Orthodox Response to an Un-Orthodox Sport

February 23, 2011 1:29 pm 2 comments

Author:

avatar Ben Horne

Share this Article

Yuri Foreman. Photo: Adam Ritter

Imagine the conversation between a Rabbi and his son. Says the Rabbi, “son, when you grow up I want you to honour the traditions of this family and become a well respected Rabbi”. Answers the son, “but daddy, I don’t want to become a Rabbi. I want to become a World Champion boxer!” The response from the Rabbi would probably be something like,  “’Let the goyim be the fighters, the murderers — we are the scholars.”

The scenario may seem fictitious, but this was the response that Rabbi Isidore Rasofsky gave to his son Dov-Ber Rasofsky (a.k.a Barney Ross) in an attempt to discourage him from becoming a boxer, and persuade him to keep his mind focused on Talmud learning. Unfortunately for the Rabbi his words failed to work and Ross subsequently became one of the most successful Jewish boxers of the 1920’s and 1930’s. His strength in the ring made him an iconic figure amongst American Jews. They viewed Ross as someone who had the potential to fight back against the rise of the Nazi party and the anti-Semitic behavior which was rampant during that period.

Now image a Rabbi, who is a member of a Chasidic sect, and is also a professional boxer. Step into the ring Yuri Foreman. Originally born in Belarus to a secular Jewish family, Foreman is currently in the process of taking Semicha. His family made aliyah when Foreman was aged nine and subsequently moved to America, where Foreman was able to grow religiously and develop his boxing. He follows the Chabad movement and has previously entered the ring to the sound of the Lubavitcher rebbe signing a Chassidic melody! Outside the ring, Foreman’s toughest fight remains attempting to defend himself against questions relating to the apparent contradiction between being an orthodox Rabbi and pursuing a career in professional boxing. The responsibility of the Rabbi is to ensure he is role model to his community and this is achieved by demonstrating moral and ethical behaviour within the public sphere. If Foreman decides to continue boxing once he has gained semicha, he risks jeopardising his rabbinical authority. Foreman’s next fight is scheduled for March 12 and will be against Pawel Wolak.

Foreman is not the only contemporary professional boxer to adhere to orthodox Judaism. Born in Ukraine to a secular Jewish family, Dimitry Salita, like Foreman, is an immigrant to America. His family made the decision to leave Ukraine as they became increasingly concerned for their safety with the rise of anti-Semitic abuse. Indeed, as a child, Salita used violence as a means to protect himself against Ukrainian Jew hatred. Upon moving to America, Salita continued to suffer from bullying because he was an immigrant and his family was very poor. Once again, he used his fists to fight back and was regularly involved in fights. He subsequently joined his first boxing gym at the age of 13 and used the opportunity as a means to escape from poverty. After the death of his mother, Salita became more involved in Judaism with help from the local Chabad community. Salita came to prominence within the British media in December 2009 during the build up to his WBA light welterweight fight against Amir Khan, who is ironically an orthodox Muslim. The press focused their reporting on Salita’s Jewish identity and some of the customs and laws he observes. Unfortunately for Salita, the fight didn’t go as planned and he was knocked out after just 76 seconds. In the post fight analysis, questions arose relating to Salita’s future in the sport. However, Salita has had a successful return to the ring; winning his past two fights, and is now considering arranging his next fight in Israel.

Although orthodox Jewish boxers are novel, Jews are no strangers to the boxing ring. For example, in England, Daniel Mendoza was one of the most prominent and successful prize fighters (prize fighting was an early form of boxing) of the 19th century. He was among the first Jewish people to meet British royalty when he met King George III, and this helped to elevate the social position of Jewish people within British society. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, Jewish immigrant boxers were common in America as they attempted to use boxing to escape their impoverished status within society. In London’s East End, Jewish boxers also featured prominently during the 1920’s and, as in America, boxing was a seen as way out of social deprivation. One of the most prominent boxers during this period was Jack ‘Kid’ Berg. His trademark was to enter the boxing ring wearing Tefilin in a ploy to get the crowd on his side!

In an age when many Jews would rather distance themselves from Judaism, the bravery and commitment shown by Foreman and Salita to adhere to their faith deserves a high level of credit and respect. Indeed both Boxers testified that being religious and having faith has helped develop their boxing careers. The main responsibly for both men is to continue to represent orthodox Judaism in a positive light. This has the potential to educate secular Jews about the importance of maintaining a proud Jewish identity in today’s society.

Stay tuned for the next edition, which will investigate the relationship between Jews and the Olympic games.

