My daughter is 13 and she no longer plays tennis. Wimbledon will recover but I am fuming. The reason she will not play is because her teacher informed her class that Tennis an organized sport and as such, is part of the Hellenistic culture that we (or the Maccabeans at least) were fighting against when the Hanukka miracle occurred.
Now I am not a cruel person by nature yet I have to say this. I spent the last summer holidays in a holiday town on the coast that is popular with the chasidish crowd. I have masochistic streak that allows me to even enjoy this in some perverted way. We went down to the beach one afternoon and a group of young charedi men (Sorry Y.M. but this is stronger than me) were playing football on the broadwalk in their swimshorts. The sight did invoke some kind of ancient abomination but I am pretty certain it was not Hellenism.
There are two major dynamics that keep sports popular. The first is fitness and physical and mental health. We in the western world, have developed our environment and tools to such an extent that we can survive with minimal physical activity. To keep our bodies healthy as we grow older, it is vital that we do a certain amount of physical exercise, preferably of the aerobic type that encourages the blood flow and exercises the heart. That however is not the real motivator for most people who do regular sport. The reason that is most likely to get a person into that sorts shop and trying on a pair of sneakers or swinging a squash racquet in front of the store mirror, is the because regular sport activities improve muscle tone and develop the physique.
The second reason that many people play sport is because we humans were designed to be territorial. We have an innate need to fight and to protect ourselves and our own. Competitive sports can help fulfill such a need.
Hellenistic sport falls somewhere in between all those. The sports that were such a major part of the culture were by and large competitive and were, in simplistic terms, a celebration of the human physique and power. The nudity while probably titillating to those with homosexual tendencies bothered no one else because, as the gay movement did not exist nor did homophobia. So everybody went and wowed those beautifully sculpted young men doing whatever it was they did and then went home assured that a species capable of achieving such perfection could certainly master a small thing like a universe.
Does anybody out there see where my daughter’s tennis ties in with that? They do not play in the nude. In fact in the religious school that she goes to they do not even shower after PT because the school does not want them exposing themselves to each other. So my daughter comes home from school smelling like Pharaoh’s swamp and solemnly explaining that she cannot play tennis because it is part of the forbidden Greek culture.
The Torah commands us to be very careful of our health (ushmartem meod le’nafshotechem). Many make the pun on ‘nafshotechem’ to include the soul. In our school they have accepted just the pun and dropped the true meaning. I wonder where this will end.