Page last updated at 12:14 GMT, Wednesday, 18 November 2009

From boxing ring to synagogue

Yuri Foreman punches Daniel Santos of Puerto Rico during their WBA super welterweight championship fight
Yuri Foreman beat Daniel Santos in a fight which involved numerous head butts

By Helena Merriman
BBC News

At the tender age of 29, Yuri Foreman has already fulfilled his childhood dream.

On 14 November in Las Vegas, he won the World Boxing Association (WBA) super welterweight champion, defeating Daniel Santos from Puerto Rico over 12 rounds.

He first started boxing at the age of seven in his birth place, Belarus.

He then moved with his family to Israel, where he continued training, and then moved again to America, where he joined a grand tradition of immigrant Jewish boxers.

This includes the Ukrainian born Dmitriy Salita, currently living in New York, who goes by the name The Star of David due to his Jewish roots.


Mike Silver, the curator of an exhibition on Jewish boxing at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, says that traditionally, boxing was the sport that more Jewish immigrants participated in than all other sports combined.

"Jews, both as boxers and in supporting roles, were major players," he says.

"In fact, during the 1920s and 1930s, almost one third of all professional boxers were Jewish.

"For many sons of struggling immigrant parents, boxing was a path to rapid economic advancement. Even a four round preliminary boxer could make more money in one bout than his sweatshop labouring father could earn in an entire week," Mr Silver says.

Training as a Rabbi

But boxing is not the only training that Mr Foreman is taking.

Now, in his spare time, Mr Foreman is also hoping to fulfil another dream of his.

"I decided to become a rabbi after I moved from Israel to New York," he told the BBC World Service.

"After three years of living the American Dream - which meant working from nine till six, then practicing at the boxing gym - I was getting drained emotionally, physically and spiritually," he told the BBC's Newshour programme.

Yuri Foreman celebrates after he defeats Daniel Santos to become the WBA super welterweight champion in Las Vegas.
Yuri Foreman became the first Israeli to win a world championship title

"I needed spiritual motivation so I explored Judaism and started learning more about it. I became fascinated by it when I started getting a deeper understanding."

Mr Foreman now balances his life between training for the ring, and training for the synagogue.

"I study the Torah in the morning when I wake up and when I still have a fresh and sharp mind. Then I go to the gym and do my boxing work out."

But does he see any contradiction between boxing and Judaism?

"There is a law in Judaism - a main principle - that you should not hurt your fellow man, but thank goodness there are always loopholes.

"If there is a match and someone signs a contract that he is aware that when he fights, he will inevitably get hit, then it gives us the permission to fight. So I don't see any contradictions."

Judaism-inspired boxing

Mr Foreman adds that Judaism helps him in the ring.

"Many fighters experience obstacles like negative thoughts, fear or excitement, but Judaism helps me to challenge that and be a more focused person when I am in the ring."

For Mr Foreman, boxing is an intellectual game as well as a physical sport.

"I think it is all about the intentions of the person in the ring," he says.

It was a great honour to represent Jewish people around the world
Yuri Foreman

"For me, boxing is like a physical chess game. I am not going in with the intention of anger or anything. Boxing is the art of defence and I do not want to get hit."

For Mr Foreman, winning the WBA super welterweight champion was more than just a personal victory.

"It was a great honour to represent Israel and Jewish people around the world."

He says he hopes to be ordained in about a year and a half, but will he then have the time to continue fighting to the same standard?

"I will definitely continue fighting afterwards," he says.

"Although I wonder how they will introduce me - will they call me Rabbi Yuri Foreman?" he laughs.

"But I am a world champion now. I have to defend my title."

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