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Nov 25, 2009

Telling Foreman to stop boxing

Yuri Foreman winning the super-welterweight boxing title while being called a rabbinical student has sparked a debate of whether it is permitted to box, considering the inevitable damage done to the body, or not.

From the NY Daily News:

While he hears criticism about his profession from some in Brooklyn's Jewish community, Foreman, 29, said, "People who have never been in the ring, never done what I do, they're sometimes really quick to give their opinions.

"They like to say what's forgiven and what's forbidden...but it's not so simple."

The 29-year-old Foreman, who lives in Carroll Gardens and trains in Gleason's Gym in DUMBO, has a record of 28-0. He's also been a part-time rabbinical student for the past three years, even though it is widely held that a rabbi shouldn't be a professional fighter.

"I don't think it's even a debate among rabbis," said Sid Leiman, a professor of Jewish history at Brooklyn College. "Rabbis would look unkindly on [boxing]; if it's not against Jewish law, it's certainly against the spirit of Jewish law."

[...]

"The wrong way of looking at this is to say, 'He's an observant Jew and he's boxing so it's okay,'" said Rabbi Yaakov Osdoba, 40, a seminary instructor in Crown Heights. "The point is, even though he's observant it doesn't justify [boxing]."

Foreman doesn't buy the criticism, saying portions of Halakhah, Jewish law, provide justification for the sport he not only loves, but one he feels brings him closer to God.

"Look, if you ask, just boxing, any rabbi who doesn't know boxing is going to give you an answer right away," he said.

"But when you're in the ring after five rounds, going on 12, it's very spiritual, and I'm saying my own little prayers throughout the fight, 'Please, God, protect me.'"

Some groups say, and I thought Chabad was one of them, that when people become frum they should not give up their old life and old jobs. Rather, they should continue in their professions. They generally believe in living a frum life in all areas. That is how people like Matisyahu come to be and thrive in Chabad, and that is how young boxers like Foreman and Salita have succeeded as well.

It is strange that some rabbis are now giving statements like this that rabbis, or Jews for that matter, should not be boxers - I do not know if these are rabbis who have influence over these young men or not. In reality nobody should be boxers. Why would anyone want the brain damage that will result from getting your head pounded on repeatedly for a number of years. But once the guy is already in this profession and loves it and sees his life there, I don't see it to be any worse than somebody involved in other high risk jobs. Risk and potential future damage are very subjective and what some consider to be risky others consider to be lame, so it should be very difficult for anyone to tell someone else he can or cannot do something because of the risk involved. Boxing is probably pretty risky according to everybody, but what about other risky ventures like being a window washer by a skyscraper? What about being a dog trainer? a policeman or fireman? a soldier in the army?

I know I am not really saying anything, just wondering out loud... the debate seems strange to me. Especially in light of the fact that in the 30s and 40s, boxing was dominated by Jews. That changed, according to some studies I read, because of the socio-economic improvements in the Jewish community. But with the history of Jews and boxing it seems strange to say that a Jew cannot be a boxer...

12 comments:

  1. "But when you're in the ring after five rounds, going on 12, it's very spiritual, and I'm saying my own little prayers throughout the fight, 'Please, God, protect me.'"

    You could think that dropping acid gives you a spiritual experience, and getting involved with "legitimate businessmen" would probably find you saying, "God, protect me" on a regular basis. That doesn't make them activities which would be looked kindly upon from a Jewish perspective.

    I'm not saying that he shouldn't be boxing. I just think that he presents particularly sucky justifications for it.

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  2. the only justification he needs, I think, is that this was his life all along and he has no need to change it. If he was a criminal or a pork taste tester or something else that is clearly against halacha, that would be one thing - he should then go find a new job. But something like this that is not really against halacha but is risky is not something he necessarily needs to change.

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  3. Wasn't R. Raphael Halperin (you know the talmid of the chazon ish) a professional boxer?
    (In fact Dr. Leiman told me that he went to watch him in a boxing match which ended up in a tie. After the match, the car in which the young Dr. Leiman was in pulled up next to R. Halperin's car. They asked him why he didn't win. He responded, "No, I von".)

    R. Yaakov Hillel supposedly was also a boxer in his university days at Oxford, but I think that was before he got into learning. Perhaps he has regrets.

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  4. R' Halperin was a boxer, but I think it was before he was religious. I am not sure

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  5. Some people just have a problem with Jews being in the public eye!

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  6. re: halperin

    according to
    http://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%A8%D7%A4%D7%90%D7%9C_%D7%94%D7%9C%D7%A4%D7%A8%D7%99%D7%9F

    He grew up frum.
    He left yeshiva at the age of 19 to engage in wrestling?
    At some point in his life he became more devout and returned to learning, but he claims that he never left the charedi world.

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  7. i think one of the issues is whether you can voluntarily damage yourself or the other person (same issue and paintball)
    there are those who say you can be mochel completely (on the issur and monetary repayment) and those who say that you can only be mochel on the money (however the issur would remain)
    I suggest you ask your LOR for a psak.

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  8. on boxrec - it clearly shows when Yuri fought on Shabath and jewish holidays

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  9. Who's Yuri?

    Harry - I also thought a bigger issue would be harming someone else. Probably bothers us aggressive Israelis much less than the Americans complaining about it...

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  10. Rafi, you really miss the point. For one thing, the high risk in boxing to oneself is not offset by some identifiable benefit - Yuri's ridiculous assertions aside. (He clearly shows he doesn't understand halachic thinking.) The high rise window washer is productive and providing a service; the boxer is not.

    That brings us to the second part. The goal in boxing is to do harm to someone. I don't care about nice philosophical and rhetorical definitions. I have watched boxing. Each guy is out to hurt the other. The ultimate attainment in the match is the KNOCKOUT.

    Aside from all the possible prohibitions involved in doing bodily harm to someone else; is that the spirit of Torah? To ASPIRE to harm someone? To ASPIRE to overpower someone? And then of course there is the high incidence of long term brain injury and other disabilities to contend with.

    Next you'll be telling us that a drug dealer who becomes frum should maintain his profession, too. Not everything that we've done before is permitted or worthwhile or worthy of being associated with Torah.

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  11. Mordechai - long time no see. welcome back.

    I hear your argument. On your last point, I clearly differentiated between such previous lifestyles and others...

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  12. Shalom Rafi!

    Thanks for the welcome!

    My point is that the distinction you made isn't such a sure thing. Mugging people is clearly both illegal and assur. But beating up someone in the ring isn't? It may be only a matter of degree. Similarly, the cruel character that this promotes may also be only a matter of degree. I doubt Reish Lakish continued mugging people once he became observant.

    Indeed, this is a spiritual dilemna we struggle with as young soldiers and bnei yeshivah. The difference, of course, is we were engaged in a true mitzvah. Even so, there was a certain risk to our souls. How much more so when one engages in violence for recreation, amusement, entertainment!

    Hashem yishmareinu.

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