishney Torah 4:2
“Toil in moderate degree is good for the physical health, but excessive toil, as well as idleness, are injurious to the body. In the hot season, a little exercise will suffice, but in the cold season, more is required. A fat person requires more exercise than a lean person.” Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 32:21
“Take up everything into your way of life which brings it health and strength. Horeb 429
The body belongs to the soul – and both belong exclusively to G-d! Do not put your body to the service of the any other task.” Horeb 430
A Jew has one and only purpose in life - to serve Hashem his Creator! Our special task is to fix our warped and broken reality, and to bring us back to level of Adam Harishon before his sin. To achieve this goal a Jew is equipped with special set of tools! This is the Torah ! Physical activity and conditioning of the body can only be a means to an end! A way for us to keep our bodies strong so that we can use the tools that Hashem has given us to accomplish our goal and task in life!
I personally enjoy swimming, hiking, mountain climbing, kayaking (I have my own kayaks), and generally being pretty active. We play sports with my family, sometimes getting really tired out. And yes, I would like to my sons yeshiva to include some of this activities during yeshiva time. However, I had a decision to make and a path to choose. I chose for my children schools where they may grow to be Erleche Yiden – good Jews rather than good sportsmen knowing more names of sport players than the names and the teachings of our sages.