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Even those who are unfamiliar with boxing can picture the subtle dance of the boxer in the ring. The art of moving subtly about the ring, the elaborate footwork, sparring and counter-punches, are credited to Daniel Mendoza (1764 – 1836), who is sometimes referred to as the “father of scientific punches.” He developed his unique style to compensate for his slight frame (5’7″ and 160 lbs). The descendant of Marranos living in London, “Mendoza the Jew” is said to have been the first Jew to speak to King George III, whose patronage he earned in 1787. He held the title of Heavyweight Champion from 1792 – 1795.

Boxing has been a recognized Olympic sport since 1904, and has been a feature of every Olympics, with the exception of the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden.

Boxing itself is an ancient sport, images of which have been found in archeological digs throughout the Mediterranean. Although neither sports in general nor boxing are discussed in the Talmud, it is interesting to note that the sages did discuss whether one can be held responsible for hurting a person at that person’s request. The Mishna on Baba Kama 92a notes that if the plaintiff said “Put out my eye, cut off my arm and break my leg,…on the understanding that the (the perpetrator) would be exempt, he would still be liable.” In summation of their discussion, the sages determined that the true issue was injury to one’s extremities, which impacts on oneself and one’s family for the rest of one’s life.

The real question stems from a verse concerning the application of the punishment of lashes: “Forty stripes he may give him, he shall not exceed…(Deuteronomy 25:3)” which most legal codifiers (Rambam, Sefer Hachinuch) have understood to include the prohibition against striking another person. However, other commentators have noted that this liability is void when two people consensually “hurt” each other, such as in wrestling and boxing.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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