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Sport and Halacha English version into four independent parts

Sport and Halacha

Sport and Halacha

Preface              B.H.

Like everyone we have a hobby to participate during our spare time and to relax from work and stress. Some would rather paint, some other choose to do dance aerobics or play music and there are others who like to do all kind of sports.

Today we consider sport as a healthy exercise and one of the most advised activities to avoid physical complaints. But is this view shared with Judaism? Is sport Halachicly allowed to be exercised under all circumstances?

What does Maimonides (1138 – 1204) writes about sports and what does the Talmud say about sports? Are there even “Jewish sports”, Jewish sport clubs and Jewish sportsmen/women? What about physical harmful sports such as boxing? What about the garments (dress code) that will be worn during sports activities?

Is it Halachic allowed to go hunting or fishing for sport? What about men and women mixed swimming pools and women in sports? Are there even sports that are explicit forbidden by the Halacha?

On all these questions we try to provide an answer that is in accordance with the Halacha. It is with certainty that this essay will be read by many young and old men and women. It is also one of the most interesting topics nowadays and that is also why this essay is been written. This essay will be covering four chapters:

1; Talmudic, Tanach, Jewish Law related and Rabbinic comments on sports.

2; “Jewish” sports and Jewish sportsmen/women. (To be continued).

3; Halachic forbidden sports.

4; Halachic problems for both women and men by exercising certain sports.

5; Eastern sports that might be a Halachic problem with their Eastern philosophy.

In the first chapter we will be taking in on what the Talmud and Tanach learn us about sports. We will be also having a look on what Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488 – 1575) us prescribes in the Halachic Codex, the “Shulchan Aruch” about sports. The following chapter will be generally about Jews/Jewess in sports. But also about historical events such as the Olympic games held in Nazi-Germany and what implications it had on the Jews, other minorities and with Western democracies (area of 1936 CE).

The last two chapters will be focused purely on the Halachic aspects of sports. Whether or not it is Halachic allowed to exercise certain sports or that some sport rules are in contradiction or are compatible with the Halacha and there reasoning behind it.

1; Talmudic, Tanach, Jewish Law related and Rabbinic comments on sports

Jewish texts from post Biblical and Talmudic period were very critical about sporting activities. As we can read in the apocryphic (200 BCE) Book of Maccabees, the historic background for the festival of Chanukkah, Judah Ha’Maccabee and his brothers fought for the liberation of Judea from the Hellenizers. The Hellenizers forced the Greek idolizing of the human body (in the gymnasiums, performing marathons) and aesthetics upon the Jews and defiled the Holy Temple, (Hellenism).

As in Greek and Roman culture sports were exercised in the nude and are even portrayed on various ornaments such as antique vases and plates. It is not a surprise that the opinion of Jews in those times were very critical and negative about sports. The Talmud condemns Roman sports and explicit the sadistic sport of gladiatorial combat.

The common message of those texts tells us that religious Jewish boys should be in the Torah study hall and not at the Greek or Roman gymnasiums. But still physical activities were not absent in Talmudic period. There are even reports from Talmudic Sages who are famous for their wisdom as for their physical strength.

Like the Talmudic teacher of Eretz Yisrael of the second generation (until 280 CE), Rabbi Shimon Ben Lakish or better known as Resh Lakish (third century CE). He is somewhat peculiar among the giants of Torah study, as he was, in his early youth, a gladiator.

He is also mentioned in many stories about his gigantic physical strength in many Talmudic reports. He was accustomed to lie on the hard ground, saying, “My fat is my cushion”. As can be read in the Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 46b-47a. Unfortunately under the stress of unfavourable conditions in the end of his life he gave up the study of the Torah.

He sought to support himself in his youth by selling himself to the managers of a circus, Ludus Gladiatorius, where he could make use of his bodily strength. He was active as a gladiator, risking his live by continuous combating wild beasts (Roman favourite sport in the coliseum). Some sources declare he lived in the wilderness and made a livelihood as head of a gang of bandits. From this low estate he was brought back to his studies by Rabbi Yochanan.

Rabbi Yochanan was bathing in the Jordan river and he was mistaken for a woman by Resh Lakish. Resh Lakish was beside him by one bound as Rabbi Yochanan said “Thy strength would be more appropriate for studying Torah”. As Resh Lakish answered “And thy beauty for women”. Rabbi Yochanan promised Resh Lakish his sister’s hand in marriage if he rejoined the Yeshiva and began his studies anew. As can be read in the Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 84a.

As we take on the Tanach we can read historical recordings that are indirectly related to sports. Such great figures as David, Samson, Gideon, Yacov, Esav, Pinchas, Shimon and Levi, Matityahu the Hasmonean and Yudah Ha’Maccabee.

David and sling hurling

In the book I Samuel chapter 17 we read the battle between David and Goliath of the Philistines. ‘When Saul and the Israelites were facing the Philistines near the valley of Elah. Goliath, the Philistines champion, comes out the lines and challenges the Israelites to send out a champion for a single combat. Saul and the Israelites were afraid, but David heard that Saul promised to reward any man who defeats Goliath.

David faces the challenge and refused the armor of Saul, taking only a sling and 5 pebbles from a brook. As soon David and Goliath faced each other, the Philistines cursed David by their gods. David replied “This day Hashem will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down. I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth. That all the earth may know that Hashem saves not with sword and spear, for the battle is Hashem, and He will give you into our hand”.

With a hurl from David’s sling he hit the center of Goliath’s forehead and he fell on his face on the ground, and David cuts his head off.’ It is with this battle David not only triumphed as a champion in battle but also as a champion in sport. The sling may be classified as a weapon but is today considered also as a tool for sport.

Mainly athletes are interested in the sling for breaking distance records with use of the sling. While David’s sling was made of wool, modern day slings are made from a polyester twine (named Dacron). Competitions and sport leagues are common in the Balearic Islands (Spain, in the Mediterranean Sea). In recent years sling competitions have been held in Wyoming, USA, in September 2007 and in Staffordshire, UK, in June 2008.

The current record for the greatest distance achieved in hurling an object from a sling is 437,10 metre according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Left: David hurling his sling towards Goliath. Right: today Sling hurling athlete.

Samson and the comparability with Strongman competitions

An association with physical strength is always made when exercising sports. But there are competitions that aim specifically on the field of physical strength. They are called “strongman” competitions with “World’s Strongest Man” as the most famous. The contestants are tested in various tests such as vehicle pulling, where the person has to pull a truck or an airplane forward.

The most notably strongman in the Tanach is Samson the judge of Israel from the book Judges chapter 13 to 16. His ‘supernatural’ strength was given by Hashem in order of his plan to combat and perform heroic battles against the Philistines.

These heroic features are killing a lion with his bare hands, slaying an entire army with only the jawbone of a donkey and destroying a pagan temple. But the strength of Samson came to be as promise by an Angel of Hashem. He was born and kept himself a Nazirite. Normally a Nazirite refers to one who voluntarily took a vow that is described in Numeri 6:1-21.

This mean that the Nazirite has to abstain from drinks and foods containing grapes, refrain from cutting his hair on his head and his beard and not to become ritually impure. Thus resulting in the weakness of Samson, when he fell in love with the charming Philister and beautyfull Delilah, he told her his secret of physical strength. She cut off the hair of Samson, annulling his vow and so Hashem has deserted Samson.

Samson was weakened and got captured and was made blind by the Philistines, but before he died Hashem granted him a last act of physical strength. Samson destroyed the house of the Philistines and with the destruction resulting in his own death. But also including more Philistines killed then he was alive.

Left: Samson destroying the temple of the Philistines, Judges 16:25-28.
Right: Strongman champion of 2014, the Lithuanian Zydrunas Savickas.

Gideon and the comparability with Chess

Well Chess might be a mere intellectual game, but for some it is a challenging competition. Where Strongman competitions were a challenge of the physique, Chess is a challenge of the mind. Chess was popular among Jewish people and is allowable to be played on Shabbat. (See “Jüdische Religionsgesetze Halacha Aktuel Erster Band, page 91-95, ISBN 3-89228-672-8) Strategy is the key in playing Chess and Gideon was in the possession of a very strategic mind. As we read in the Tanach in the book of Judges chapter 6 to 8.

Hashem chose Gideon, a young man from the tribe of Manasseh, to free the people of Israel from Midianites and to condemn their worship of idols. On the instructions of Hashem, he send out messengers to gather men from the tribes of Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, as well of his own tribe. He did this in order to meet an armed force of the people of Midian and Amalek that had crossed the Jordan river and were encamped in the Valley of Jezreel.

Hashem objected that Gideon had gathered too many men, the victory would be seen as a result of the Israelites instead of acknowledging that Hashem saved them. Thus Hashem instructed Gideon to send men who were afraid to their homes and later Hashem helped Gideon selecting more men to send home according the behaviour of how the men drink water from the river.

Gideon had to go to battle with an armed forces of 300 men. Gideon worshipping Hashem was revealed with the telling from a Midianite man to his friend of a dream in which Hashem has given the Midianites over to Gideon. Gideon divided his men in three companies, armed with Shofars and a clay jar with a torch hidden inside.

They encircled the Midianite camp and made the Midianites flee away as they broke the clay vases and hold up the torches, blow the Shofar and cried “A sword for Hashem and for Gideon!”. Gideon used his strategic and tactical mind on how to secure a victory with a small number of men. The same strategic and tactical mind is necessary in playing Chess, how to beat an opponent with the use of small number of steps/Chess pieces.

Left: Gideon with his army of 300 men against the Midianites.
Right: Russian Chess grandmaster Kasparov (born 1963).

Yacov wrestling with the angel

Wrestling isn’t unfamiliar within the Tanach as it is clearly written in chapter 32nd of Genesis, Yacov was preparing his encounter with Esav the next day. He ferries his familiy across the Yabbok stream, but remained behind alone. There, “a man wrestled with him until dawn”. Yacov is injured in the struggle, but is undefeated. At daybreak, Yacov’s Combatant pleads with him to let him go. Yacov replied: “I will not let you until you bless me”. Yacov was blessed and is been given the name Israel. Because Yacov have struggled with the divine entity and with men, and has prevailed.

The wrestling is conducted on two planes – “with the divine and with men”. It is a wrestle with men: in nearly 4000 years the Israelites have wrestled with the Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Romans, the Spanish Inquisition, Nazi Germany and Islamic terror. These and many others did their worst to destroy the people of Israel, but yet the people of Israel have prevailed.

Left: Yacov wrestling with the angel illustration by Doré.
Right: two wrestling opponents during the Olympic games.

Esav the Hunter and the comparability with sport competitiveness

Later in this essay it will be clearly written about the position of “hunting sport” with the Halacha. But today it is classified by some minorities of “animal friends” as a sport and the father of the Edomites, brother of Yacov and first born son of Yitzchak and Rebekah was a hunter so as Nimrod and Yishmael.

Hunting is commonly a means for gathering food as we can read in the Tanach. So what makes Esav so particular to be written about? Because Esav possessed, as does his brother Yacov, a competitive mentality which is also needed in sport to be certain of own success.

It is between the competition of the two brothers that teaches us about the competitive drive we have in all of us and how we act. Misfortunately for Esav did he not had the qualities to succeed. As in Genesis 25:30 he had sold his birthright as firstborn to his brother for in exchange a red lentil pottage.

But Yitzchak favoured Esav for he was a rough and good hunter. With a good physique and excellent huntsman skills brought Esav meat on the table of Yitzchak. As in Genesis 27:5-7 Rebekah told Yacov that Yitzchak requested to his brother Esav to hunt in the field for venison and prepare a savoury meal, that Yitzchak can eat, and bless Esav before Hashem and before Yitzchak’s death.

With help of Rebekah, Yacov to pretends to be his brother Esav, in order to gain the blessing and inheritance from his father Yitzchak. Theoretically this was already conducted with the trade of Esav’s firstborn birthright. With result, Yacov became the spiritual leader and inheritor of the family after Yitzchak’s death and the heir of the promises of Avraham, Genesis 27:37.

This can be seen as a competition between the two brothers who each want to gain the blessing and inheritance of their father. Just as in any competition, all the participating candidates are like brothers but each want to achieve the ultimate prize.

Left: Esav and Yacov brotherly competitors.
Right: two boxing competitors.

Maimonides intake on physical exercise

Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, popular known as Maimonides or Rambam (1135-1204), wasn’t only a well respected giant in Torah, but he was also a great physician and philosopher. He had always recommended regular physical activity involving effort as being vital to health. Such activities promotes the development of strong bones, strong, flexible muscles and joints that allow free, easy and unrestricted movement. Regular sustained physical activity makes the functioning of the body’s respiratory and blood circulation systems more efficient, providing stable supplies of oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body and enhancing overall metabolism. It also aids the digestive systems and the elimination of waste products from the body.

As cited in the Codex Maimoni, Hilchot De’ot 4:15, “As long as a person exercises and exerts himself a lot, takes care not to eat to the point of being completely full, and keeps his bowels soft, illness will not come upon him and his strength will increase. And whoever sits comfortably and takes no exercise, even if he eats all the best foods and follows healthcare principles in other areas of his life, all his days will be full of pain and his strength will decline.”

It is remarkable that for a great physician and Torah giant in the 12th century his comments and work’s as physician are still consulted today. The world today has changed dramatically to that of the world of the past. Means of transport were used by a considerable amount of physical effort. Now, sophisticated machines and electrical equipment does the work for us by the push of a button. The problem is, especially, great among those whose daily ‘activity’ is mostly sitting, including office workers, drivers and Yeshiva students. Take in consideration that today’s average daily diet, which is richer than in the past, contains fats and sugars. Inadequate physical activity and unhealthy diet are at the root of many of the health problems and illness with which people today are afflicted.

We can read in Guide to Health 1:3 by Rambam: “If only a person would care himself the way he cares for the animal he rides on, he would be saved from many bad illness. You will not find anyone who gives his animal more food than necessary. He measures out the animal’s feed according to what the animal can take, but he himself eats to excess without measure and without a thought. Similarly, he calculates how much exercise and activity his animal needs to keep fit and not become sick. But the person himself does not apply this to his own body, and gives little thought to exercise, even though it is the key to maintaining health and avoiding most illnesses, and there is no other substitute whatever for physical activity and exercise.”

In the wider world of today there is ever-growing awareness of the need for extra physical activity with the purpose of improving fitness, health maintenance and prevention of illness. But the pursuit of these goals has turned into a culture of its own and puts the main emphasis on cultivation of the body and bodily appearance. This culture of the body and bodily appearance can be found back in the Hellenistic period of the Syrian-Greek empire under the reign of the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes the 4th (215 – 164 BCE) As stated on the beginning of this chapter the Hellenizers forced their body worship unto the Jews and defiled the Holy Temple.

