The Kosher Contender

By Gordon Haber

Published November 11, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Professional athletes lead interesting lives. Yuri Foreman’s life has been really interesting. Foreman was born in 1980 in the Soviet Union and started his boxing training at 7 years old. He kept it up when his family immigrated to Israel in 1991, eventually winning three national championships. To further his career, Foreman came to the United States in 1999 and worked a full-time job while training at night. In 2002, he became the New York Golden Gloves champion.

As a professional, Foreman’s record is an impressive 27-0 with 8 KOs. On Saturday, November 14, he will fight Daniel Santos (32-3-1, 23 KOs) for the World Boxing Association super welterweight title, making him the first Israeli to fight for a world boxing title.

As if that doesn’t keep him busy enough, Foreman is also training to become a rabbi. He spoke with the Forward’s Gordon Haber four days before the fight.

Gordon Haber: Apparently in Haifa, where your family settled, you trained in an Arab neighborhood?

Yuri Foreman: Yes, the nearest gym was actually in an arab village. I can tell you right now, it was a good experience. I was a Jewish, Russian immigrant and I had to train in an Arab boxing gym so there were a lot of stares. But it’s kind of a melting pot, this sport, so you kind of team up. You have the same goals, and you team up.

I’m assuming that in the Soviet Union and in Israel, you weren’t raised religious.

No, this came in the United States. I was probably a spiritual person, but in Israel my mind was pretty much occupied with boxing all the time. Then I came to the United States, working from 9 until 6 at my day job, and then going to the boxing gym, and I thought, “I’m missing something important from my life.” I sort of needed spiritual support. I started learning and doing research on Judaism … I started catching up here.

But it’s one thing to become observant. The decision to become a rabbi is a much bigger step.

Well, when I started to get closer to Judaism, my rabbi, Rabbi DovBer Pinson, about five years ago, offered me to join the rabbinical program. And I jumped at the opportunity. When I was growing up in Israel as a Russian immigrant, nobody ever invited me for Shabbat dinner. I didn’t learn much about Judaism. And I know there are a lot of Russian kids in Israel who need somebody, who I can advise. And I think that when I become a rabbi I could go back and get a few people closer to the Jewish faith.

I have to ask about rabbinical issues and boxing. Is it possible to reconcile this kind of a sport with Jewish law?

I understand your question; you’re not the first to ask. Basically there is this law, you can’t hit anybody. But there are always loopholes in Halacha. For example, if somebody signed a contract for a boxing match, and he’s already aware that injury is involved with the sport, if he willingly takes that risk, it’s not like you’re hurting someone. The exact source is… hold on. [Reads aloud to himself in Hebrew.] Okay. There’s a book called “Minchat Chinuch,” and it says basically that the issur, or prohibition, of hitting is only when the other person does not agree to it. But if he agrees, there is no prohibition at all.

You’re also going to be in a movie, “Fighting,” with Terrence Howard. Do you have a speaking role?

And Channing Tatum. I have a fighting part!

Do you imagine having any kind of acting career?

I don’t know. I’m not really concentrating on this.

Maybe that wasn’t my sharpest question.

[Laughs] No, no, you’re good.

Gordon Haber is a frequent contributor to the Forward.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.