2012-12-07

Neglect of physical order and fitness in traditional Jewish culture

The first thing I do every time I arrive at the yeshiva in the morning is to return books other students used and left scattered on the tables in the study hall to the bookshelves and clean these tables they make dirty with spills of coffee and foods. Although this is extremely bothering, I do not intend to ask them to change their behavior; instead, I repeat this Sisyphean labor every morning. This neglect of physical order, which seems widespread not only in our specific yeshiva but in traditional Jewish culture in general, is also enigmatic, for they are supposed to strive to make conceptual order out of the seeming intellectual chaos of the Talmud. I cannot help wondering why lack of physical order does not bother their persuit for conceptual order.

Unfortunately, neglect of physical order seems to be so deeply ingrained in traditional Jewish culture. Generally speaking, the more religious a certain neighborhood or even a whole city is, the dirtier and the less physically orderly it is, as some people who live there themselves have told me. In Israel even many of those who are otherwise far from traditional Jewish culture are also quite "traditional" in this respect. Public libraries suffer from the same neglect of physical order. People scatter books everywhere and do not return them to the shelves after using them.

Another symptom of traditional Jewish culture that is also common even among many of those who are otherwise disconnected from it is neglect of physical fitness. Actually, Jewish sages, including, e.g., Maimonides, stress the importance of physical fitness, but in reality, it is largely neglected. Here again the more religious a person is, the less physically fit he or she is. This is not only because religious people are less likely to engage themselves in regular physical activities (except for eating, of course) and more likely to overeat on Sabbaths and holidays. To serve more than one can eat and be tempted to eat more than one should whenever possible is a sign of culture of poverty, but this culture still lingers in Israeli society, which has become quite affluent.

In the past two weeks I could neither run nor swim because I had caught cold and did not feel physically strong enough. Even after only two weeks of lack of these regular physical activities I could feel some physical changes in my body. The biggest change is felt both externally and internally in the buttocks. Actually, the buttocks are the body part that shows more than any other body parts whether someone is engaged in any regular physical activity or not. I have also wondered what happens to someone who has been neglecting their physical fitness all their life by not doing any physical activity regularly except for eating, and unfortunately, there are many people like this in Israel, especially among the religious but also amonth the secular under the influence of traditional Jewish culture.

There is and should be no contradiction between Judaism and physical order and fitness, but I am afraid that it will take a long time until the majority of the people in Israeli society start thinking more about physical order and fitness and behaving accordingly.