The worshipping of the body is an act of Idolatry and is a violation of one of the 10 commandments given by Hashem. But does this mean that Jews may not exercise physical activities? For Jews the true purpose of engaging in the physical activities that promote health is to make the body a fit instrument for the service of Hashem. But which exercise? Is it required to use sophisticated equipment and perform difficult exercises? That’s a mistake! A brisk 20-30 minute walk three or four times a week can provide the quota of physical activity necessary to maintain fitness. The Rambam defines in his Han’hagat HaBri’ut (The Guide to Health) 1:3: “Exercise is a form of activity involving bodily movements that may be strong or gentle or a combination of the two and which cause changes in the person’s breathing, which becomes more rapid.”

The Rambam’s definition corresponds to the ‘Aerobics’ exercise recommended by present-day specialists, a steady, non-stop activity that involves a certain degree of effort and leads to increase rate of blood circulation and breathing without putting strain on the heart and lungs.

Group exercise of aerobics.

2; “Jewish” sports and Jewish sportsmen/women

2.1; “Jewish” Sports

In the Antiquity, Jews haven’t participated in sports as they were restricted by the Talmud. But later in the Middle Ages with great rabbis such as Maimonides the approach for Jews engaging in sports has changed. Slowly but not widespread as it began in the first part of the 20th century Jewish sporting became more institutional and public.

The Olympic games

The situation of Jews at the Nazi Olympic games of 1936, in Berlin.

In August 1936, for two weeks, camouflaged Nazi dictatorship of Adolf Hitler its racist, anti-Semite and militaristic character while hosting the summer Olympics. The Nazi regime exploited the Games to bedazzle and lie to many foreign spectators and journalist with an image of an peaceful, tolerant Gemany. The proposed boycott of the Nazi German games got rejected. With the conclusion, Nazi Germany’s expansionist policies and the persecution of Jews and other “enemies” was accelerated. Resulting in the 2nd World War and the “Shoa”.

The Olympic flame arrived at the Berlin Nazi Olympic stadium, with Nazi propaganda in the background.

Two weeks before the Olympics began, German officials informed Gretel Bergmann, a Jewish athlete who had equalled the German women's record in the high jump, that she was denied a place on the team. As the winning jump at the Olympics had been attained by Bergmann earlier, the Germans sacrificed a chance for a gold medal with this action.

As a token gesture to mollify the West, German authorities allowed the half-Jewish fencer Helene Mayer to represent Germany in Berlin. No other Jewish athlete competed for Germany. Mayer claimed a silver medal in women's individual foil and, like all other medalists for Germany, gave the Nazi salute on the podium. Two-time European champion Ilona Schacherer-Elek, a part-Jew from Hungary won the gold medal and the bronze went to Ellen Preis, an Austrian, who was also of Jewish descent.

Thirteen Jews or persons of Jewish descent won medals in the Nazi Olympics, including six Hungarians. Many Hungarian Jews shared their fellow citizens' passion for sport and viewed participation as a means of assimilation. In the 1930s, however, the anti-Semitic views of the fascist Hungarian government that developed close ties to Hitler's regime also pervaded some fields of sport. Fencing officials openly disdained Jews, even champion fencers such as Endre Kabos, who won the gold medal for Hungary in the individual and team saber events.

To add to the fact that these Olympic games hosted by Hitler’s monstrous regime that is based on racism and anti-Semitism, in which the Western democracies have been participated, such as the USA, the UK and France, will stay as a deplorable blot in the eyes of the Jews. To participate in an international event that is hosted by a racist and anti-Semitic totalitarian dictatorship is counted as an act of passively giving approval towards the hateful regime.

No country that promotes Human rights and democratic values can support totalitarian regimes. However it is sadly to notice that history tend to repeat itself. Certain with the past Winter Olympics in Socchi (2014) of host country Russia, that is held during the Russian occupation in Ukraine, eastern parts and Crimea. Or in the future World Cup of FIFA in 2022 that will be hosted by Qatar. Qatar is a country that is a huge concern for several non-governmental organizations of Human Rights. The Qatari justice system is based on the Islamic Sharia Law and is not compatible with the universal human rights.

Munich massacre during the Olympic games of 1972, in Munich, West-Germany

The Palestinian terrorist group, Black September, held 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage and eventually killed them during the summer Olympics in 1972, in Munich, West Germany. The safety and security approach of the West German Olympic Organizing Committee has failed. As showed in the documentary film “One day in September”, the security in the athletes village was unfit for the games, as athletes could come and go as they pleased and even sneak past security.

Left: The Palestinian terrorist taken preceding the massacre.
Right: Two armed West-German policemen on a rooftop in attempt to rescue the 11 Israeli hostages.

The Committee had hoped to discard the militaristic image portrayed by the 1936 Berlin Olympics of Hitler’s regime. The absence of armed personnel had worried the Israeli delegation head, Shmuel Lalkin, even before his team arrived in Munich. Also the housing of the team was in a relatively isolated part of the Olympic village, which makes it vulnerable for outside attacks. German authorities assured Lalkin that extra security would be provided, but Lalkin doubted that these added measurements were ever taken.

In 2012 in the German weekly news magazine “Der Spiegel” was written in a cover story that the West German authorities were way beforehand informed about the terrorist attack that was to be taken place at the Olympic Games. But the authorities had failed to act on the tip and in the following 40 years kept denying. The denial and the fact that even after the attack held place the games were kept going on is a huge disrespect towards the victims and the victims families. As Jim Murray of the “Los Angelos Times” wrote: It’s almost like having a dance at Dachau.

The Maccabiah Games

The Maccabiah Games are an international Jewish multi-sport event held quadrennially in Israel. The Maccabiah, organized by the Maccabi World Union, has been declared a Regional Sport Event by the International Olympic Committee in 1961. Jewish Olympics is been often referred as it is inspired by the Stockholm Olympics in 1912.

Originally, the Maccabiah was held every three years: since the 4th edition, the event is held the year following the Olympic Games. In contrast with major multi-sport events, as the Olympics, the competitions are organized into four divisions: Juniors, Open, Masters and Disabled. The Maccabiah games are open to Jewish athletes as well as Israeli athletes regardless of religion. Arab Israelis have also competed in these games alongside with Jewish athletes. The Maccabiah is a forum for Jewish Athletes to meet and convene.

Yosef Yekutieli proposed the Maccabiah Games in 1929 at the Maccabi World Congress. Yekutieli, who heard about the Stockholm Olympics, wanted to form a representation for Eretz Yisrael. The Maccabiah got the Go-ahead from the new appointed British Palestine High Commissioner Sir Arthur Grenfell Wauchope. The first Maccabiah Games opened on March the 28th of 1932, 4 years before the Nazi Olympics took place.

The Maccabiah Stadium was built with donations in Tel Aviv. Roughly 400 athletes took part from 18 countries in everything from swimming, football, handball and various athletics. The Polish delegations took first place in the first games. It was a success and the second Maccabiah was held from April 2 to 10 in 1935, despite official opposition by the British Mandatory government.

Israel team delegations at the opening ceremony of the recent Maccabiah games in 2013.

Prior to the 2nd World War there was an attempt to organize a winter Maccabiah. The 1st winter Maccabiah was held in Zakopane, Poland, in Februari 2 to 5 in 1933. It was not held in Israel due to the relatively warm temperatures. The Winter Maccabiah were met with great opposition, the Polish newspaper Gazeta Warszawska encouraged Polish youth to intervene during the games to prevent the “Jewification of Polish winter sports venues”. A second attempt at Winter Maccabiah was relatively more successful. It took place 18 to 22 february in 1936 in, former Czechoslovakia, Banska Bystrica. In the Games, 2,000 athletes from 12 nations participated. This was also the last time a winter Maccabiah was ever held and also the only two Maccabiot not have taken place in Eretz Yisrael.

Krav Maga, Jewish martial arts

Krav Maga, which is Hebrew for “Contact Combat” is a self-defence system and is developed for the Israel Defence Forces. The IDF uses Krav Maga both the regular and special forces. Krav Maga consists of a wide combination of techniques sourced from boxing, combat Sambo, Muay Thai, Wing Chun, Judo, Jujutsu, wrestling, Aikido and grappling. Krav Maga is known for its focus on real-war situations and brutal counter attacks.

It was also derived from street-fighting skills developed by Hungarian-Israeli martial artist Imi Lichtenfeld (1910 – 1998), who made use of his training as a boxer and wrestler as a means of defending the Jewish quarter against fascist groups in Bratislava, former Czechoslovakia, in the mid-to-late 1930’s. In the 40’s, following his immigration to Israel, he began to provide lessons on combat training to what was to become the IDF. He started on the development a system that became to known as Krav Maga. Since then it has been refined for civilian, police and military applications.

IDF soldiers training Krav Maga.

Krav Maga has a philosophy emphasizing threat neutralization, simultaneous defensive and offensive manoeuvres, and aggression. Students learn to defend against all variety of attacks and are taught to counter in the quickest and most efficient way and are also encouraged to avoid confrontation. When impossible or unsafe to avoid, they are learned to aim the attacks at the most vulnerable parts of the body. Training is not limited to techniques that avoid severe injury: some even permanently injure or cause death to the opponent. Drills provide maximum safety to students by the use of protective equipment and the use of reasonable force.

Ideas in Krav Maga include the following:

       Counter attacking as soon as possible

       Targeting attacks to the body’s most vulnerable points: eyes, neck, face, solar plexus, groin, ribs, knee, foot, fingers, etc

       Maximum effectiveness and efficiency in order to neutralize the opponent

       Maintain awareness of the surroundings while dealing with the threat for the search of escape routes, objects that could be used to defend or help attack

Within the trainings, students are also taught in psychology to develop insight to understand the psychology of a street confrontation, and to identify potential threats before an attack occurs. It may also cover ways to deal with physical and verbal challenges to avoid violence whenever possible. In the most Krav Maga organizations use Imi Lichtenfeld’s colored belt grading system which is based upon the Judo ranking system. It starts with White belt and followed in order: Yellow, Orange, Green, Blue, Brown and Black belts. The time and requirements for advancing have some differences between organizations. The very first Krav Maga tournament has been held in May 2013 by the Israel Defense Force.

Jewish influence in Bodybuilding

Today (2015) Bodybuilding world has become a cult about body worship as can be compared with the Hellenizes at the time of Judah the Maccabee. But Bodybuilding as a sport couldn’t have been as it was today with the help of two Jewish brothers. Joe Weider (1920 – 2013), for many the Jewish godfather of the sport in modern times, and his brother Ben Weider (1923 – 2008) were born to Jewish immigrants from Poland in a tough neighbourhood of Montreal, Canada, in 1920. Joe began lifting weights as a teenager to stand up to bullies and older boys before competing in his first bodybuilding contest at the age of 17.

In the early 1940’s he started his first magazine, “Your Physique”, and rented with his brother Ben Motnreal’s Monument National Theater to host the first Mr Canada contest during that same decade. The two brothers also founded the International Federation of Bodybuilders and in 1965 Joe created the Mr Olympia competition, the sport’s premiere bodybuilding contest. Today the Mr Olympia is seen as the greatest event and most important event of the sport.

Joe met Arnold Schwarzenegger (born 1947) at a contest in Europe and convinced him to move from his native Austria to the USA to seek wider recognition. Joe felt that the sport needed a star and saw something special in Arnold Schwarzenegger. Joe took Arnold, nicknamed the “Austrian Oak”, under his guidance in training, nutrition and posing.

Alongside the brothers impact on the sport of competitions did they also created a line of sport nutritional supplements, and more than a dozen fitness magazines: Fit Pregnancy, Living fit, Flex, Muscle and Fitness, etc. Joe died at the age of 93 in 2013. His brother Ben died earlier at the age of 85 in 2013. Ben was also a donor to the Lubavitch causes in Canada. The buildings of Bais Chaya Mushka Seminary and the Yeshiva are named after him.

Ben Weider was always interested in Yiddishkeit and visited the seminary every Friday of Rabbi Avraham Cohen. Also Ben frequently attended the Shabbat, Sukkot and the Seder meal on Pesach at the Cohen residence in the Snowdon neighbourhood. He wrote frequently notes for asking blessings to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson (1902 – 1994), but he has never met him.

Left: Ben Weider holding the four spices of Sukkot with Rabbi Cohen.
Right: Joe on the left and his brother Ben Weider on the right.


Initiated and completed under the supervision of Prof. Rabbi Ahron Daum, B.A., M.S., Emeritus-Chief Rabbi of Frankfurt am Main.

Special effects and collecting the material as the whole composition of the essay: Hans Weygers, Antwerpen

Webmaster: Yitzchak Berger, son-in-law of Rabbi Ahron Daum, Shlita, Antwerp.

Used internet sources



Sport and Halacha  part 2

Sport and Halacha

“Jewish” sports and Jewish sportsmen/women.

Sports as a means of resistance against the Kingdom of Evil

2; “Jewish” sports and Jewish sportsmen/women

2.2; Jews and sports through history

In the Antiquity, Jews haven’t participated in sports as they were restricted by the Talmud. But later in the Middle Ages with great Rabbis such as Maimonides the approach for Jews engaging in sports has changed. Slowly but not widespread as it began in the first part of the 20th century Jewish sporting became more institutional and public.

Bar Kochba and Antiquity (8th century BCE – 4th century CE)

Simon bar Kochba (died 135 CE) was the Jewish leader of the revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 CE, the Bar Kochba revolt. He established an independent Jewish state which he ruled as head of state for three years. According to legend, during his reign, a mutilated man was once presented to him, who had his tongue ripped out and his hands cut off. Unable to talk or write, the victim was incapable of telling who his attackers were. Simon bar Kochba decided to ask simple questions to which the victim was able to nod or shake his head in response.

The inquiry method can be comparable with a game of guess. Where one of the two players comes up with a word or an object, while the other must figure it out by asking questions only to be answered with “yes” or “no”. But Simon bar Kochba portrayed an exemplary role during the revolt, as rebellious leader, a great physical fitness and a healthy mindset to succeed.

Left: Man playing game of hoop rolling. Ancient mosaic displayed at 6th century CE in the Great Palace of Constantinople.
Right: Roman gladiatorial combat, which is not permitted to participate by the Talmud.

After the destruction of the 2nd Temple, the fall of Jerusalem (100 CE), the 1st JewishRoman War (66-73 CE) and the Bar Kochba revolt cost more than a million Jewish lives. The development of the Talmudim had a great important impact on Jewish view on sports. As it restricted religious Jewish boys to participate in sporting activities during the antiquity. The Talmud disapproved activities such as gladiatorial combat against other men and against wild animals in the coliseum or chariot racings. But also marathon running, spear throwing, discus throwing, wrestling and boxing in the nude were discouraged by the Talmud.

