The rambling thoughts of a Modern Orthodox Chassid (whatever that means). Contact me at emansouth @

Monday, August 09, 2004

Sports in The Yeshiva Classroom

One of the 56 things that rubs Barry Katz the wrong way is "Rabbis talking sports".

When you think about things logically, you realize that following sports is a senseless, illogical waste of time. It's just plain stupid....

Which brings me to rabbeim. Is there anything wrong halachicly with following sports? Probably not. So why does it bug me when rabbeim talk sports? Because to me, it shows that they lack the insight that sports is stupidity. Does that mean I think they're morons? No.

What bothers me is that I expect rabbeim to be above the fray, not one of the guys, and talking sports makes them look like they are trying to show how with it they are, and I don't dig that. And again, I expect them to be at a point where their intellect is such that they think sports is junk.

Now that doesn't mean that a rebbe can't be into sports. Maybe he got into it as a kid and hasn't been able to shake it. Fine. I understand that it's an enormous yetzer hara, and the rebbe also needs an outlet - that's all well and good. Just don't talk sports. Read the papers if you want, watch and listen to the games, fine. Just don't discuss it with your students or congregants.

Of course, in a kiruv situation, maybe I can understand - the rebbe has to show the guys that he's cool. But for a typical black-hat yevisha, I don't see the logic. I've had rabbeim who never mentioned the Mets or Yankees, and nobody thought they were nerds. Some of these rabbeim were more with it and more respected than the ones who walked in asking whether the Mets won or lost last night.

There's no need. In the long run, I lose respect for them, thinking, this rebbe is supposed to be on a high madreiga, not on my and my classmates' levels. So if the rebbe likes sports, he ought to keep it to himself. And if you think your rebbe's spaced out because he doesn't follow sports, you've got serious issues.
I disagree with virtually everything Barry Katz has ever written on his blog but never more than with this post. It is pashut that a Rebbe who is tuned into sports and uses it properly can reach elementary school to high school boys in a way that rebbeim that are not so versed cannot. A skillful rebbe will use that knowledge to engage the boys interest. A very skillful rebbe will adapt sports into the curriculum itself. There are many lessons that can be learned from sports.

Let me give three examples that popped into my head from recent sporting events.

1. Greg (Mad Dog) Maddox just won his 300th game as a pitcher. He is, without question, one of the greatest pitchers ever to play in the Major Leagues. What makes him special is that he is not especially big or strong and doesn't throw the ball 95 mph. He has won with pinpoint control and his wits. (His nickname, Mad Dog, is an ironic joke; he looks like a professor).

2. Lance Armstrong came back from cancer to win the last six Tours de France. His determination in overcoming the disease was inspiring. His amazing preparation for the Tours de France and his incredible will to win were also inspiring. (Someone pointed out that since he divorced his wife and is living with Sheryl Crow he is pasul as a role model; I concede the specific point but my general point stands.)

3. As discussed here, Lance Armstrong crushed an opponent (in an entirely legal way) when he did not have to, only to settle a score. Was that ethical? Was it yashar? What would Shulchan Aruch say? Assuming the S.A. said it was technically OK, what about the concept of 'lifnim m'shuras ha'din'? What would the hashkafic seforim say?

It doesn't take much imagination to see how a skillful rebbe could use these examples to make important points.

One might ask, why delve into the world of sports to find this mashals? Because most boys either relate to sports or live for sports. That's a fact. And, it goes especially for the MO world, and, yes, even for the Yeshivish world.

Finally, my own anecdotal experience completely bears this out. The rebbeim that related best to our two sons and their classmates were the ones that used (and, better yet, played) sports to their advantage.


  • At 9:24 PM, Blogger Special Ed said…

    I'll never forget the time the bostoner rebbe explained being a Lay Leader as the nimshal to a sacrifice fly. His words were "it's not always important to get on base, if the run scores..


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