I'M NOT AT ALL PROUD THAT ISRAEL
WON A MEDAL AT THE OLYMPICS
Body and beauty culture is not a value in Jewish culture.
While we Jews are commanded to guard our health vigilantly, this is for the sake of being able to create a better world and carry out God's commandments. People who have ruined their health with addictive substances and by living a libertine life are not able to contribute to the general welfare of Humankind. Thus, Jews are commanded to stay as healthy as possible.
On the other hand, investing long periods of time and large amounts of money and personal energies in becoming ultra-physically fit, or good-looking for that matter, is frowned upon in Jewish culture. There were always Jews who were athletes, some quite notable. Yet there is always the lingering feeling that they invested their time, money and energies doing less than what the Jewish vision for its People is.
There was a very famous Rabbi during the Roman period, Reish Lakish, who was a gladiator before he changed his ways and became a Rabbi. The story of his miraculous moral transformation is remembered in Jewish history warmly and with great respect. The day that he reached the point where he had invested so much strength in being a scholar that he could no longer lift his sword and shield is a red-letter day in Jewish history. He was a model for all of us to follow, each in our way and according to our ability and circumstances, for each of us must turn away from sin, each in our own way. That day Reish Lakish became a full-time scholar and eventually he rose to become greatest Rabbinical authority of his generation.
When I think of Israelis in the Olympics today I am reminded of the Jews of ancient Greece who underwent painful operations to cover their circumcision so that they could partake in the Olympic games. They also partook in the ceremonies surrounding the Olympics, including orgies "devoted" to the gods. I am abashed. In order to become an Olympic athlete a person must put far more stress on their body than Jewish Law allows and to take forbidden risks. The glory of being awarded a metal medallion is an empty reason for abusing the body. I am very sorry when I see Israelis participating in the Olympics, the Eurovision contest and even the space program.
I also denounced the Israeli astronaut who was killed in the space shuttle because had he landed he would have landed on Shabbat. (Was his name Ilan Ramon? He ultimately was so unimportant to Jewish history that I cannot recall his name with surety.) I criticised his having taken part in the space program because desecrating the Shabbat was unavoidable. I was severely criticized for my unequivocal stand. I remain firm in my views on the matter - views based not on personal inclinations and opinions, but on many years of Torah study and in agreement with Orthodox Judaism in every generation. Jewish greatness resides in the moral and intellectual contributions we have made to Humankind. It is a waste of a Jewish life to have become a good enough athlete to have won a medal.
Doreen Ellen Bell-Dotan, Tzfat