2 Comments

  • Betrayal of jewish women, mothers and everybofy
    Who war born in jewish family
    Israel is the only place that fights fake giurs
    Otherwise it says that. Fake ger will bring sufferinh
    To our nation it seems that some rabbies fullishly
    believe that they can make artificial jews

  • not rabbi AKiva

    To be a rabbi one should be born and raised by jewish mother. And if your mother and wife is not jewish how can u be a role model to jewish youth? ?

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Middle East Hamas Commander Reportedly Urges Hezbollah to Join Forces Against Israel

    Hamas Commander Reportedly Urges Hezbollah to Join Forces Against Israel

    JNS.org – Five months after Israeli forces tried to assassinate Hamas military commander Mohammed Deif in Gaza, Deif appears to have signed a letter that the terrorist group claims he wrote in hiding. The letter, addressed to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, expressed Deif’s condolences for the death of Hezbollah terrorists during Sunday’s reported Israeli airstrike in Syria. Deif is said to have survived multiple assassination attempts, but he has not been seen in public for years. According to the Hezbollah-linked Al-Manar [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Shlomo Carlebach Musical Has the Soul to Heal Frayed Race Relations

    Shlomo Carlebach Musical Has the Soul to Heal Frayed Race Relations

    JNS.org – The cracks that had been simply painted over for so long began to show in Ferguson, Mo., in November 2014, but in truth they had begun to open wide much earlier—on Saturday, July 13, 2013. That is when a jury in Sanford, Fla., acquitted George Zimmerman of culpability for the death of a 17-year-old black man, Trayvon Martin. The cracks receded from view over time, as other news obscured them. Then came the evening of Aug. 9, 2014, [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada ‘Homeland’ Season Finale Stirs Controversy After Comparing Menachem Begin to Taliban Leader

    ‘Homeland’ Season Finale Stirs Controversy After Comparing Menachem Begin to Taliban Leader

    A controversial scene in the season finale of Homeland sparked outrage by comparing former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to a fictional Taliban leader, the UK’s Daily Mail reported. In the season 4 finale episode, which aired on Dec. 21, CIA black ops director Dar Adal, played by F. Murray Abraham, justifies a deal he made with a Taliban leader by referencing Begin. He makes the remarks in a conversation with former CIA director Saul Berenson, a Jewish character played by Mandy [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Placing Matisyahu Back Within a Life of Observance

    Placing Matisyahu Back Within a Life of Observance

    Shining Light on Fiction During the North Korea-Sony saga, we learned two important lessons. The first is that there are two sides to this story, and neither of them are correct because ultimately we should have neither inappropriate movies nor dictators. The second is that we cannot remain entirely fixed on the religious world, but we also must see beyond the external, secular view of reality. It’s important to ground our Torah-based thoughts into real-life activism. To view our act [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Nine Decades of Moses at the Movies

    Nine Decades of Moses at the Movies

    JNS.org – Hollywood has had its share of big-budget biblical flops, but until now, the Exodus narrative has not been among them. Studios have brought Moses to the big screen sparingly, but in ways that defined the image and character of Moses for each generation of audiences. The first biblical epic In 1923, director Cecil B. DeMille left it to the American public to decide the subject of his next movie for Paramount. DeMille received a letter from a mechanic [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Exodus on Screen (REVIEW)

    Exodus on Screen (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – The story of the Exodus from Egypt is a tale as old as time itself, to borrow a turn of phrase. It’s retold every Passover, both at the seder table and whenever “The Ten Commandments” is aired on television. But the latest adaptation—Ridley Scott’s epic film, “Exodus: Gods and Kings”—fails to meet expectations. Scott’s “Exodus” alters the source material to service the story and ground the tale, but the attempt to reinvent the biblical narrative becomes laughable. Moses [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Lifestyle ‘Jewish Food Movement’ Comes of Age

    ‘Jewish Food Movement’ Comes of Age

    JNS.org - In December 2007, leaders of the Hazon nonprofit drafted seven-year goals for what they coined as the “Jewish Food Movement,” which has since been characterized by the increased prioritization of healthy eating, sustainable agriculture, and food-related activism in the Jewish community. What do the next seven years hold in store? “One thing I would like to see happen in the next seven years is [regarding] the issue of sugar, soda, and obesity, [seeing] what would it be like to rally the [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Education Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    JNS.org – Forget the dioramas. How about working on an Israeli Air Force drone? That’s exactly the kind of beyond-their-years access enjoyed by students at the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) industrial vocational high school run by Israel Sci-Tech Schools, the largest education network in the Jewish state. More than 300 students (250 on the high school level and 68 at a two-year vocational academy) get hands-on training in the disciplines of aviation mechanics, electricity and energy control, and unmanned air [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.