The Talmud encouraged religious Jewish boys to attend study in the Torah study halls. But a sporting or physical activity that could have been accepted is hoop rolling. It is both a sport as a child’s game in which a large hoop is rolled along the ground, generally by means of the player. Goal of the game is to keep the hoop up right for long periods of time and or to do various tricks.

Middle Ages (5th – 15th century CE)

During the Medieval, post-Talmudic period, Rabbis such as Maimonides did promote the Talmud views on sports and physical activity. But they encouraged Jews to have a physical fit body in order to serve Hashem and for the study of Torah. Sporting activities that were considered brutal such as the Roman gladiatorial combat and performing sporting activities in the nude were kept discouraged.

Medieval print portraying women active in a game of ball.

Maimonides view on physical healthy activities that are allowed for the time period were walking and some sort of aerobic. But other physical activities that were exercised by Medieval Jews were ball games. Maimonides used the analogy of a king who when he was in his youth valued playing ball in the streets with other boys, but now has found more valuable pursuits. This analogy is from his commentary on the Mishnah, Introduction to Sanhedrin 10.1.

Modern times (20th century CE  – today)

Reaching the modernity Jews started to establish own sporting events and sporting institutions. Even within the Zionist circles there were voices that in the later independent State of Israel national institutions would be settled for sports. But even within the beginning of the modernity in the 20th century Jews had to face the hardship of anti-Semitism and discrimination.

2.3; Jewish sportsmen/women

Orthodox Jewish boxer, Dmitriy Salita

In the USA at the late 1920’s, a majority of young Jews didn’t had the necessarily options to go to college and becoming a professional. Boxing offered an opportunity to those Jews to “make it” in the USA. Jews entered in large numbers the ranks of American boxing and became the dominant ethnicity in American prize fighting.

Left: Dmitriy Salita performing the Mitzvah of waving the Four Species of Sukkot in the Lubavitch headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, New York.
Right: Dmitriy Salita in his training outfit practicing boxing.

It state out that Jews based in the USA were indeed active in boxing sport, in spare time as in competition. Dmitriy Salita (born 1982), an Ukraineborn American boxer from Brooklyn, New York in the welterweight devision. As an Orthodox Jew, Dmitriy keeps the Jewish customs, he eats Kosher and does not fight on Shabbat or on Festivals.

What makes Dmitriy special is his devotion towards Hashem and his observance of the Jewish customs. When he moved to Brooklyn, he was exposed to Orthodox Judaism and became an observant Jew himself. He follows the Jewish Law strictly, i.e. if a fight takes place on Saturday it has to be held after sundown when the Shabbat has ended.

His devotion to the Jewish faith is perfectly said by himself, and quoted: “I will never compromise my beliefs. Never. It’s not a question. I have a personal relationship with Hashem that I won’t compromise. My boxing is such a big part of my life, but it won’t get in the way of my religion. It can’t, and it won’t.

Jewish Israeli professional golfer, Laetitia Beck

Born in Antwerp, Belgium, Laetitia Beck (born 1992) was raised Jewish and she keeps eating Kosher, on and off the road. Liliane and Jean Claude, parents of Leatitia, are both recreational golfers and so golfing has been part of the family. The family moved to Caesarea, Israel, between Tel Aviv and Haifa, when Laetitia was 6 years old. It is the only city in Israel with an 18hole golf course, the Caesarea Golf Club, she grew up on walking distance from it.

Laetitia Beck on 1st place for Israel at the 2013 Maccabiah Games.

At the age of 9 she began playing golf at the Caesarea Golf Academy. At a young age she excelled both in golf and tennis. When she reached the age of 18 years old, she enlisted herself in the Israeli army and completed her required military exam. But the army postponed her military service until after her golf career. In July of 2014, at the age of 22, she became the first Israeli woman to play golf as a professional, making her professional debut at the 2014 Women’s British Open.

In December of 2014, Laetitia became the first Israeli golfer to qualify as a fullyfledged PGA (Professional Golf Association) or LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) Tour player. She won an individual gold medal and a team gold medal in golf at the 2009 Maccabiah Games. In 2013 Maccabiah Games, she then won both an individual gold medal and a team gold medal, helping Israel win gold by a stroke in the team event, over team USA. Laetitia hopes to represent the Israeli Olympic Team in Golf at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Summer Olympics, when the sport returns to the Olympic Games.

Jewish American swimming champion, Mark Spitz

Born in Modesto, California, USA, Mark (born 1950) was the first of three children of Arnold and Lenore Spitz. A Jewish family originated from Hungary, the grandparents of Mark left Hungary after the 2nd World War. When Mark was at the age of 2, the Spitz’s family moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he swam at Waikiki beach every day. His mother, Leonore, told a reporter: “You should have seen that little boy dash into the ocean. He’d run like he was trying to commit suicide.” (In the “Time” of April 12, 1968).

Mark Spitz in swimming action.

Mark, when moved back to California in Sacramento at the age of 6, began to compete at the local swim club. Sherm Chavoor (1918 – 1992), swimming coach who mentored 7 Olympic medal winners, trained Mark Spitz at the age of 9 in the Arden Hills Swim Club, Sacramento, CA, USA. Before he turned 10, Mark held already 17 national age-group records, and one world record. In the period between 1964 to 1968 Mark trained with coach George F. Haines (1924 – 2006) at Santa Clara High School. He held in every stroke and in every distance national high school records.

In 1966, age of 16, he won the 100 meter butterfly at the AAU National Championships, the first of his 24 AAU titles. His first international competition was the 1965 Maccabiah Games in Tel Aviv, Eretz Yisrael. He won 4 gold medals and was named the most outstanding athlete. He is indeed an outstanding athlete as in 1968 and in 1972 Olympic games he won in total of both games 9 gold medals, 1 silver and 1 bronze. His record of 7 gold medals from the Munich Olympics of 1972 was only broken by Michael Phelps (born 1985) at the 2008 Olympic games.

Jewish Equestrian Margie GoldsteinEngle

Margie GoldsteinEngle (born 1958) was born in Wellington, Florida, USA, to Mona and Irvin Goldstein, and is Jewish. In South Miami, she grew up in her middleclass family with two older brothers. Her passion about horses grew in her third grade. But because her parents couldn’t afford to pay for more than one riding lesson a week, she obtained more lessons in exchange for cleaning out the stalls and dog kennels.

She graduated from Florida International University and majoring in Business Education. In 1995, she married her husband, a horse veterinarian Steve Engle. Between 1984 and 2005 she had won 6 World Cups and 20 Nations Cups, she got ranked 6th all-time by the Federation Equestre Internationale. In Winnipeg, at the 1999 Pan American Games she had won silver with the USA jumping team. She won a team gold medal and an individual bronze medal at the 2003 Pan American Games, and a silver medal with the USA team in the 2006 American Horse Shows Association, Equestrian of the Year.

With her career, she set a record of showjumping earnings of more than $ 4 million. She also set a record in 1991 with most AGA wins on the same horse in the same season. Margie has more than 195 Grand Prix Victories, and as of October in 2011 she was the all-time career leader in Grand Prix wins. With the most Grand Prix wins in a single season (11 times) and with two victories in two days, she has set another record for herself.

Left: Margie Goldstein-Engle victorious on her noble stead, named Perin.
Right: Margie in action during a competition.

Jewish Hungarian gymnast Agnes Keleti

Born in Budapest, Hungary, Agnes Keleti (born 1921) began practicing gymnastics at the age of 4 and, by the age of 16, became the Hungarian National Champion. Keleti was considered a top prospect for the Hungarian team at the 1940 Olympics, but due the escalation of the 2nd World War both games of 1940 and 1944 were cancelled. As a Jewess, Keleti was forced into hiding to survive the war.

Upon hearing the rumour that married women weren’t taken to labor camps, she hastily married in 1944 with Istvan Sarkany (1913 – 2009). Istvan was a Hungarian gymnast who participated in the 1936 Berlin Olympics of Hitler. The marriage was fragile and they divorced in 1950. Thus Agnes survived the war by purchasing and using Christian papers and working as a maid in a small village. Unfortunately her father died in the death camp of Auschwitz.

Left: Agnes during competition.
Right: Agnes during practice.

She resumed her training training after the war and she qualified for the 1948 Summer Olympics, but she missed the competition due to injury. At the age of 31 she finally competed at the Olympics for the first time in 1952. During the 1956 Olymics, Hungary became invaded by the Soviet Union. Upon hearing the news, Agnes and with 44 other athletes from the Hungarian delegation have made the decision to remain in Australia and receive political asylum. In 1957, Agnes emigrated to Eretz Yisrael and was able to send to her mother and sister. Folowing her retirement from competition, she worked as a physical education instructor at the Tel Aviv University and the Wingate Institute for Sport in Netanya. She also coached and worked with Israel’s national gymnastics team well into the 1990s. Over the course of her gymnastic career she had won 5 gold Olympic medals, 3 silver Olympic medals, 2 bronze Olympic medals, and also a gold, a silver and a bronze World championship medal.

San Francisco Jewish sharpshooter Philo Jacoby

Philo Jacoby (1837 – 1922) was born in Pomerania, Poland, son of Isaac Jacoby, Rabbi of Lauenburg. He learned the craft of printing, studied Naval school in Danzig, and served the merchant marines of England, Prussia and the United States. When he arrived in 1859 in San Francisco, USA, he opened a printing office near the Call and Bulletin at Clay and Sansome. Rabbi Julius Eckman (1805 – 1874) was one of his clients, he commissioned Jacoby to print his Jewish paper The weekly Gleaner.

In 1863 Jacoby started his own Jewish weekly, The Hebrew. It is printed in part in German and it carried a strong Unionist message and much coverage of sports. Due the time spirit of the American civil war and to controvert the ghetto image. He had been taught marksmanship when he first arrived in California, in Sacramento by Captain John Sutter, at whose mill gold first discovered. Not only did Jacoby become the leading marksman in California, but he was considered one of the best in the world.

Jacoby was the first American to win an international rifle title, in Berlin in 1868, at the Berlin Shooting Championships. The Prussian Kaiser awarded him a prize rifle and the emperor of Austro-Hungary decorated him. Newspapers compared him to William Tell, all marvelled at his shooting skills. Jack London wrote: “Philo Jacoby, the Champion of Veterans, has been winning prizes as usual, and no one is surprised. He is so clever with the rifle that he has almost ceased to be a wonder.”

Left: Philo Jacoby with his many trophies and medallions that he has won.
Right: Illustration of the shooting halls of his created San Rafael’s Schuetzen Park, a 37-acre amusement park for shooting, bowling, dancing and dining.

Aside his shooting sport he was one of the charter members of the Olympic Club and the Turn Verein, the San Francisco German Athletic club. In 1863 he joined the San Francisco German Rifle Club and in his first outing made 101 bull’s-eyes at 150 yards (137,16 meters), launching his spectacular career.

From wrestler to Rabbi, Rafael Halperin

Born in Austria, Rafael Halperin (1924 – 2011) moved to Eretz Yisrael with his family in 1933. The Halperin family moved to Bnei Brak the following year. Rafael studied in Haifa and as a teenager in Jerusalem. He excelled in several athletic pursuits, including weightlifting and karate. As a competitor, he became the national champion in Karate, boxing and bodybuilding. It is said that he was a profound skilled diamond cutter.

Rafael wanted to open a chain of athletic facilities, so he decided that he began wrestling professionally to earn the necessary money. His career took him to the United States, where he was reported to have won 159 consecutive matches. Because of his legitimate athletic contest approach he gained the displeasure of some promoters and fellow wrestlers. He was against scripted performances in wrestling and wrestled as a fan favourite, by refusing to break any rules. He was upholding the dignity of his country. He credited with popularizing professional wrestling in Eretz Yisrael.

After his wrestling retirement he held several jobs in Eretz Yisrael. By opening a chain of athletic centers he has fulfilled his dream. He also became an author, writing several books including an encyclopedia and a weight-loss guide. He served in the Israel Defense Forces during the Yom Kippur war of 1973. Rafael founded also a chain of optical centers, and in 2008 he and his wife Bertie devided the business chain among their five children.

Left: Promotional poster of Rafael Halperin as Mr Israel and undefeated wrestling champion.
Right: In the middle Rabbi R. Halperin with his sons Dovid (left) and Ya’akov (right) in his study.

Rafael had also been ordained a Rabbi and because of his Orthodox beliefs, he was opposed to businesses that were operating on the Shabbat. He led an initiative to create a credit card which contain a chip that renders it inoperable on the Shabbat, to combat the desecration of the Holy day. The chip of the credit card will not function in any store that is known to operate on the Shabbat.

Israeli Jewish astronaut Ilan Ramon

Ilan Ramon, born as Ilan Wolferman, (1954 – 2003) was and Israeli pilot fighter in the Israel Air Force, and later the first Israeli astronaut for NASA. Born in Ramat Gan, Eretz Yisrael, to Tonya (1929 – 2003) and Eliezer Wolferman (1923 – 2006). He grew up in Beersheba, his father was from Germany, and his family fled Nazi persecution in 1935. His mother and grandmother were from Poland, and were Shoah survivors, having been in the death camp of Auschwitz. They immigrated to Eretz Yisrael in 1949.

Ilan, means free in Hebrew, he changed his last name from Wolferman to Ramon when he joined the IAF just as many other Israeli aviators did. He was Colonel (Aluf Mishne) and a fighter pilot, with thousands of hours of flying experience. From 1974-76 he participated A-4 Basic Training and Operations. In 1981 he was the youngest pilot taking part in Operation Opera, which is Israel’s strike against Iraq’s unfinished Osiraq Nuclear Reactor. The facility was destroyed, killing ten Iraqi soldiers and one French researcher.

In 1997, Ramon was selected as a Payload specialist and he was designated to train as prime for a space shuttle mission with a payload that included a multispectral camera for recording desert aerosol (dust). He reported for training at the Jonshon Space Center, in Houston, Texas, where he trained until 2003. It is not considered a sport space flight, but due the zero-gravity and g-forces, an astronaut has to have the perfect physical fitness to undergo such an dangerous endeavour. The purpose of the training lies in prevention of space motion sickness, orthostatic intolerance (extended siting in the same position) and cardiovascular events.

Left: Astronaut in training equipment to exercise against motion sickness.
Right: Exercising in the Johnson Space Center to handle weightlessness.

