One Set to Love
It is not quite true to say Chassidim do not engage in sports. It is true that the nature of the sports differs somewhat to that of the wider world and that contributes much towards the confusion surrounding this issue.
There are two sports popular with Chassidim. While the older generation tends to disapprove, many of the younger chassidim go swimming on a fairly regular basis. I have often observed a childish playfulness, in and around the swimming pool, that is usually so lacking in Chassidic males past the age of thirteen - when we become grown-up and all frivolity becomes a contemptible waste of time better spent learning. It seems that the repressed human behind the façade does dare to show its face when the body transient is almost naked and bareheaded. I am not going to elaborate on this, lest some bright spark on the Hill takes me up on it and starts campaigning to ban swimming altogether.
The other sport that is popular has just past its zenith for this year. It is in fact the only popular sport played by both Chassidim and Litvaks (OJ’s following the puritan form of Judaism originating in Lithuania). Its growing popularity as a spectator sport can be evidenced by the huge amount of photographic documentation in the press as well as in fan posters hanging in Sukkahs at this time of the year.
I am talking of course about Esrog and Lulav searching. Every year as we, the proletariat, go out to spend some of our hard earned cash on a lulav and esrog, the dream team kicks into action. In their established uniform of sagging, baggy black trousers with big billowing tzitzis and armed with magnifying glasses, toothpicks and Q-Tips, they set to work probing and looking for errant black dots on esrogim and split middle leaves on lulavs. As with any sport, proponents of the game actually believe that it has some value and watching them play you could almost imagine that it was being done for God’s sake.
To see a match all you have to do is go to your local esrog seller. Of course the top stars have their own surgery where eager fans will bring what they think is a great esrog and then queue for hours sometimes to play with the star. Most will have theirs disdainfully dismissed or cavalierly okayed as the case might be. It is all worth it however because once or twice a day the player will peer over his glasses at some lucky groupie and say “A Hiddur” (a beauty) allowing him to go home on cloud nine and remain there until the last person in shul has heard of it. In every esrog store however there will always be a couple of minor starlets in action, earnestly battling over the virtues of ones’ sexy shape against the flawless skin of the other.
Of course none of the star players will ever admit openly they can hardly wait for Yom Kippur to end just so that the championships can begin. Nor will they acknowledge that the real quest for the perfect esrog is not played out on the field of citrus peel but in the hearts and minds of those that buy them. For esroletes the sport is all about black dots vs. brown crusts and in the league table for the highest paid Esrog, like the Olympics, it is all about winning, effort or means do not count.
So let the sports fans wax lyrical about their campaign to find the immaculate exception while I go about my work - to help finance their hobby.