The fighting rabbinical student

yuriforemanTypically, we refer to a person studying to be a rabbi, like the newly crowned WBA junior middleweight champ Yuri Foreman, as a rabbinical student, not a rabbi-to-be. The Los Angeles Times got it right; USA Today got it wrong. But the LAT failed to deliver even a light body blow to the broader tale of Talmud and the tape. The first word of sports reporter Kevin Baxter’s article about Foreman is “rabbinical” — and not another mention of anything related to Judaism.

The best story I’ve read about Foreman was delivered by The New York Times last year. It likened the blow-by-blow assault of Talmudic examination to the battery of boxing.

But such a thoughtful story isn’t necessary. In reporting on the boxing success of Israel’s first champ, who happens to be a rabbinic student, Haaretz, the liberal Israeli daily, gives a good model. The article is clearly written toward a Jewish audience, which allows the reporter to assume some knowledge but doesn’t leave them with nothing but their own inferences:

Foreman is a rare combination of power and smarts. He comes from a poor family that immigrated to Israel after the collapse of the Soviet Union. His father works in Haifa as a mechanic, but Yuri moved to New York nearly a decade ago. A few years later, he began studying in a Brooklyn yeshiva to become an ordained Orthodox rabbi.

He has a very strict schedule, studying Torah in the morning and doing intense physical training both inside and out of the ring in the afternoon. He does a lot of weight lifting, running and fitness training. …

“It’s a fact we had 12 tough rounds, but thank God every time I got back into the ring for more I said prayers in my heart, and it worked,” he said after the fight. “If you ask me what my strength is, I’ll tell you it’s in my brain. I run around the ring and keep thinking. I think I need to prove to everyone, not just myself, to the whole world that Jews know how to fight, that Jews know how to give a good fight and not surrender. I said it right after the fight, when they pushed the microphones at me and the cameras clicked. I said I wanted to prove that Jews are not a weak people that can be made to bend down and surrender, that Jews know how to fight and win. Actually, there are a lot of Jewish champions in the history of sports.”

Yes, I would have appreciated a little more of a window into the reasoning behind Foreman’s comment — then again, I’m well-versed in the stereotype of weak Jews. (Don’t tell Scot Mendelson.)

But what I appreciated about this article was it mentioned Foreman’s status as a rabbinic student without getting hung up on that in what, at the end of the day, was a sporting event recap. More importantly, though, the Haaretz reporter didn’t feel it was necessarily to avoid the religious import that Foreman wanted to give to his victory and his mission as a Jewish boxer, too.

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