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Shuckeling While Davening: The Only Kosher Exercise?

A recent article that appeared on the haredi website, yeshivaworld.com, described how askanim in Israel had approached HaRav Aryeh Yehuda Leib Shteinman, shlita, armed with a kol korei against vacations during bein hazmanim. Their goal was to get his haskamah in their mission to stop bachurim from doing what they felt was an inappropriate and wasteful use of time – hiking, swimming, nature walking, sightseeing, etc. (generally vacationing from their studies).

 

The elderly Rav Shteinman jumped up, the weekly BaKehilla reports, and declared that, “any bachur taking vacation now, even a day or two, enhances his abilities and performance following vacation.

 

I was very, very relieved by the rav’s answer, for he wields a lot of clout. A prohibition from him would have likely resulted in a lot of bored, restless and frustrated young men – forbidden to have a life outside the study hall.

 

That news item triggered a long-buried memory of a shiddich that was redd to me many years ago. The man, a divorced professional, was touted as a major “catch,” as he was highly educated – both secularly and religiously. I found him to be very bright and easy to talk to, and, at first glance, someone with potential – until several dates later when we started talking about the future.

 

Of course, that entailed discussing my kids. His first declaration? My sons would have to give up their after-school activities, specifically sports. This wannabe member of my family was going to forbid my sons from playing hockey, a sport young boys in Toronto live and breathe. Hockey is so popular that a shomer Shabbos league was set up by fathers in the community so their sons could indulge in their passion for playing.

 

In addition to hockey, swimming, gymnastics and recreational ice-skating that my kids frequently enjoyed were verboten as well. His reason? “It takes time away from learning.”

 

This statement, plus his second declaration that my kids’ pets – turtles, birds and a cat – would have to go “because they were treif caused me to quickly exercise my right to show him the door.

 

When did playing sports become bitul zeman?When did engaging in exercise and physical activity become “goyish?”

 

A friend of mine in Brooklyn recently told me how she had spent a Shabbos with friends who lived within walking distance of a beach. They had a 12-year-old son, a lovely boy, she said – but one grossly overweight.

 

After lunch the boy asked his mother if he could take a walk on the beach. The mother said no, that he should instead pick up asefer and learn. The boy expressed his frustration by going to the fridge and helping himself to a big piece of cake before going to his room.

 

It’s an undisputed medical fact that being overweight and out of shape can lead to cancer and heart disease, serious medical conditions that tend to shorten one’s life.

 

Wouldn’t it make sense to encourage a lifestyle that included regular exercise via organized sports or something as simple as walking? After all, this has the potential to extend one’s life thereby increasing the amount of time the person can learn and perform mitzvos? Indulging in physical activities doesn’t take away from learning; rather it extends the ability to do so.

 

Everyone needs a physical “time-out” from whatever they are doing. This is especially true for frum children who, due to a double curriculum – limudeikodesh and secular studies – spend more time in school than the typical adult does at work. Often kids go to school before sunrise and are dismissed after dark. And then they have homework – and school on Sundays.

 

Many adults work a six-day, 70-hours plus week; but that is their choice. And they get  several coffee breaks.  At best, yeshiva students get a few minutes of recess that ends just as they are warming up.

 

Why inflict on our children a draining work schedule – which we would protest if it were required of us?

 

I would often let my kids stay home on Sundays and we would either do something fun (like go to an amusement park) or just do nothing. Usually this time-out energized them, and they were more alert for the upcoming school week.

 

I remember a mother whose son often missed hockey, which was played on school nights, as Friday night or Saturday play was not an option for a shomer Shabbos league. She proudly said that she did not allow “hockey to interfere with homework.” I told her that in my house, “homework never interfered with hockey.”

 

After 10 hours in school (including davening) I felt my kids would enhance their health – and by association, their education – by spending 45 minutes on the ice as opposed to an additional hour hunched in a chair, bent over a workbook trying to get their tired minds to focus.

 

I guess my theory worked. My boys passed all their grades – and then some.

 

It’s time the community readjusted its attitude to sports and exercise. These activities enhance Torah; they do not distract from it. Kids able to expend their pent-up energy are young people who will become better scholars and more tolerant human beings.

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