About two-thirds of astronauts experience space motion sickness, with effects rarely exceeding two days. There is a risk for post-flight motion sickness, but this is only significant for long-duration space missions. Astronauts train in simulated rooms or environments that copy the situation in space. In zero gravity rooms, astronauts will be trained how to handle weightlessness as space is in a vacuum. Fully equipped in an astronaut suit, astronauts are trained in pools to copy the floating effect that can also be created in zero gravity rooms and in space itself.

Ilan’s 16-day flight was on January 16th of 2003 and was a dedicated science and research mission. Although considered that he was a secular Jew, Ilan reportedly sought to follow Jewish observances while in orbit. In an interview he said the following: “I feel I am representing all Jews and all Israelis.” He was also the first spaceflight participant to request Kosher food. Advice from the Lubavitcher Rabbi, Zvi Konikov (, he reportedly sought, for answers on how to observe the Shabbat in space, as the period between sunrises in orbit is approximately 90 minutes. “Jerusalem we have a problem” was this problem referenced by the speech of Rabbi Konikov at the Kennedy Space Center Memorial for Columbia on February the 7th of 2003.

Before boarding the shuttle Columbia, Ilan received a miniature Torah scroll which has survived the Bergen-Belsen death camp. The miniature Torah scroll was in possession of the Dutch Chief-Rabbi Simon Dasberg (1902 – 1945) who died of exhausting and heart attack in the death camp. His friend Professor Joachim Joseph (1931 – 2008), a Bergen-Belsen survivor, got the Torah scroll from the Dutch Chief-Rabbi and kept it safe. Professor Joachim moved to Eretz Yisrael and became in 2008 the principal investigator on the MEIDEX remote sensing experiment on the space shuttle Columbia to measure aerosols from African dust storms over the Mediterranean and their relation to rainfall. It is with the very same space shuttle that Ilan Ramon is going to board. Unfortunately the Torah scroll didn’t survived the destruction and so Ilan and the Torah scroll met the same fate of a fiery death as the victims of the Nazi death camps.

Left: Ilan Ramon with the Lubavitcher Rabbi Zvi Knikov.
Middle: Miniature Torah Scroll representing the burned Torah of the Columbus crash (read also my essay Mikva: Living Water).
Right: Ilan’s NASA astronaut profile photo with the shuttle Columbia in the background.

The mission ended abruptly hen the space shuttle Columbia was destroyed and it’s crew perished during re-entry, just 16 minutes before the scheduled landing. The only item that survived the crash was his diary, 37 pages from his diary he was keeping while in orbit, were returned to his widow, Rona, who has shared and excerpt with the Israeli public in a display at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum. Curator Yigal Zalmona said that the diary was partially restored in one year.

American Jewish Astronaut Judith Resnik

Judith Resnik (1949 – 1986) was born in Akron, Ohio, USA. Both her parents were Jewish emigrants from Ukraine. She attended Hebrew school and graduated of Firestone High School in 1966, she excelled in Mathematics and played classical piano. She received a B.S. in electrical engineering from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University in 1970, and in 1977 she earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering at the University of Maryland.

Crew picture of the Challenger space shuttle with Judith, as fourth on the back row.

She was employed at RCA as a design engineer, and later worked with various NASA projects contracted to the company. She got recruited into the astronaut program in January of 1978 by actress Nichelle Nichols (born 1932), who worked as a recruiter for NASA. The first space flight of Judith was as a mission specialist on the maiden voyage of Discovery, in 1984. Likewise she was a mission specialist aboard the Challenger for STS-51-L. Judith was the first American Jewish astronaut to go into space, the first Jewish woman, and only the second Jew to go to space. (Boris Volynov (born 1934) was the first Halachic Jewish astronaut.)

She deceased on January 28th of 1986, at the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, the shuttle broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, leading to her and her 6 other crewmembers death. Before the take-off of the shuttle she consulted a Rabbi about lighting the Shabbat candles aboard the space shuttle. An open flame is naturally forbidden in a space shuttle, but the Rabbi advised her to use electric lights at the proper hour corresponding to the onset of Shabbat at their home base in Houston, USA.

The Challenger space shuttle at the moment of lift off.

Famed Jewish boxing trainer Charley Goldman

Born in Warsaw, Poland, Charley Goldman (1887 – 1968) who was a Jew, grew up in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, New York. The area was famed as a tough neighbourhood, and Charley learned how to use his fists at an early age to protect his older brother Sam. So it isn’t quite a surprise that Charley became a professional boxer. He was a protégé of world champion “Terrible” Terry McGovern (1880 – 1918). Charley fought his first professional fight, at the age of 16 in a New York saloon.

Charley claimed to have engaged in 400 bouts, but unfortunately the most were unrecorded. At the time in New York, the sport had a quasi-legal status, which made it usual that no record was kept of any particular encounters. He’s attributed with having engaged 137 recorded fights, which he won 20 with a Knock Out of the 36 wins, lost 6 and the rest was ruled either No Decision or Draw. Unlike today, ring rivals fought each other repeatedly and often. Charley and Whitey Kitson were reputed to have fought each other 60 times.

Misfortunate, Charley was afflicted with brittle hands, which affected his ability as a puncher. During his career he had broken his hands countless times, and was left with deformed, gnarled knuckles and fingers. Charley began training boxers after his career. His most famous boxing athlete he trained was Rocky Marciano (1923 – 1969). Rocky had unfavourable features as he was an inexperienced, short, stoop shouldered, balding, clumsy heavyweight, with inordinately short arms. Nevertheless, Charley believed that a trainers should not interfere with a fighter’s natural style, but should refine and improve it.

Charley succeed to turn Rocky’s shortcomings into advantages. His adage was: “If you got a tall fighter, make him taller. If you got a short fighter make him shorter.” With Rocky, Charley made him shorter and taught him to fight out of crouch. That way Rocky will hit much harder on a low target. Charley taught him also to throw combinations of punches instead of one big bomb at a time. Although after his training, Rocky remained crude and clumsy, but became a formidable offensive and defensive fighter.

Left: Trainer Charley Goldman and boxer Rocky Marciano.
Right: Fictional characters Rocky Balboa and Jewish trainer Mickey Goldmill from the movie Rocky of Sylvester Stallone.

Who would have thought that a Jewish boxing trainer became an inspiration for an action movie of Sylvester Stallone (born 1946). In the movie Rocky, Sylvester Stallone play the role of Rocky Balboa, a name that is similar like Rocky Marciano. The character got trained by a Jewish gym trainer named Mickey Goldmill, portrayed by Burgess Meredith (1907 – 1997), which is similar to Charley Goldman.

2.4; Sports as a means of resistance against the Kingdom of Evil

Jews have been a persecuted nation from the historical Biblical times, through the antiquity, middle ages, renaissance, modern times up to today in the present time. Jews or better called the Israelites, children of Israel, have always persevered anti-Semitism and Judeophobia. To withstand these forces of evil we, the Jews, have Hashem on our sides, but Hashem hasn’t been always on the foreground as in the book of Esther. Jews didn’t stood idle by, but took action and confronted the forces of evil that wishes to murder them.

Therefore Jews of the resistance conducted exercises to increase their overall fitness. Because fitness is the ability to perform daily tasks vigorously and alertly, with energy left over for enjoying leisure-time activities and meeting emergency demands. It is the ability to endure, to bear up, to withstand stress, to carry on in circumstances where an unfit person could not continue, and is a major basis for good health and well being.

In times when Jews had it hard, as in war, it was important that their physical bodies could handle the amount of stress during combat and had enough energy left after to be prepared for a following attack. Variations of exercises consists of running, pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups and swimming. In modern day armies fitness examinations are done in laboratory spaces and on stationary bike exercises, measuring oxygen levels and acid levels.

Ze’ev Jabotinsky, founder of the Hebrew Legion and Irgun

Right: Ze’ev Jabotinsky in uniform of the Hebrew Legion.
Left: Menachem Begin, former Prime Minister of Israel, was the successor of Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Irgun / Etzel.

Ze’ev Jabotinsky (1880 – 1940) was born in Odessa, Russian Empire (modern Ukraine) into an assimilated Jewish family. He was educated in Russian schools, although he studied Hebrew as a child, he wrote in his autobiography that his upbringing was divorced from Jewish faith and tradition. Chava Jabotinsky enrolled the young Ze’ev in the city’s gymnasium.

Jabotinsky joined the Zionist movement, prior to the Kishinev Pogrom of 1903, he became known as a powerful speaker and an influential leader. He established the Jewish Self-Defence Organization, a Jewish militant group, to safeguard Jewish communities throughout Russia, as more pogroms loom on the horizon. His slogan was, “Better to have a gun and not need it than to need it and not have it!” his other slogan was; “Jewish youth, learn to shoot!”.

Ze’ev had the idea of establishing a Hebrew Legion to fight alongside the British against the Ottomans who then controlled Eretz Yisrael during the 1st World War. He created together with Joseph Trumpeldor (1880 – 1920) the Zion Mule Corps, which consisted of several hundred Jewish men, mainly Russians, who had been exiled by the Ottoman Empire and had settled in Egypt. In 1917, the government of the UK agreed to establish three Jewish battalions, initiating the Jewish Legion. After Jabotinsky was discharged from the British Army, he openly trained Jews in warfare and the use of small arms.

The Hebrew legion on Yom Kippur 5679 at Fort Ewdard, Canada.

Irgun/Etzel was a Zionist paramilitary organization that was operational between 1931 and 1948. The policy of Irgun was based on Revisionist Zionism by Ze’ev Jabotinsky. It was simply put; “Every Jew has the right to enter Eretz Yisrael, only active retaliation would deter the Arabs, only Jewish armed force would ensure the Jewish state.” Irgun’s tactics were viewed as a terrorist organization, inparticular by Britain, the 1946 Zionist Congress and the Jewish Agency.But it also appealed a certain segment of the Jewish community that believed that any action taken in the cause of the creation of a Jewish Stat was Justified. Ze’ev Jabotinsky was the commander of the organization overall until he died. He formulated the general realm of operation, regarding Restraint and the end thereof.

Left: Irgun fighters shooting training in 1947.
Right: A Irgun parade in Eretz Yisrael in 1948.

Defence of pre-independent Israel and predecessors of the IDF

The second Aliyah (between 1904 and 1914) was an important and highly influential Aliyah which approximately 20.000 Jews immigrated into Ottoman Palestine, mostly from the Russian Empire. Aliyah, which meant Ascent in Hebrew, is the immigration of Jews from the Diaspora to Eretz Yisrael and is one of the basic tenets of Zionism. The concept was first developed in Jewish history during the Babylonian exile (aprox. 597, 587 and 582 BCE).

Bar-Giora was founded during the second Aliyah, and is the precursor of HaShomer. Zionist members of Poalei Zion gathered at Yitzhak Ben-Zvi (1884- 1963) unfurnished apartment in Jaffa and formed the Jewish self-defence organization and named for Simon Bar Giora (died 70 CE), one of the leaders of the Jewish revolt against the Romans. The purpose of the organization was to settle the land and guard it from Arab attackers. As a motto, Bar-Giora chose a line from Yaakov Cohen’s poem, Habiryonim; “In Fire and blood did Judea fall, in blood and fire Judea shall rise.”

During the pogroms (1881 – 1883) in the Russian Empire it was also one of the motto’s of the Russian Jewish defenders. Later in 1909 Bar-Giora leadership decided to disband their organization and create a larger one, the HaShomer. While Bar-Giora defended only lands and communities of the settlers, HaShomer was the first to provide an organized defence for all Jewish communities in Eretz Yisrael. Funds to buy arms was a serious obstacle but when the first guns were bought, several of the members refused to part from them even for a moment.

Left: HaShomer group picture in 1909.
Right: Haganah Members in training, in 1947.

They drew inspiration from the history of the Russian Cossacks. The first guards worked on foot, but soon acquired horses, which vastly increased their effectiveness. HaShomer was successful in providing defence for settlements throughout the country, but during the 1st World War many of it’s members were exiled to Anatolia (today Turkey) by the Ottoman government as they were enemy “Russian” nationals. Several were hanged, but the group nonetheless survived. After the 1st World War in 1920 when the colony became the British Mandate, it was decided to organize the Haganah, a much broader-based group.

Believing that they could not rely on the British administration for protection against Arab gangs, the Haganah took up this role. The Haganah was to warn the Jewish residents of and repel attacks by the Arabs. But the Haganah lacked a strong central authority or coordination between 1920 – 1929. The Units were very localized and poorly armed, they consisted mainly of Jewish farmers who guarded their farms or their communities.

The role of the Haganah changed dramatically following the riots of 1929. The organization became much larger and encompassed nearly all the youth and adults in the Jewish settlements. As well as thousands of members from the cities. It was the transformation from an untrained militia to a capable underground army that acquired foreign arms and could develop workshops to create hand grenades and equipment.

In 1931, the more militant elements of the Haganah splintered off and formed the Irgun/Etzel of Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Reason for the splintering was that the Jewish political leaders became increasingly more controlling of the Haganah and objected the members to the official poligy of Havlagah (restraint). In which the members of Haganah were orderd only to defend and not initiate counterattacks against Arab gangs or their communities.

The Haganah kept the role of defender of the Jewish settlers in the British Mandate but in 1939, the British administration had issued the White Paper, which severely restricted Jewish Immigration to Eretz Yisrael. This angered the Zionist leadership and became the first tear in the British-Zionist relation. David Ben-Gurion (1886 – 1973), then Chairman of the Jewish Agency stated: “We shall fight the war against Hitler as if there were no White Paper, and we shall fight the White Paper as if there were no war.”

The Palmach was built up within the Haganah as the elite strike force and organized illegal Jewish immigration to Eretz Yisrael as reaction to the British White Paper. Approx. 100.000 Jews were brought to Eretz Yisrael in over one hundred ships during the final decade of what is better known as Aliyah Bet. The opposition against the British accelerated in 1945 when the Haganah and Irgun/Etzel formed the Jewish Resistance Movement. Within this new framework, the three groups had different functions, which served to drive the British out of Eretz Yisrael and to create a Jewish state.

The provisional government of the State of Israel, formed on May the 28th in 1948 created the Israeli Defence Forces on May the 15th of the same year. The newly formed IDF succeeded the Haganah and other Israel based self-defence organizations.

Rabbi Meir Kahane and the Jewish Defence League

American-Israeli Rabbi Meir Kahane (1932 – 1990) whose works became either the direct or indirect foundation of most modern Jewish militant and extreme right-wing political groups. He was an ordained Orthodox Rabbi and later served as a member of the Israeli Knesset. He gained recognition as an activist for Jewish causes, such as organizing Jewish self-defence groups in deteriorating neighbourhoods and the struggle for the right of Soviet Jews to immigrate. Later Rabbi Meir founded in the United States the Jewish Defence League and was convicted for plotting manufacture explosives in 1971.

