Sports and Spirituality


In a recent report from Cairo, Egypt at least 35 people have been killed in violence after a soccer match. Thousands flooded the field moments after the game was over. Clashes with security officers, players and fans were the bloodiest ever.


This got me thinking how games are played today and in the past.

“Mens Sana in Corpore Sano”-“A Sound Mind In A Sound Body.” Attributed to Cicero first century


As a young student in a cheder – private Jewish school, we were discouraged from playing sports.  Our teachers, called Rebbes, were from the old country.  They displayed an aversion to any kind of organized sport.  For many of them sports meant body worship and that was a big no-no.  For others, sports meant pitting the weak against the stronger teaching that the deciding factor in life is that might counts and what was right makes no difference. The Rebbe said, “sports-dos is treif – not kosher and not productive. Sports brought out the worst in people.  You can get hurt, or worse, pick up violent tendencies.”


My friends of European families told me that only the irreligious free thinkers sent their children to sports.  I felt that this too was not a valid explanation since a lot of American kids that went to gym or soccer games were not free thinkers.  Thinking that sports could be the precursor of becoming faithless was crazy.

In high school I had a more enlightened Rebbe who saw sports as a way to unify people of all colors and creeds.  He taught us the following. In a game everybody learns to play together that no one can go off and do whatever they want to.  Each player has a responsibility to each other.  The team spirit in playing together is what makes the winning.


So sports became kosher and our school had a basketball team.


Later on I attended rabbinical seminary.  I asked my teacher, an old rabbi in his 80s, about sports.  He said sports are good for America.  In the old country people had nothing to do on weekends for entertainment.  They would drink and plan pogroms consisting of killing, robbing and violence.  Here in America things are good. The people go to games and vent all their energy with something safe and sound.


Thinking about sports I become aware of an interesting anomaly. It’s the no contact games that are followed by violence while the body contact games have less or no violence


I think we may be losing the spiritual message of the games. The idea of healthy and sound winning to share spirit is lost. We have lost contact with our souls.

The Supreme Court forbidding students to lead in prayer before a game is wrong. The ruling drives home the message that sports are turning players and spectators to worshipping the body and not the spirit. It has become a sad contact sport where players and spectators are only interested in themselves.


I believe it would do America well not only to have a prayer before the game but a prayer after the game thanking God for giving the human race the capability of competing in a harmonious fashion.  The spirit of our competition has to lift the spirits of the spectators towards acknowledging that sports can bring us all together for a good time. If we had prayed before and after the soccer game there would have no losers only winners!