22 February 2009

Revisiting Exercise & Judaism

Now that I am taking a two-week hiatus to let some of my joints which are sore to recover, which began last week and is continuing this week (although it may continue longer, depending upon how my body feels), I figured this would be a good opportunity to revisit the topic of exercise and Jews. I most recently dealt with this topic three-quarters of a year ago here, where I wrote that "I have thought that the verse of guarding yourself well was, indeed, an imperative to protect your body and to keep it in good shape. However, that is neither how it was meant in Deuteronomy, nor in the Talmud." As far as to previously, I had written in my first posting on this topic over three years ago, on exercise and Jews, that this "line is speaking about keeping the Torah and the commandments, etc., though one can take it out of its context (as the rabbis have done many times over with various scriptural quotes) and see it as saying to guard one's body, to keep it up."
In response to my last posting on this topic, someone wrote to check out a couple of sources. The first of these is what Maimonides wrote (משנה תורה, הלכות רוצח ושמירת הנפש יא:ד):
וכן כל מכשול שיש בו סכנת נפשות מצות עשה להסירו ולהשמר ממנו ולהזהר בדבר יפה יפה שנ' השמר לך ושמור נפשך, ואם לא הסיר, והניח המכשולות המביאין לידי סכנה, ביטל מצות עשה ועבר על לא תשים דמים
And, similarly, there is a prescriptive commandment to remove every stumbling-block in which there is danger and to be careful with it really well, as it is said, "Guard yourself and protect your body." And if you do not remove it, you will be placing stumbling-blocks which cause danger, you are losing out on this prescriptive commandment and transgressing on the proscriptive commandment of not placing blood.
The second is a direct quote from the aforementioned by Rabbi Yosef Karo (שו"ע, חו"מ תכ"ז:ח):
וכן כל מכשול שיש בו סכנת נפשות, מצות עשה להסירו ולהשמר ממנו ולהזהר בדבר יפה, שנאמר: השמר לך ושמור נפשך. ואם לא הסיר והניח המכשולות המביאים לידי סכנה ביטל מצות עשה ועבר בלא תשים דמים
However, while these texts do quote the verse about guarding one's body, this is in regards to removing harmful things to one's body. It can be easily said that this can serve as a reason to engage in regular cardiovascular exercise, however, it may be more difficult to serve as a reason to engage in weight-lifting/strength training. However, strength-training also serves to aid one's health. I think this topic needs more looking in to, however, I don't think one can say that there is any imperative to engage in weight-lifting.
While I'm on the topic, it is interesting to note Rabbi Moshe Rivkash's note to Rabbi Karo's inclusion of this line (באר הגולה, חו"מ תכ"ז:כ), wherein he says that Maimonides derives this obligation from the pious man story I discussed in a previous posting, However, that's a bit odd as I wrote there that "this verse is used in the context of guarding oneself - one's body, even - nevertheless, it is used by a gentile general in somewhat of a polemical context." Indeed, Rabbi Eidels said that "these verses are not dealing at all with guarding one’s body itself from danger", but rather, with learning. Anyways, it is clear that Rabbi Karo directly quoted from Maimonides, but it is not clear how Maimonides derived this.


Shorty said...

As an ex-fitness trainer, i find the topic of organized exercise actually quite fascinating - the fact is, long long time ago, before cars, before desk jobs, we didn't need to "exercise". We walkted, we farmed, we had to do milk our own cows, and bake our own bread. We had to build our own houses, and actually gasp, carry books...people were naturally fitter because "exercise" was built into life.

Now, i'm not necessarily saying healthier - water quality, medicines etc have done a great deal to extend life (and protect).

muse said...

It is more fun to exercise with others. At least I enjoy it more. Instead of socializing over food, take a walk together or do an "exercise dvd."