Left: Jewish Defence League of Canada rally.
Right: Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defence League.

Rabbi Meir was killed in Manhatten hotel by an Arab gunman in November 1990 after Rabbi Meir concluded his speech warning American Jews to emigrate to Israel before it was “too late”. Some researchers, such as Peter Lance, consider him one of the first, if not the very first, victim of the then-nascent Al Qaeda, as his killer is believed to have links to the network of Osama Bin Laden.

Rabbi Meir’s Jewish Defence League is a Jewish far-right religious-political organization whose goal is to protect Jews from Anti-Semitism by whatever means necessary. JDL asserts that it unequivocally condemns terrorism and has a strict no-tolerance policy against terrorism and other felonious acts. In the United States the organization was classified as a right-wing terrorist group by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2001 and was considered a hate group. Although it’s sister organization the Ligue de Défense Juive in France is not illegal same as the Jewish Defence League of Canada.

Hannah Szenes, Hungarian Jewish Paratrooper of British Mandate of Palestine

Hannah Szenes (1921 – 1944) was born to an assimilated Jewish family in Hungary. She enrolled in a Protestant private school for girls that also accepted Catholic and Jewish pupils. Hannah was considered a “gifted student”, and when Hannah realized the situation of the Jews in Hungary was becoming precarious, she embraced Zionism. She joined the Maccabea, a Hungarian Zionist students organization.

Szenes graduated in 1941, she was active in the Haganah, specifically in the paramilitary group that laid the foundation of the Israel Defence Forces. And in 1943, she enlisted herself in the British Army in the Women’s Auxilliary Air Force as an Aircraftwoman 2nd Class and began her training in Egypt as a paratrooper for the British Special Operations Executive.

Left: Hannah in Hungarian soldier uniforms as Purim costume.
Center: Hannah in paratrooper outfit.
Right: Memorial of Hannah Szenes in Budapest, Hungary.

Parachuting, or known as skydiving, is the action sport of exiting an aircraft and returning to Earth with the aid of gravity, then slowing down during the last part of the descent by using a parachute. Timing, cool headedness and physical fit body is required to undertake such an action. It was around this time also that competitons were held in parachuting. The sport itself became international acknowledge as sport in 1952.

She and colleagues were parachuted into Yugoslavia and joined a partisan group on March the 14th of 1944. But after the landing they learned that the Nazis had already occupied Hungary, so the men called off the mission as too dangerous. At the border, she and her colleagues were arrested by Hungarian gendarmes, who found her British military transmitter. Hannah was taken to a prison. On October the 28th of 1944 she was tried for treason and was executed by a firing squad.

Jewish Partisans and the Warsaw Ghetto during the 2nd World War

Left: Mordechai Anielewicz, leader of the Jewish Combat Organization.
Right: Yitzhak Zuckerman commander during the revolt of the Warsaw Ghetto.

During the 2nd World War in Nazi Occupied Europe, mainly in Poland, Jews and Jewesses fought against the Nazis in the ghetto’s. The majority of these Jews were regular folk who escaped the ghettos and work camps and joined the organized resistance groups in the forests and urban underground. In comparisons with the Non-Jewish partisans, who could sneak back to their homes for security and safety, the Jewish partisans had no place to go and were constantly on the move.

The Jewish Bielski partisan group in Nazi-occupied Poland, today western-Belarus.

Most partisans knew nothing about guns and ammunition so knowledge and training where scarce. The few partisans who had military training became important teachers and leaders, such as Abe Asner (born 1916) who have been in the Polish Army in 1938. Abe was among the approx. 60 Jews and Russians at running missions. As many others like Abe thought the resistance would only last a few weeks, but it continued for over four years. The partisan unit grew to several thousand people.

10 percent of the partisans were women, some were fighters and scouts, but the majority was part of the vital infrastructure; cooking for the partisans and caring for the ill. Jews who did joined Non-Jewish partisans groups often hid their Jewish Identity, not risking the danger of Anti-Semitism. This was the case of Norman Salsitz (1920 - 2006), in June of 1941 he was forced along the other Jewish inhabitants into a ghetto by the Nazis. He knew that the Nazis were on the move to exterminate them, so in 1942 he organized an escape group of 55 people and fled to the surrounding forest.

In 1944, he joinded the AK Polish Underground, an underground army with allegiance to the Polish Government-in-exile, despite the strong presence of Anti-Semitism he hid his identity. Until the command was given to kill Jews that were hiding on a farm. Norman volunteered for this mission, killing the Poles who had been sent with him and rescued the Jews in hiding and fled the AK.

Monument in honouring the Warsaw Ghetto heroes in Warsaw.

In the Warsaw Ghetto, members of the Jewish resistance movement didn’t decided to fight the SS directives, as they believed that the Jews were being sent to Labour camps. But by the end of 1942, the Ghetto inhabitants learned the truth that the deportations were part of an extermination process. Many of the remainig Jews decided to revolt. In 1943 the first Jewish armed resistance in the Ghetto occurred in January and later that same year in April during Passover Seder the Nazis entered the Ghetto. Remaining Jews knew that the Nazis would murder them so they decided to resist to the last man.

These Jewish participants in the resistance have fought for their lives and for others and should be remembered and honoured therefore. But they must have had the capable fitness and strength that is required to withstand such evil forces. As it is clearly stated by Abe Asner, he thought that the resistance against the Nazis would kept on for only a few weeks, but on the contrary it was holding up for over 4 years. The predecessors of the Israel Defence Forces have excelled in several sport disciplines such as running, shooting and horse back riding.

Not only have they all excelled in several sport disciplines and have the physical fitness, but they had also the mind of an athlete. During underground partisan missions and underground illegal missions of the Haganah both have required a strong strategic and clever mind. Today people who want to join the Israeli army are all undergoing heavy physical sport examinations to see if they are qualified fit enough.


Initiated and completed under the supervision of Prof. Rabbi Ahron Daum, B.A., M.S., Emeritus-Chief Rabbi of Frankfurt am Main.

Special effects and collecting the material as the whole composition of the essay: Hans Weygers, Antwerpen

Webmaster: Yitzchak Berger, son-in-law of Rabbi Ahron Daum, Shlita, Antwerp.

Used book source

The Jews by Chaim Bermant

Not Playing the Game, page 179-192.

ISBN: 0-297-77419-0

Published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London. It was very difficult to find adequate material and books about this subject in English. We are lucky to have found an excellent book which is listed above and greatly and effectively helped us to form this essay.

We thank the following late author, Chaim Bermant (1929-1998 C.E.), for using his work for spreading Jewish History. His work helped us greatly in realizing this essay. We express our gratitude also in name of the many readers of our website. Chaim Bermant, is no more among the living. May the publishing of this essay help his soul to find its deserved rest. May his soul be bound among the living, Amen.

Used internet sources'ev_Jabotinsky#Military_career


Sport and Halacha

Halachic forbidden sports.

Halachic problems for both women and men by exercising certain sports.

3; Halachic forbidden sports

There are numerous types of sports, which are all unique and have all different qualities, specialities and rules. Those rules from numerous several types of sports cannot be all compatible with the Halacha. Sports have to be regulated in accordance with the Halacha. Just as the famous late Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808 - 1888) used to say about technology and science; “The Halacha does not have to adjust to the technology and science, but it is the technology and science that have to adjust to the Halacha”. But not all types of sports can be adjusted to the Halacha, and are therefore forbidden to be practiced.

Animal cruelty in certain types of Sports

Hunting, in particular like fox hunting with aggressive running dogs or deer shooting, is one of the controversial activities to name it as a sport. In the secular world there are two “camps” that discuss if hunting can be named as a sport. One camp they are the recreational hunters who call it a sport and on the other side the Animal Rights organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

In Spain, the most famous Spanish national sports are Bull fighting and Bull running. Bull fighting are held in great arena’s with great spectacle. The Matador lure the bull in attempt to attack it with multiple spears and using horses to attack the bull more effectively and tie the testicles with a rope so that the bull is extremely aggressive. At last the matador strike the bull death with a sword. Then there is Bull running in the city Pamplona which is also one of Spain’s main attraction. People have to run in the same direction as the bulls and have to climb over a fence for protection, but many times they are trampled by the bulls and risk their life.

Left: typical English fox hunter in traditional hunting clothing.
Right: Spanish Matador ready to strike the final blow towards the unfortunate bull.

These so called “sports” as Hunting, Bull fighting and rooster fighting or pitbull fighting are considered Blood Sport, as it involve bloodshed of one of the animals. In Judaism and in the Halacha, participation in these events are strictly forbidden. This cruelty to the animals is known in the Talmud as “Tza’ar Ba’Alej Chayim”, it states in Tal, Bav; Mezia, 32 which is derived from the Torah in Exodus 23:5: If you see the donkey of one that hates you lying under his load, and you shall not permit yourself to leave it to him; you shall all let’s go and hasten to his aid.”

The reason behind the prohibition of causing pain to the animals is based on the reasoning that the killing of the animals, purely for sport or for destruction’s sake is an act of wasteful destruction. Derived from Deuteronomy 20:19: When you lay siege to a city for many days to capture it by making war against it, you shall not destroy it’s tree, wielding an axe against it; for you shall eat of it but not cut it down. For the Tree of the field is the existence of man.

In the Torah we find also historic figures that were hunters such as Nimrod, Esav and Yishmael. They all have started with animals, but their wickedness and obsession for hunting drove them towards a career of “head-hunters”. They used to deceit and cruelty towards humans and they are not an ideal role model for good religious Jews. It is Jewish custom not to name Jewish children after these Biblical figures of animal hunters. Rabbi Yechezkel Landau (1713 – 1793), Chief Rabbi of Prague, wrote in his responsa Noda BiYehuda, Y’’D 10, it is forbidden for a Jew to become a hunter. But hunting, not as a sport, can only be permitted as it is the person’s only way of self-sustaining and to earn a living, personally I don’t know any Jew who engages in hunting.

Left: A dad and his son are out on a day of fishing.
Right: A Kosher fish has both scales and fins, i.e.: carp and etc.

Fishing can be considered as a Halachically allowed sport, as the fish that is caught is Kosher and it will be consumed on Shabbat which is considered as one of the enjoyment on Shabbat, which Jews see it as a delicacy. While it is considered as sportsmanship, to throw the fish back into the water, it still has inflicted unnecessary pain to the animal, i.e.: the fishhook has pierced the fish’s lips. It was also one of the most practiced professions of Jews in historical Biblical times. You can read more on about the protection of animals in my other essay:

Gladiatorial combat sport and life endangering sports

As in many previous chapters mentioned, the Talmud restricted Jews specifically not to participate in Roman gladiatorial combat in the coliseum of Rome build by Titus (79 CE – 81 CE), destroyer of the 2nd Temple. This refers to the Talmudic tractate Tal. Bav; Abodah Zarah 18b: “Those who visit Roman stadiums and witness there of sorcerers and enchanters, or of bukion and mukion, lulion and mullion, blurin or salgurin (all kind of undignified entertainment of humans who are deformed). This is the seat of the scornful, and against those scripture says, "Happy is the man that had not walked in the counsel of the wicked.. nor sat in the assembly of the scornful, but his delight is in the Law of the Lord.” Psalm 1:1.

The Roman gladiatorial coliseum were indeed “the seat of the scornful” and not the place where it was possible for a Jew to be in the “delight of the Law of the Lord”, those are the Torah study halls. As mentioned in my previous chapter, Resh Lakish (3rd century CE) was in his earlier life a Gladiator. Why is Resh Lakish considered a giant in Torah study even if we know the fact that he has been a gladiator? First of all, what was the reason Resh Lakish became a gladiator? If it was the case that he liked the sport and participated in his free time, it would have been Halachicly incompatible. True reason of joining gladiatorial combat, is that Resh Lakish was in the pursuit of a livelihood. See the famous film of “Ben Hur”, which is based on historical facts.

The gladiator received the permission from the audience to kill his opponent by turning down their thumbs, an 1872 painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895 – 1986) allowed the participation in professional sports, like wrestling or boxing, despite the risks involved, if it is undertaken in the pursuit of a livelihood, Responsa Igerot Moshe, Ch’’M, 1:104. But we should take note that Rabbi Feinstein’s permissive ruling is regarding “playing baseball”, we can assume that it is not as dangerous as wrestling or boxing. We can also look back in the Talmud in the same tractate Tal. Bav. Adobah Zarah, 18b: “But permits it (going to the stadium, the seat of the scornful) for two reasons: first, because by shouting one may save [the victim], secondly, because one might be able to give evidence [of death] for the wife [of a victim] and so enable her to remarry.”

Roman gladiatorial combat wasn’t innocent and is a Blood Sport, as the competitor has to actual kill his opponent in order to win. The Romans enjoyed these brutal and grotesque spectacles of blood shed, man versus man and even man versus wild beasts. Which is a violation of the above mentioned reasoning and laws why this can’t be tolerable as a sport by Jews. The element of murder in Roman gladiatorial combat is perhaps “the factor” why it seriously can’t be considered as a sport and was unfortunately the main attraction in the infamous coliseum where many Jewish captives lost their lifes.


Left: Halachically permissible boxing, the boxers wear protective gear and teeth protection.
Right: The Halachically forbidden form of boxing, no protective gear is worn.

Clearly stated in the Torah, in the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:13 and repeated in Deuteronomy 5:17 “You shall not murder”. It is one of, theoretically, 613 Mitzvot and prohibitions, and considered one of the three sins (along with Idolatry and Sexual immorality) that fall under the category of Yehareg Ve’al Ya’avor, One should let himself be killed rather than violate it. As stated in the Talmud in Tal. Bav., Sanhedrin 74a: “It happened with Rava: a man came to Rava and told him that the governor of the city had ordered that he (the man) slay a certain man or himself suffer death; and Rava said to him: ‘Rather than slay another person, you must permit yourself to be slain, for how do you know that your blood is redder than his, perhaps his blood is redder than yours?’”

Furthermore there are three classifications of risk taking in the Halacha, which certain sports, such as gladiatorial combat, could be categorized as a high risk and should not be participated in. It is clear that the old Roman gladiatorial combat is strictly forbidden to practice, but what about other related combat sports such as boxing, and sports that maybe seriously dangerous? If boxing is not full bodily contact, which is not very dangerous, and performed for the sake of learning self-defence techniques or other skills, then even if it is not for the sake of earning a living, it may be permissible.

