Thursday, January 24, 2008

Class: Rambam on Exercise

Last year, we ran a very successful "Maimonides Dinner" in tandem with the Maimonides Society of the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley. With a great meal designed to follow the Rambam's recommendations on nutrition, we studied the Rambam's ideas on nutrition. We looked at their Judaic as well as secular roots, and we compared them with modern medical ideas.

This coming Sunday we will, Gd-willing, hold Part Two. We will look at the Rambam's views on exercise, while enjoying another great meal modeled on his dietary advice. Again, we will study the Judaic and secular roots of the Rambam's views, and compare them with modern medical counsel.

Here is the outline, as well as the source sheet and a bibliograpy:

The Maimonides Exercise Dinner: Outline and Source Sheet
R’ Mordechai Torczyner -

Brief review: Maimonides on Medicine and Torah

Brief review: Maimonides scientific approach
Predecessors - Greek, Arabic and East Asian
The Maimonidean approach to medical tradition

Maimonides’ predecessors on physical exercise - From Greece to Rome to Arabia
The Greek love of athleticism
Rome is influenced
Galen’s “Maintenance of Health”
Philostratus “Handbook for a Sports Coach”
The Arabic school

Jewish tradition, pre-Maimonides, on exercise
The Importance of maintaining one’s body
Sport and Strength in Tanach
Strenuous strength training
Exercise and digestion
Oil and and then exercise

Maimonides on Exercise
Values exercise highly as a means of maintaining the body and soul
Exercise isn’t always indicated
Two positive effects of exercise - Digestion and Mood
The negative effect of strenuous exercise
The ideal exercise regimen

Matching Maimonides with Jewish tradition
Maintaining the body
Strenuous exercise

Matching Maimonides with modern medicine
Exercise and digestion
Strenuous exercise


1. Proverbs 22:5
Cold drafts are in the path of the crooked; one who guards his life will distance himself from them.

2. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Personality
4:23 – A city must possess ten things before a Torah scholar may live there: A doctor, a phlebotomist…
4:1 - Having a healthy and complete body is one of the paths of Gd, for it is not possible to understand or know any Divine wisdom when one is ill.

3. Talmud, Bava Metzia 107b
Rabbi Chanina said: Ninety-nine people die of colds, and one at the Divine command.

4. Talmud, Bava Kama 90b
One is not permitted to harm himself, although he is exempt from judicial punishment.

5. Talmud, Shabbat 140b
The prohibition against damaging one’s body is worse.

6. Rashi to Melachim I 1:9 "אבן הזוחלת"
This was a large stone, with which youths would test their strength by moving and dragging it.

7. Talmud, Gittin 67b
Rav Yosef busied himself with a mill. Rav Sheshet busied himself with [carrying] boards, saying, ‘Physical exertion is great, for it warms its practitioner.’

8. Midrash, Bamidbar Rabbah 14:4 (Vilna edition)
Rabbi Berechiah haKohen said [in a play on the biblical word ‘Kidarvonot’ to read it as ‘kadur banot’]: It is like the ball that young girls use, which they pick up and throw here and there. So are the words of the sages, one saying his reason and the other saying his reason.

9. Talmud Yerushalmi, Taanit 4:5
Why was Tur Shimon destroyed? Some say because of sexual immorality, some say because of ball-playing.

10. Tosefta, Shabbat 17:16
A person may not run on Shabbat to strain himself, but one may stroll in an ordinary manner, even for the entire day.

11. Talmud, Shabbat 41a
One who eats and does not walk minimally [four cubits] afterward will have his food rot in him.

12. Medical Aphorisms of Moses Maimonides (Rosner), 17:4
One should not neglect physical exercise for the body, as do people of learning who diligently study the entire day and night. Rather, it is proper that the body and all limbs be moderately active, and that each limb perform its movement, so that all organs, both external and internal, receive benefit therefrom.

13. Medical Aphorisms of Moses Maimonides (Rosner), 18:16
If a short quartan fever occurs which is not severe, then no harm exists in the patient doing mild exercises.

14. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Personality 4:14
As long as a person exercises and greatly exhausts himself and is not full and his innards are loose, no illness will come to him and his strength will build - even if he eats bad foods.

15. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Personality 4:2
As a general rule: One should oppress his body and exhaust it each morning until his body warms up, then rest for a bit until his spirit returns, and then eat. Bathing in hot water after exhaustion is good; then wait a bit and eat.

16. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Personality 1:4
One should not be frivolous or full of laughter or sad or mournful, but rather one should be happy all of his days, gently and with a pleasant demeanor.

17. Medical Aphorisms of Moses Maimonides (Rosner), 18:2
The most beneficial of all types of exercise is physical gymnastics to the point that the soul becomes influenced and rejoices, such as hunting and ball-playing, because emotions of happiness often suffice to heal just by their presence. Thus, rejoicing and happiness alone will make many people’s illnesses milder. For others, both the illness on the one hand, as well as the emotional upset that led to it, disappear.

18. Medical Aphorisms of Moses Maimonides (Rosner), 1:1
A sensory or motor nerve coming to a muscle originating from the brain and spinal cord inserts into every muscle either at its origin or at a point between its origin and middle section....

19. Medical Aphorisms of Moses Maimonides (Rosner), 1:2
Moses says: ... when one's inclination is to move a specific limb, it sends a physiological force to the nerve in the direction of a particular muscle, the latter contracting in the direction of its origin, thus moving the limb....

20. Medical Aphorisms of Moses Maimonides (Rosner), 18:1
If the exercise greatly exerts him, then a satisfactory diet alone will no longer suffice and he will then also need to consume healing medications.

21. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Personality 1:4
The straight path is the intermediate path in every human trait, which is the trait that is equidistant from each extreme and not closer to either one. Therefore, the early sages instructed that a person continually evaluate his traits and guage them and guide them in the intermediate path, so that he will be whole in his body…

22. Medical Aphorisms of Moses Maimonides (Rosner), 18:14
It is proper to precede physical exercise by rubbing and massaging the body. After this one exercises slowly and increases it until one reaches an optimum level of exercise. One should continue this as long as one’s facial appearance remains well, and movement is rapid, and as long as body temperature is normal, and sweat is flowing. However, as soon as one of these conditions changes, one should cease the gymnastics immediately.


 Athletics and Literature in the Roman Empire, Jason König
 Gd’s Word for our World, J. Harold Ellens
 Greek Athletics in the Roman Empire, Zahra Newby
 Medical Aphorisms of Moses Maimonides, Rosner ed.
 Medicine in the Bible and Talmud, Fred Rosner
 Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Deiot, Moses Maimonides
 Sports Medicine for the Primary Care Physician

On-line Articles
 Ancient Pankration, Steve and Gareth Richards
 Eating before exercising, Ori Hofmekler
 Effects of Exercise on Adult Cognition
 The Effects of Exercise on the Brain, M.K. McGovern
 Forget Crossword Puzzles - Study Says 3 Hours of Exercise a Week Can Bolster Memory, Intellect, Wall Street Journal, November 16, 2006, Sharon Begley
 Postprandial lipemia: effects of intermittent versus continuous exercise, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 30(10):1515-1520, October 1998
 The Real Olympics - The Guessing Games, Dr. Martin Brookes
 Review of Konig, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.02.24
o, John Scarborough
 Review of Newby and Konig, Classical Journal On-Line 2007.10.01, Donald G. Kyle
 Sports Nutrition
 Weightlifting & Exercise, Adam Kessler, USA Weightlifting Sport Performance Coach

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