The History of Sports in Israel

While it may seem that sports play such a vital role in Israeli life today, this was not always the case.   Historically sports were not a big part of Judaism.  One could say that Jews rejected sports in the early years of their existence.  This rejection can be dated all the way back to the third century when the Greeks existed in the land that is now modern day Israel.  Sports were much more violent in that time period with gladiatorial combat being popular.  Many Jews, especially the ultra-orthodox, saw sports as evil.  In the same respect there were many Jews who followed the Jewish philosopher, Maimonides, when he said that a healthy body is equivalent to a healthy soul. 

Gladiatorial         Combat                 

(This picture represents the ancient Greek athletics that the Israelis rejected)

The many reason for the rejection of sports in Israel was the Hellenistic ideals that it enforced.  In these times it was the Greeks that began and dominated the sporting world.  Their idea of sports was not only violent, but required idol worshipping in the form of Greek Gods.  These were the same Greeks who forbid Jews from religious practice.  This goes against all Jewish ideals and betrays the 10 Commandments.  This meant that Jews weren't overly excited in anyway to participate in Greek sporting events. 

This caused the rebellion of the Maccabees led by Judah Maccabee in 167 BCE.  The initial revolt was sparked by the father of Judah, Mattathias, who refused to follow Greek idol worship.  Judah followed in his footsteps, leading a group of rebellious Jews to victory over the powerful Hellenistic Seleucid dynasty.  After winning the battle the Jews were granted religious freedom and rights to their own way of worship.  Winning this battle allowed Jews to begin endorsing athletics competitively.  From these courageous Jews came the Maccabiah Games, a cultural event that engulfs the whole country every 4 years.