Exercise and sport activities on the Shabbat

Before I continue, I would like to state clear that there are still Jewish people on this world that do not have the vaguest idea of what Shabbat entails. Most people know that it is forbidden to work on the Shabbat and that it is a resting day (a Christian misconception of Shabbat), but still have many questions whether or not some activities are permitted to be carried out on the Shabbat.

The answer on the question of it is allowable to practice sport on the Shabbat is absolute “No”, based on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 328:42. The sanctity of the Shabbat is the Holiest of Holy, it was on this day Hashem ended His creative work and commanded us with the 4th commandment of the Decalogue to remember it and to keep it, Zachor and Shamor, Exodus 20:8 – 11 and Deuteronomy 5:12 – 15. Sporting or exercising on the Shabbat will smudge the holy atmosphere of Shabbat and makes it feel like a regular week day and is totally against the commandment of remembering the Shabbat and keeping the Shabbat, based in the classical up-to-date encyclopaedic work, "Shemirat Shabbat Ke’Hilchata", volume I, 16:9. Attending sport competitions as a visitor and not as a competitor, even if the stadium is located within the Eruv, is it Halachically forbidden as it is not compatible with the spirit of Shabbat.

But what happened to the human body after an exercise or sport activity? The participant is sweating and his own body gets dirty and is in need to wash himself clean. Washing with warm heated water on the Shabbat is a violation of the 39 prohibited activities that were necessary for the building and dissemble of the Tabernacle/Mishkan, for instance the activities that required to make garment; Washing of the wool etc. Tying and untying of a net along the midline of a tennis-, badminton-, handball- or other sports court is Halachically forbidden on Shabbat as they are two activities revolving in building and dissembling of the 39 prohibited activities.

Relaxed Chassidic Jews on their way home or to the Synagogue on the Shabbat, taking a long stroll through the street of Brooklyn, New York, and greet friends. Note: picture was taken by non-Jews.

But when a Jew is in a half life-threatening condition and requires to be active in sport to save his life, it is permitted to participate in a sport activity on the Shabbat. As this is a special case. Just as with medication, when a Jew is not in a life-threatening condition, he may not take it on the Shabbat. But when Jews aren’t specifically exercising or participating in a sport on Shabbat as walking, climbing stairs, it is permissible; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim, 301:2 and Mishna Berura, 301:5 – 7. You can see, therefore, to take a long walk on Shabbat for cardio vascular benefit is allowed. If you want to read more on Shabbat, please read my other essay:

Recent life threatening accidents in extreme sports

The famous Formula One racer, the German Michael Schumacher (born 1969) with G-d's help he survived but he was in life threatening condition and will the rest of his life be disabled. He came in a coma on 30 December of 2013 in the French Alps. He was skiing with his son off-piste, which is a dangerous place to ski in the first place. Was it wise to ski off the appointed allowed ski zone? It was not wise, as it could have turned out for the worse for Michael Schumacher. With G-d’s help he survived, but was in life threatening conditions.

Warning plate with mentioned risk of avalanche, cliff falling and the high probability risk of death. When crossing this warning you will be skiing off-piste.

But as Formula One racer he has met painful accidents on the race tracks that could also have resulted in deadly situations. During the 1999 British Grand Prix he broke his leg. Another problem with Formula One and other car races is the high top speed the cars are racing over the tracks. Jews who have a Drivers Permit and drive a car understand that when driving on a higher speed the brake time to stand still will take longer to fulfil in contrast with driving on a moderate speed.

Deadly accident during a 2013 Nascar race, result of losing control of a high speed race car.

The highest top speed that was made on a Formula One racetrack was during the Grand Prix of Italy in 2004 by Antonio Pizzonia (born 1980), he drove 369,9 KM/H. Holding control on a car with such a speed requires top speed reflexes as one slow reaction can cause a dramatic end which can result in death. As on 5th of July in 2014, the German racer Ingo Koschmieder (1971 – 2014) lost control when at the exit of a left turn, the car went off the road on the right side, landing at full speed in a three feet deep ditch.

An avalanche in the background behind the mountaineers.

Mountaineering, a climbing sport is certainly a high risk as an avalanche is easily made and result in death for the participant. On the famous Mount Everest on the 18th of April 2014 at least 13 Sherpas (guides) were killed by an avalanche. A block of ice tore loose from the mountain and triggered a cascade that ripped through teams of guides hauling gear.

With above mentioned reasoning these life-threatening sports are absolutely forbidden for any religious Jew too participate in.

4; Halachic problems for both women and men by exercising certain sports

As mentioned above sports that are of dangerous nature, are classified Halachically as a high risk and are forbidden, but when it is done with the reason of self-defence, to learn new insights, and the risks are reduced; i.e.: wearing protective gear, the sport is classified Halachically as a moderate risk and is permissible. Still some minor details cause Halachic problems.

Sport garment and women participating in aggressive sports

We see in Skiing, Fitness, Free-fall (parachuting), Jogging, Figure Skating, Pole Vault, Cheerleading, Volleyball, Marathon running or Running and many other sports that women aren’t dressed modestly or are dressed same as men. This is in violation with Deuteronomy 22:5; A woman shall not wear that which pertains to a man.....neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment”. The Halachic laws of modesty, better known as Tzniut, requires that men and women behave and dress accordingly to their role and may not dress in a provocative fashion, or in clothes designed to highlight the sexuality of the body.


From left to right: Female skier, jogger and free fall athlete wearing non-Halachically permissible clothing, because pants are a typical mens garment.

Because of its inherent sexuality, one’s torso (men or women) should be covered; for the same reason, women are also required to cover thighs and upper arms (at least till the elbow or three-quarters of the arm). Jewish Law also obligates us to conform to local Jewish custom when it goes beyond these minimum objective requirements. The reverse, however, is not true. Even if local custom is to expose parts of the body prohibited by Jewish Law, one may not follow local fashions.

Women participating in combative and very aggressive sports such as MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) that can result in bloody situations, is not Halachically permissible as it isn’t the role for a woman to fight.

Orthodox Jewish woman wears a pant and wear a small skirt above, this was used by Sefardic Jewish religious women during the cold freezing winter time. It is Halachically permissible. At ski, in cold weather, women wear a knit cap as a head covering. But in other sports the skirt and head covering might be less practical or uncomfortable and should be avoided to participate in. If you want to read more on Tzniut, please consult my essay:

Gender mixed sports locations

Fitness gym’s and swimming pools are aside sports establishments, also the social meet and greet place for everyone. The Halachically problem is that fitness gyms, swimming pools, sauna and a Jacuzzi, these sports facilities are open and available for both men and women and are not dressed in “Tzniut” fashion, like a bikini, monokini, etc. Next to it is in violation of Negiahand “Yichud”. In the Torah the following verses are on Negiah, in Leviticus 18:6; Any man shall not approach (קרב karav) his close relative to uncover nakedness; I am G-d" and Leviticus 18:9; You shall not approach a woman in her time of unclean separation, to uncover her nakedness". (Women in “Nidah”, women in her menstruation period.) These verses are meant for both men and women.

Negiah, what means “touch” or “pet” and off course “kissing” is in the Holy Language, is the Halachic Law which forbids or restricts physical contact with a member of the opposite gender. Of course with the exception for one’s spouse, children during their childhood, siblings, grandchildren, parents and grandparents. Laws on Negiah are also found in the Talmud tractate, Tal. Bav. Shabbat, 13a, Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, 20 – 21 and the Mishneh Torah”of Maimonides in Kedushah (holiness), Issurei Biah (forbidden sexual relations) 21:1 – 7.

Halachic forbidden swimming pool where both men and women participate in.

Yichud, what stands for “seclusion” is the prohibition of seclusion in a private and locked area of a man and a women who are not married to each other. This seclusion is to prevent the two from being tempted or having the opportunity to commit adulterous or promiscuous acts. As it is one of the prohibitions, in Exodus 20:14; “You shall not commit adultery”. One who commits adultery will violate the prohibition of the Torah and destroy Shalom Bayit” (harmony of the family). The term for reasons of divorce in a Jewish religious court of Law “Beth Din”, and brings discord and bad relations between husband and wife which mostly is not more possible to reconcile.

Yichud, we find also in the TorahAstray women” known with the Hebrew term “Sota, confer Numeri, 11:5 – 31 and the whole Talmud tractate, Sota. As in Deuteronomy 13:6; And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he had spoken perversion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the Land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to draw you aside out of the way which the LORD your God commanded you to walk in. So shall you put away the evil from the midst of you. As also in the Talmud Kiddushin 80b and in Sanhedrin 21, and in the Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, 22 and 24.

Aerobic room of a fitness gym where both men and women participate in and dressed in a fashion unfit with rules of “Tzniut”, which is against the Halacha and therefore forbidden.

We can conclude from these Laws that participation in a swimming pool or in a fitness gym can only be taken if it is a gender specific gym/pool and not mixed. Women should sport in an all-women gym/pool and otherwise for men. We can find this seclusion Laws also practical in the synagogue, as the women are on the women’s gallery above where the men are praying and studying the Torah.


Initiated and completed under the supervision of Prof. Rabbi Ahron Daum, B.A., M.S., Emeritus-Chief Rabbi of Frankfurt am Main.

Special effects and collecting the material as the whole composition of the essay: Hans Weygers, Antwerpen.

Webmaster: Yitzchak Berger, son-in-law of Rabbi Ahron Daum, Shlita, Antwerp.

Used internet sources




Sport and Halacha

Eastern Martial Arts; their practices and philosophy from an halachic point of view.


Chinese Martial Arts:

Shaolin kung fu training:

What Halachic problems may a Torah observant Jew encounter in practicing Shaolin Kung Fu?


“Qi” and Martial Arts.

Qigong, preventive medicine & Torah

First Halachic vision on “Qi” by Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried.

Second Halachic vision on “Qi” by Rabbi M. Weinbach and N.Bulman of Ohr Somayach.

The Halachic problems with Shaolin Kung Fu Are can be said to be the Buddhist lessons on worshipping the Buda, and seeing oneself as equal with the force “Qi” which is just a creation of G-d as much as a Ruach.

Chi Kung, Tai Chi and Idolatry

What are Tai Chi and Chi Kung?

The Halachic problem with Chi Kung, Tai Chi and their link to idolatry.

Japanese Martial Arts.

kosher Torah Dojo

Why Try Karate?

Japanese Martial Arts and the possible Halachic problems with practicing them.

Is a son allowed to spar with his father?



Used internet sources



Eastern artial arts - and their philosophies - that could pose a Halachic problem.

In this last chapter of Sport and Halacha, I would like to look at the Oriental sports more currently known under the heading of Martial Arts, mostly originating in China and Japan, and their philosophies from an Halachic perspective. I want to do this by analysing which Eastern Martial arts and practices (e.g. meditations, greetings etc...,) are permissible or forbidden according to the Halacha.

What are Martial Arts and what are they used for?

Martial arts are codified systems and traditions of combat practices, which are practiced for a variety of reasons: self-defence, competition, physical health and fitness, entertainment, as well as mental, physical, and spiritual development.
Although the term martial art has become associated with the fighting arts of eastern Asia, it originally refers to the combat systems of Europe as early as the 1550s. The term is derived from Latin, and means "arts of Mars", the Roman G-d of war. Some authors have argued that fighting arts or fighting systems would be more appropriate on the basis that many martial arts were never "martial" in the sense of being used or created by professional warriors.

 Most Martial arts still practiced today in most parts of the world originate from China and Japan. Therefore I will concentrate on Chinese Martial arts and Japanese Martial arts.




What are the most widely-practiced disciplines in Martial Arts?

Chinese Martial Arts:

Shaolin Kungfu: Is a Chinese term referring to any study, learning, or practice that requires patience, energy, and time to complete also called Shaolin Wushu. It is among the oldest institutionalized styles of Chinese martial arts. Shaolin kung fu originated and was developed in the Buddhist Shaolin temple in Songshan mountain, Henan province, China. Shaolin Kungfu became one of the largest schools of kung fu.

Shaolin kung fu training:

There are many different schools of Shaolin kung fu with very different approaches. Even at a Shaolin temple training schedules can vary from era to era, and it also varies from lineage to lineage amongst the monks. Besides, different persons have different priorities and so different exercises and different timings. There is no single defined schedule. However, the general schedule of daily activities in a Shaolin temple is well defined. Since the ancient times till today, the daily life of the monks at an Shaolin temple have included study and practice of Chan Buddhism, study and practice of kung fu, and taking care of temple affairs such as: cleaning of the temple, working at the farms, guarding the area, etc. The typical daily training schedule is as follows:

5:00 am: rising from bed,

5:15-5:30: sitting Qigong,( type of spiritual practice intended to "align" body, breath, and mind for health, meditation, and martial arts training.)

5:35-6:30: morning kung fu practice: warm-up and basic skills.

6:40-7:40: morning Buddhist lessons,

7:45-8:30: morning meal,

9:00-11:30: temple affairs, like working at farms, chopping wood, commercial affairs; adult and young monks attend Buddhist classes.

11:30-12:30: lunch,

12:40-14:00: noon rest time,

14:00-17:00: afternoon kung fu practice: martial exercises and combat skills.

17:10-18:40: evening Buddhist lessons,

18:50-19:30: dinner,

21:00-23:00: 1 hour of night kung fu practice: reviewing and every type of exercise.

23:10: going to bed.

At the morning training session, basic skills are practiced. Morning training begins with an empty stomach, by warming up, which includes loosening up the body by rotating the joints and stamina training via endurance exercises such as various kinds of running, jumping, push-ups, etc., for 15–30 minutes. Then basic skills (flexibility and balance) are practiced for about half an hour. Flexibility training is done via stretching exercises, and balance training is done via keeping the body balanced in different basic postures for a while. Usually, morning training takes an hour, but monks may train themselves by doing more basic exercises and other exercises such as combat drills and routines, etc.

The afternoon training session usually begins at about 14:00-14:30, and may even begin at 15:00 on hot summer days. At this session, it are primarily the combat skills that are practiced. These are usually practiced for 1–2 hours. In between, they may have a few 15-20-minute rest times, and may engage in other kinds of exercises. This session usually lasts 2–3 hours.

(Above) Shaolin Kung Fu monks practicing in Yecheng city, China.


What Halachic problems may a Torah observant Jew encounter in practicing Shaolin Kung Fu?


From reading the training schedule (above) of an average Shaolin temple, you can deduce that a Shaolin monk spends a lot of time on practicing Shaolin Kung Fu; martial exercises (combat skills), as well as on Buddhist lessons on Chan (meditation), sitting Qigong etc...

The Shaolin monk does this to become whole emotionally, physically and spiritually.

