Does the Olympic hype border on idolatry?

There is sports and there is the sports industry. Perhaps that is what should be examined.

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple ,

Rabbi Raymond Apple
Rabbi Raymond Apple
Larry Brandt

Q. Isn’t the hype surrounding the Olympics rather idolatrous?

A. Sport in itself is a wonderful invention.

The ancient Israelites were a hardy, energetic people, active, among other sports, in running, archery, ball-playing, dancing, swimming, weight lifting and sling shooting.

After the Biblical period other sports became popular, ranging from gladiatorial contests to juggling. The Talmud advises fathers to teach their children to swim.

Tacitus, no admirer of Jews, observed that "the bodies of the Jews are sound and healthy, and hardy to bear burdens."

Yet the official Jewish attitude to sport was somewhat reserved because of the association of idolatry and nakedness with athletics. In addition, the rabbis felt that too much sport kept people away from school and synagogue.

Today a further distinction has to be made – between sport in itself, with its rhythm, gracefulness, bodily coordination, and sheer zest, and the sporting industry, which turns sport into a commodity to be commercialised and exploited.

Robert Boyle writes in his "Sport – Mirror of American Life" (1963, pp. 3-4), "Sport permeates any number of levels of contemporary society, and it touches upon and deeply influences such disparate elements as status, race relations, business life, automotive design, clothing styles, the concept of the hero, language, and ethical values".

Gone is the sheer enjoyment and exhilaration of stretching one’s limbs and developing prowess and sportsmanship. Sport is now something to be exploited and used for ulterior motives.

How can it be right for sportspeople to sell their talents to the highest bidder or for sport to become a pawn in politics and racial tensions?

In South Africa sport used to be bound up with apartheid. In Australia, Aboriginal teams tend to be disadvantaged in terms of funds and facilities. Where is the equity when sport is not open or accessible to all? Sport needs its ethics just as any other human activity does.

But in itself neither sport nor any other major human interest is necessarily idolatrous. Some people worship money, others sex, others success, power and status. But provided one leads a balanced life and does not fiercely concentrate heart, mind and soul on any of these things – or on sport – they are not idolatry.


Q. Why do some people leave a section of the wall in their house bare?

A. The practice is not widely followed these days outside of Eretz Yisra’el, but it has much to commend it.

The idea is to leave bare a square cubit of the inside wall facing the door to recall the destruction of the Temple.

In the past this section was painted black but today that might be self-defeating, as black is sometimes part of the internal décor. The rule about leaving a section bare applies if the house was built by a Jew for Jewish occupants.

Magen Avraham (Orach Chayyim 560:1) says that if a house bought or rented from Jews does not have an undecorated square one should peel off one to expose the brickwork.

Rabbi Raymond Apple was for many years Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Judaism. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years. He also held many public roles, particularly in the fields of chaplaincy, interfaith dialogue and Freemasonry, and is the recipient of several national and civic honours. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem and blogs at