In my opinion, becoming whole emotionally, physically and spiritually can also be obtained by practicing Judaism and Halacha-; by doing Mitzvahs, praying, Jewish meditation (“Psukee D’Zimrah”), learning Torah..., - although in a different way. Becoming whole for an advanced Kung Fu practitioner would also include letting Ki (also spelled as “Qi” and Chi) - a force from the universe - flowing into his body.

Now before I get to the point of explaining what Halachic problems there might be for a Torah observant Jew in practicing Kung Fu and other Martial Arts where “Ki” is involved, let me explain to you what the concept “Ki” (also spelled, “Qi”, Chi) designates.


In traditional Chinese culture, Ki (also “Qi”, chi or ch'i) is an active principle forming part of every living thing. “Qi” is frequently translated as "natural energy", "life force", or "energy flow". “Qi” is the central underlying principle in traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts. The literal translation of "“Qi”" is "breath", "air", or "gas".

Concepts similar to “Qi” can be found in many cultures, for example, prana in the Hindu religion, pneuma in ancient Greece, mana in Hawaiian culture, lüng in Tibetan Buddhism, Ruah in Hebrew culture, and vital energy in Western philosophy. Some elements of “Qi” can be understood in terms of energy when used by writers and practitioners of various esoteric forms of spirituality and alternative medicine.


“Qi” and Martial Arts.

“Qi” is a didactic concept in many Chinese, Korean and Japanese martial arts. Martial Qigong is a feature of both internal and external training systems in China and other East Asian cultures. The most notable of the “Qi”-focused "internal" force (jin) martial arts are Baguazhang, Xing Yi Quan, T'ai Chi Ch'uan, Snake Kung Fu, Southern Dragon Kung Fu, Aikido, Aikijujutsu, Kyudo, Hapkido, jian and katana swordplay, Luohan Quan, Shaolin Kung Fu, Liu He Ba Fa, Buddhist Style, and some forms of Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and Silat.

Demonstrations of “Qi” or ki are popular in some martial arts and may include the immovable body, the unraisable body, the unbendable arm, and other feats of power. Some of these feats can alternatively be explained using biomechanics and physics.

Qigong, preventive medicine & Torah

(The first explanation hereunder of “Qi”, Qigong is derived from Rabbi Ariel Bar Tzadok his website is mentioned in the used internet sources below.)

The ways in which the Chinese speak of “Qi” correlates very strongly to what traditional Jewish sources refer to as the Nefesh level of soul within the body.

In Lev. 17:11, it is written that "the soul (Nefesh) of the flesh is in the blood."

According to the Chinese classics, the “Qi” is called the "commander of the blood." Regarding the relationship between the “Qi” and the blood it is written:  "“Qi” and blood are substances essential for life activities of [the] human body. They are separable but closely related through interdependence and interaction.” (300 Questions on Qigong Exercise, 1994 by Lin Housheng and Luo Peiyu, Guangdong Science and Technology Press, Guangzhou, China, page 23).

Now, Nefesh means soul. It is the lowest of the five levels of soul and corresponds to what in Asia is considered the realm of the physical.

As is clear from Lev. 17:11, the Nefesh is the life force of the body. It is also the lowest level of human consciousness, again that level which connects the soul to the body.

Therefore, any work which helps to nourish and cultivate Nefesh strength is of great value in the Torah path.

The study and practice of preventive medicine is a Torah obligation. Maimonides repeats this clearly throughout his writings, even in Hilkhot Deot. As the cultivation of “Qi”/Nefesh helps an individual to become healthy and to maintain health, it is thus a religious obligation to learn Qigong (in certain forms).

In brief this is how the Chinese interpret “Qi”:

“Qi” (vital energy) is something by which the ancient people understood the phenomena of nature.

They considered “Qi” to be the essential substance forming the world and through its movement and change to be the cause of things coming into existence in the universe.

In light of this viewpoint, medical workers tend to think that “Qi” is the fundamental substance that constitutes the human body and that its movement and change account for the activities of life.

It is mentioned in The Law of Medicine," A thing takes shape when “Qi” accumulates and the thing dies out when “Qi” dissipates." (ibid. page 21)

The concepts of Chinese medicine are very different from those of western medicine. Yet, no westerner, and certainly no believer in any “western” religion should dismiss the Chinese medical system, and the philosophy underlying it, on the grounds that it is based upon unfamiliar religions.

Chinese medicine and its underlying philosophy are not idolatry, as some misguided wish to proclaim. Some Chinese Martial arts are forms of idolatry as we will see.

One of the Chinese methods of preventative medicine is called Qigong. This is a system of calisthenics, stretching, breath control, relaxation and massage. This very well might have been what Maimonides was describing because his description clearly defines Qigong practices.

There are many different types of Qigong exercises, and a mastery of them all may take years. But there are simple exercises that can be learned, and practiced in a rather short time, sometimes in a single session seminar. The medical benefits of these practices, both the easy to learn, and the more time consuming ones make them well worth the effort.

First Halachic vision on “Qi” by Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried.

Rabbi Fried says that the concept “Qi” is not inconsistent with mainstream Jewish thought, as long as one believes that this force, like all forces in the universe, is created and controlled by G-d. He has personally been practicing Tai Chi for a couple years, and has experienced the sensation of the energy.

His personal theory is that the word "Chi" is derived from the Hebrew word "Chai" which means life, or life force. This is not surprising, as there is a thesis that all languages are derived from Hebrew, which is the language G-d used to create the universe. Furthermore, the Torah says that Avraham, at the end of his life, had many children who to whom he gave gifts, then sent them away from his home, as only Isaac would be the father of the Jewish people. The Torah says he sent them eastward, to the land of the East (Genesis 25:6). The "gifts" Abraham endowed them, were certain spiritual secrets of the universe (see Rashi, ad loc).

This is the early source of many of the concepts which later formed the Eastern philosophies and religions. It is therefore not surprising to me that much of Eastern meditation, medicine and thought, revolves around the concept of Chi, based upon Chai.


The Kabbalists explain how the main parts of the body coincide with the different spheres, or "sefiros," each one representing a different expression of spiritual energy emanating from G-d. This is based upon the concept that every person is a microcosm of the universe, created in the image of G-d, who endowed us with the power to affect the entire universe with our actions.

The "Chi" referred to in self-defense and healing is not meant to be a spiritual energy, rather a physical energy flowing through the body. It is probably the external manifestation of this spiritual energy flowing through us, giving us great spiritual power.

The concepts of Yin and Yang, sinking back and receiving/ pushing outward and returning, I believe are rooted in one of the most profound Kabbalistic concepts.

There is a core concept of our relationship with G-d called "ratzoh veshov," which translates loosely as desire to get close to G-d, and at the same time retreat from that closeness. In marriage, which mirrors our relationship with G-d, each spouse is to give and simultaneously receive.

This also connects to the two opposites of loving-kindness (“Chesed), and strictness (din), which also work hand in hand, despite their apparent dichotomy.

I don't mean to say that one fulfills practicing Judaism by practicing Kung Fu, but I see no contradiction. This is of course only the case as long as no bowing or worshipping of any forces, images, or the room, etc. takes place, as this which violate the basic Torah prohibition of idol worship.

Worshipping of the golden calf.

It is forbidden to worship any created thing. Even if the worshipper knows that Ha-Shem is G-d, and he is worshipping this created thing because he believes that G-d wants it to be honoured, he is still regarded as an idolator. This is what the Torah warned against: "And lest you lift up your eyes to the heavens and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven that Ha-Shem your G-d apportioned to all the nations, and you are drawn away and bow down to them and worship them" (Deut. 4:19) -- that is, lest you think that these are the leaders which G-d gave to the world and it is therefore proper to bow down to them and worship them. And on the same subject He commanded "Take care lest your hearts be deceived and you turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them" Deut. 11:16 -- that is, lest you err in your hearts and worship these as intermediaries between yourselves and the Creator. The commandment against idolatry is as important as all the other commandments combined. A person who accepts idolatry denies all of the Torah and the prophets. A Jew who becomes an idolator is like a non-Jew in all respects. (Answer based on Maimonides Mishneh Torah Avodah Zarah ve-Chukos ha-Goyim)

Second Halachic vision on “Qi” by Rabbi M. Weinbach and N.Bulman of Ohr Somayach.

“The idea that there can exist such a force as you have described is not inconsistent with mainstream Jewish belief, as long as you believe that this force, like all forces, is created by and controlled by G-d. I think your analogy to gravity is a good one.

Is there an analogous concept in Judaism? Perhaps the analogous concept is "Ruach Elokim," a Divine "wind" or spirit, which gives a person extra-human powers, strengths and abilities. This is the power to which the Bible attributes Samson's source of strength.

But Judaism also has a concept of "Ruach Tumah," an impure "wind." This force also lets a person tap into powers, but is detrimental to one's spiritual state.

Another point to consider is that some Eastern disciplines involve what we consider idolatrous practices. For example, bowing to the room, bowing to the force, or "talking to" the force. We are not allowed to make requests of spiritual forces, only to G-d.

In conclusion, believing in the existence of such a force can be regarded okay, while the way one relates to that force can border on idol worship if done incorrectly”.

I explained the concept of “Qi” above and how it relates to Judaism; Halacha and Kabala, I also gave two Halachic visions derived by the knowledge of Rabbi’s who know the concept of “Qi”. The Halachic views on “Qi” (Ki, Qigong) given above are positive ones. There are also some negative views on the concept of “Qi” by Rav Gutman.

 Rav Gutman - a Chabad Rabbi living in Israel - was in his younger years a sort of traveller in search of spiritual enrichment and who ended up being a Guru in India. He is familiar with the concepts and practices of eastern religions and philosophies, such as Buddhism or Taoism. He says that Chi practiced in the form of Tai Chi is rooted in “Avodah Zarah” Idolatry, a mixture of a very old pantheist/Polytheist religion. I will his view later in this essay on the topic of Tai Chi.

My opinion on his negative view on practicing Tai Chi, Yoga and other sort of meditations is that it has a root in idolatry/Pantheism and Polytheism and that it could lead, if not practiced carefully, to Idolatry as some forms of rituals practiced today can be said to be a kind of worship to the earth, energy, spirit, statue or picture.

But “Qi” as understood in Shaolin Kung Fu as being a force is a permissible notion if you see it as a force of G-d, creator of everything, stars, planets, forces, energies etc...

The Halachic problems with Shaolin Kung Fu Are can be said to be the Buddhist lessons on worshipping the Buda, and seeing oneself as equal with the force “Qi” which is just a creation of G-d as much as a Ruach.


...It is forbidden even to look at idols or to study how they are worshipped, as it says "Do not turn toward idols" (Lev. 19:4) and it says "And lest you inquire after their gods, saying `How do these nations worship their gods'" (Deut. 12:30); for this can lead you to do as they do, as it says "that I too may do so". (Deut. 12:30),if It is forbidden to turn toward idolatry even in one's mind; we are warned against all thoughts that might lead to the uprooting of any of the basic principles of the Torah, as it says "And you shall not wander after your hearts or after your eyes which you are used to straying after". (Num. 15:39)... (Derived from Maimonides ‘Mishneh Torah, Avodah Zarah ve-Chukos ha-Goyim)


The hitting, kicking etc., are not a problem if they are not done with an intention to hurt, but to obtain physical health.


"Yehudah Ben Teima says: Be courageous as the leopard, light as the eagle, swift as the deer, and strong as the lion, [so that you will be able] to do the will of your Father in Heaven."  Avot 5:20

"Ba'ey Gufa Takif Gibar KaAri" - One needs a body strong as a lion.    Zohar 3, 160a, Otzar HaZohar 4, 823b

Maimonides writes that one is to "exercise and exert oneself greatly. Mishneh Torah (Deot 4:14,15) "

Thus those who accomplish acts of exercising their body in the wish to be healthy, engaging in ball games, wrestling, boxing and suspension of breathing . . . are in the opinion of the ignorant engaged in frivolous actions, whereas they are not frivolous according to the Sages." (Moreh 3, 25; Pines ed. vol. 2 pg. 503)

Chi Kung, Tai Chi and Idolatry


Whereas it is Halachicaly acceptable to practice Shaolin Kungfu, provided some restrictions are taken into account – such as for example only bowing to show respect to a teacher and not as an act of worship, not following lessons in venerating the Buddha - Tai Chi and Chi Kung are more problematic for a Torah-Faithfull Jew.

I shall start – as I did when discussing Kung Fu – by expounding the basic ideas and practices of Chi Kung and Tai Chi and then giving an explanation on why it is difficult, if not impossible, to practice these from an Halachic point of view.

What are Tai Chi and Chi Kung?


Tai Chi: is an originally Chinese martial art practiced for both its defence training and its health benefits. It is also typically practiced for a variety of other personal reasons. A multitude of training forms exist, both traditional and modern, which are geared toward different foals. Some training forms of t'ai chi ch'uan are especially known for the extremely slow moving of the body.


The core training involves two primary features: the first being taolu (solo "forms"), a slow sequence of movements which emphasize a straight spine, abdominal breathing and a natural range of motion; the second consisting if different styles of tuishou ("pushing hands") that is to say more practical movement techniques practiced with a partner.

Chinese group practicing Tai Chi on Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China.


Chi Kun: is a type of spiritual practice intended to "align" body, breath, and mind for health, meditation, and martial arts training. With roots in Chinese medicine, philosophy, and martial arts, Qigong is traditionally viewed as a practice to cultivate and balance “Qi” (chi) or life energy.

Chi kun, or also known as Qigong (as a sport, not as the concept), comprises a diverse set of practices that coordinate body, breath and mind based on Chinese philosophy. Practices include moving and still meditation, massage, chanting, sound meditation, and non-contact routines, performed in a broad array of body postures. Qigong is commonly subdivided into two categories: 1) dynamic or active Qigong (dong gong), with slow flowing movement; and 2) meditative or passive Qigong (jing gong), with still positions and inner movement of the breath. From a therapeutic perspective, Qigong can be classified into two systems: 1) internal Qigong, which focuses on self-care and self-cultivation, and; 2) external Qigong, which involves treatment by a therapist who directs or transmits “Qi”.

Men practicing Chi Kung outside.


The Halachic problem with Chi Kung, Tai Chi and their link to idolatry.

The Halachic problem within Chi Kung lies in the fact that a foundational premise of its belief system is that a practitioner of Chi Kung becomes able to perform miracles, tap energy from the cosmos. It is therefore more than a mere physical exercise. Every movement seems to be a form of meditation that at the highest levels leaves you in a state between wuji (infinite) and the polar "yin and yang".

(see the Wikipedia article on Taiji philosophy for more information)

The word taiji translates as "great pole/goal" or "supreme ultimate", and symbolically represents a state between wuji (infinite) and the polar "yin and yang".

The practice of Tai Chi (taijiquan) is meant to be in harmony with taiji philosophy which itself is derived from Taoism (Taoism (or Daoism) , a philosophical, ethical and religious tradition of Chinese origin that emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao (also Romanized as Dao)).

The concept of Dao can be translated as "way", "path" or "principle" and constitutes an original Chinese religious doctrine on how one should live his life. A lifestyle that stands in sharp contrast to the one espoused by the Torah and Halacha. Tai Chi in Taoist philosophy can be realised on three major levels:

1; attaining good health and longevity in this life.

2; becoming a saint or an immortal.

3; attaining the Tao (the path), or as expressed in other cultures as attaining Buddha-hood, an union with Brahman, to return to G-d.

The first goal (1) is perfectly acceptable for the Halacha, but the second and third goals are not. Just as with Chi kung and with Yoga the problem lies in the fact that they share a philosophical foundation with Eastern religions that endeavour to reach a divine status or one-ness with G-d.

Taoism is an Eastern religion originating  with Laozi, a philosopher and poet of ancient China. The earliest Taoism writings already talk about "ghosts, and deities, and wives of deities, immortals ". Taoism is  in that sense also a reinterpretation of ancient traditions of nature worship, divination, and magic.

It has deep roots in pantheistic worship and the Religion Library website describes it as follows:

Taoism, also known as Daoism, is an indigenous Chinese religion often associated with the Daode jing (Tao Te Ching), a philosophical and political text purportedly written by Laozi (Lao Tzu) sometime in the 3rd or 4th centuries B.C.E.
The Daode jing focuses on dao as a "way" or "path" ... Taoism engaged in complex ritual practices, including devotion to a wide range of celestial divinities and immortals,...

...In both, a harmonious relationship between nature, humanity, and the divine ...

Can these practices be taught in a kosher way?


This question has to be answered in the negative. If you tell him that he is practicing Chi Kung, or Tai Chi - or any other practice that is rooted in a religion other than the Torah - he is endangering his soul, even if he is only touching his toes.

I think that this exposé on Tai Chi, Chi Kung and their link to idolatry has made clear that their practice must be considered to idolatrous, which is obviously forbidden by our Torah. Here the practice, Martial art cannot be separated from the philosophy and worship.

Let me conclude this part on Chinese Martial arts which are strongly interwoven with Buddhist, Idolatrous and pagan aspects by reiterating that in the Jewish view only Hashem can perform miracles or people appointed by him (In Parshas Re’ey we are reminded that G-d uses omens and miracles to test us, His people. We are instructed that G-d uses even a prophet or a dreamer of dreams to test His people.).

Japanese Martial Arts.

Japanese martial arts refer to the variety of martial arts native to Japan. At least three Japanese terms are used interchangeably with the English phrase "Japanese martial arts".

The usage of term "budo" to mean martial arts is a modern one, and historically the term meant a general way of life encompassing all sorts of physical, spiritual, and moral dimensions with a focus of self-improvement, fulfillment, or personal growth. The terms bujutsu and bugei have more discrete definitions, at least historically speaking. Bujutsu refers specifically to the practical application of martial tactics and techniques in actual combat. Bugei refers to the adaptation or refinement of those tactics and techniques to facilitate systematic instruction and dissemination within a formal learning environment.

In this last chapter of this essay I will look at Karate, Jiu Jitsu and Aikido.

Japanese Martial arts are less or not at all interwoven with meditational movements (for some rooted in pantheism and polytheism as seen with the Chinese Martial arts) and philosophy but are truly Martial Arts, fighting techniques in origin and practice.

The only form of Japanese Martial art that has an strong link to Ki” -(concept explained above, which has nothing to do with worship, but is just a force which we can see as created from G-d.)- is Aikido. The only Japanese Martial art that has received some elements from Chinese Martial Arts- ( Mostly Kung Fu: the Martial Art)-is Karate.

Karate is a martial art developed on the Ryukyu Islands in what is now Okinawa, Japan. It developed from the indigenous martial arts of Ryukyu Islands under the influence of Chinese martial arts, particularly Fujian White Crane. Karate is now predominantly an art using punching, kicking, knee strikes, elbow strikes and open hand techniques such as knife-hands, spear-hands, and palm-heel strikes.

Historically and in some modern styles grappling, throws, joint locks, restraints, and vital point strikes are also taught. It was brought to the Japanese mainland in the early 20th century during a time of cultural exchanges between the Japanese and the Chinese.



The reason why there even exists a kosher Torah Dojo in America can be attributed to the fact that - as I mentioned before - Japanese Martial Arts not linked to paganism and are prely Martial Arts.

kosher Torah Dojo

What is the Tora Dojo System?

Tora Dojo was founded in 1967 by Grandmaster Harvey Sober, a professor at the Yeshiva University of New York.

Tora is translated as “tiger” in Japanese and “Torah” in Hebrew, and Dojo means “school” in Japanese.

The goal of our system is to help a person build a connection with Hashem, develop character, respect, discipline, self-esteem and learn how to defend oneself.

As a disciple of Grandmaster Sober, sifu Mordechai firmly believes in the importance of every frum Yid knowing how to defend himself.

Why Try Karate?

To Get Fit:

Karate classes provide you with a great workout for both the body and the mind.

You will gain strength and stamina as well as flexibility and weight control so you will feel at ease with your body.

To Defend:

We live in a very unpredictable world and you never know when someone may attack or harm you. It is a crucial time for people to learn how to defend themselves.

In the Torah it is written,”U'shmartem Es Nafshosechem(“you shall guard your lives”). It is of utmost importance that we learn how to do so.

To Grow:

Karate promotes a positive attitude towards life through motivation and self discipline. As you advance in your Karate training you will become more self confident and gain a higher self esteem



Aikido: is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs. Aikido is often translated as "the way of unifying (with) life energy" or as "the way of harmonious spirit." Ueshiba's goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury.

Aikido techniques consist of entering and turning movements that redirect the momentum of an opponent's attack, and a throw or joint lock that completes the technique.

Aikido derives mainly from the martial art of Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu, but began to diverge from it in the late 1920s, partly due to Ueshiba's involvement with the Omoto-kyo religion. Ueshiba's early students' documents bear the term aiki-jujutsu.

Steven Seagal7th -dan black belt in Aikido, Seagal began his adult life as an Aikido instructor in Japan. He became the first foreigner to operate an Aikido dojo in Japan

After Ueshiba left Hokkaido in 1919, he met and was profoundly influenced by Onisaburo Deguchi, the spiritual leader of the Omoto-kyo religion (a neo-Shinto movement) in Ayabe. One of the primary features of Omoto-kyo is its emphasis on the attainment of utopia during one's life. This was a great influence on Ueshiba's martial arts philosophy of extending love and compassion especially to those who seek to harm others. Aikido demonstrates this philosophy in its emphasis on mastering martial arts so that one may receive an attack and harmlessly redirect it. In an ideal resolution, not only is the receiver unharmed, but so is the attacker.

Although the inspiration of Ueshiba, to master martial arts so that one may receive an attack and harmlessly redirect it came from the Omoto-kyo religion (a neo-Shinto movement) Aikido is practicable because the martial art is enough detached from the philosophy. Here a Neo Shinto movement brought an idée, not more.

Jiu Jitsu: is a Japanese martial art and a method of close combat for defeating an armed and armoured opponent in which one uses no weapon or only a short weapon. The word jujutsu can be spelled as ju-jitsu/jujitsu, jiu jitsu, ju-jutsu.

"Ju" can be translated to mean "gentle, soft, supple, flexible, pliable, or yielding." "Jutsu" can be translated to mean "art" or "technique" and represents manipulating the opponent's force against himself rather than confronting it with one's own force. Jujutsu developed to combat the samurai of feudal Japan as a method for defeating an armed and armoured opponent in which one uses no weapons, or only a short weapon. Because striking against an armoured opponent proved ineffective, practitioners learned that the most efficient methods for neutralizing an enemy took the form of pins, joint locks, and throws. These techniques were developed around the principle of using an attacker's energy against him, rather than directly opposing it.

There are many variations of the art, which leads to a diversity of approaches. Jujutsu schools (ryu) may utilize all forms of grappling techniques to some degree (i.e. throwing, trapping, joint locks, holds, gouging, biting, disengagements, striking, and kicking). In addition to jujutsu, many schools teach the use of weapons.

Today, jujutsu is practiced in both traditional and modern forms of sport. Derived forms include the Olympic sport and martial art of judo, which was developed by Kano Jigoro in the late 19th century from several traditional styles of jujutsu, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which was derived from earlier (pre–World War II) versions of Kodokan judo

Some examples of martial arts that have developed from or have been influenced by jujutsu are: aikido, bartitsu, hapkido, judo (and thence Brazilian jiu-jitsu and sambo), kajukenbo, krav maga, kapap, and kenpo.


Me right in the picture with Jorge my sparring partner at an Budo multistyle stage

Japanese Martial Arts and the possible Halachic problems with practicing them.

Is a son allowed to spar with his father?

What can be a better bonding between father and son besides learning Torah together than to engage both in a sport, something which also can be seen as a Halachic requirement?
Does a father however have Halachic authorisation to allow his son to hit him, even if it is just as part of a sparring exercise?

The main question here, I believe, is whether a father has it within his authority to allow his son to strike him, which would otherwise be a terrible sin for the son.

In Y"D (240:19) the Shulhan 'Aruch writes that a father may not insist on being honoured, because if the son fails, the father has effectively placed a stumbling block before him. Instead, the Shulhan 'Aruch writes:

Rather, he should waive (his honor)...since the father who has waived his honor, his honor is (effectively and as a matter of Halachah) waived.

Two rivals in a karate tournament.

The Halachic problem with bowing and kneeling in a dojo

It is a custom to greet or show respect in the Eastern world by bowing for his partner or colleague. In dojo’s, learning and exercise rooms for martial arts, the floor is provided with soft mats so kneeling and bowing are performed before the training begin, as a manner of respect between teacher and student. As long as the room itself contains no statues or pictures that resemble divine beings and the bowing is only performed as a show of respect for one another, there is no Halachic problem.

If and when a dojo martial art instructor instructs to bow in front of a picture as a means of worship, or if the martial art training requires the performance of any idolatrous acts, one must quit immediately and search for another dojo/martial art, martial art instructor.


It is forbidden to worship an idol in the way it is customarily worshipped, as it says "And you shall not worship them". Ex. 20:5 It is also forbidden to sacrifice to it or to bow down to it even if it is not customarily worshipped in these ways, as it says "One who sacrifices to a god, except to Ha-Shem only, shall be destroyed" Ex. 22:19; and it says "You shall not bow down to them" Ex. 20:5 and "You shall not bow down to another god". Ex. 34:14- It is forbidden to make an idol, as it says "You shall not make yourselves metal gods", Lev. 19:4 or to have one made for oneself, as it says "You shall not make yourself an idol or any image". Ex. 20:4 It is also forbidden to make raised figures of men or of heavenly bodies even for decoration, as it says "You shall not make [gods of silver or gods of gold] with Me". Ex. 20:20  (Based on Maimonides Mishneh Torah, Avodah Zarah ve-Chukos ha-Goyim)

Two Martial artists bowing as a form of respect before engaging in an exercise or fight.




Chabad Rabbi who won his first Mixed martial arts fight

Rabbi Yossi Eilfort (1992) of Chabbad of La Costa, California, won his first amateur mixed martial arts fight in 2014. For 12 years, the young Rabbi has been studying Krav Maga and enterd the octagon ring for the first time via MMA fighter and judo specialist Thierry Sokudju, of Cameroon who trained him. His coach mentioned that he “never thought that a rabbi would be interested in fighting.” But he was excited about the fact that the rabbi never quit.

Chabad Rabbi Yossi Eilfort during boxing practice.

Rabbi Eilfort trains nearly every day balancing this routine with his duties at the Chabad of La Costa. He trains even on Fridays, but foregoes a last round of preparation before his big match in order not to endanger his observance of Shabbat. He was dubbed as “the Rabbi” on the match bill of the competition. 20 friends, family members and members of the Chabad congregation came to watch as their rabbi swiftly took down his opponent and winning in the second round with a technical Knock Out.

“It was very uncomfortable hitting someone, I actually held back, but proved what I wanted.” Said rabbi Eilfort going on to add that “violence isn’t encouraged in Judaism, but being healthy is a mitzvah.


Halachicaly it would be prudent to only practice the exercises that limit themselves to the physical aspects of the Martial art that exclusively serve the goal of good health and longevity in the service of Hashem.

The real danger lies in the fact that a Torah Faithfull Jew usually does not know enough about the idolatrous background of some Martial Arts and therefore might unwittingly learn and practice Idolatry or facets of it.

Practicing Martial arts without knowing enough about their origins and philosophy might therefore be harmful to the soul of a Jew. On the other hand however good health is an important Halachic value which has to be striven for as was discussed higher by referencing Maimonides (1135 – 1204). Let me therefore conclude with a few passages from this Torah Sage.

In his law code, the Mishneh Torah (Deot 4:14,15) Maimonides writes that one is to "exercise and exert oneself greatly."

These words of advice are more than a simple admonition. RaMBaM's Mishneh Torah is a book of laws, not a book of suggestions! Therefore, exercise, according to Maimonides, is required practice according to Torah/Biblical law.

For most religious Jews, exercise is almost never performed, and if performed, only in minimal amounts. This contributes to illness. Another one of the greatest ills that affects religious people is obesity, and this is mostly not caused by hormonal problems, but rather it is caused exclusively through poor diet.

Thus those who excercise their body in pursuance of health by engaging in ball games, wrestling, boxing and suspension of breathing are therefore only engaged in frivolous actions in the minds of the ignorant, whereas they are not frivolous according to the Sages." (Moreh 3, 25; Pines ed. vol. 2 pg. 503)



Initiated and completed under the supervision of Prof. Rabbi Ahron Daum, B.A., M.S., Emeritus-Chief Rabbi of Frankfurt am Main.

Lay-out and first writing of 10 pages of the essay: Hans Weygers, Antwerp.

Collecting information on Eastern Martial arts and Halachic problems that may arise in practicing them: Angelo (Malachi, Chizkiyahu) Prins, Antwerp.

Final lay-out and second revised writing of the whole essay:
Angelo (Malachi, Chizkiyahu) Prins, Antwerp.

Corrections in grammar : Mordechai Ahron Baert, Antwerp

Webmaster: Yitzchak Berger, son-in-law of Rabbi Ahron Daum, Shlita, Antwerp.

Used internet sources


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