For the week ending 30 December 2006 / 9 Tevet 5767

Green Light on the Black Run

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Ken in CO
Dear Rabbi,
I am an avid ski-buff gone religious. Is there any reason according to Judaism not to go snow skiing?
Dear Ken,

There’s nothing wrong with snow skiing per se. It’s good exercise, invigorating, and in a natural setting that inspires awe of G-d. But there are some spiritual moguls that need to be negotiated before getting the green light on the black run.

First, of course, you may not ski on Shabbat. In so far as doing so may involve travel, paying money, having people do work for you, carrying in the public domain, and simply not being in the spirit of the day of rest, skiing on the Sabbath is a non-starter. Even without skiing, if you are in a ski area over Shabbat, you must be able to properly honor the Sabbath with prayer and Sabbath meals.

Second, even on weekdays, a Jewish man is required to pray three times a day — morning, afternoon and night — with a minyan, for services which sometimes require a Torah scroll. Some resorts have enough observant guests to make a minyan; do your research. If praying with a minyan and having a Torah scroll is not possible, you should speak to a local Orthodox rabbi. Of course, access to kosher food is a must.

Third, you may not do anything reckless or eminently dangerous on the slopes that might endanger you or others. A Jew is commanded to guard his health and avoid injuring others, within normal bounds. Recreational sports are permitted even though injuries may occur, as long as reasonable caution is taken. This includes abiding by the safety rules of the ski area.

Fourth, you must avoid situations that may be spiritually dangerous as well. The excessive social scene at many venues is likely to be hazardous to your "spiritual health."

Last, you’ll have to dig in your poles and avoid going down the slippery slope of the ski culture nightlife. The bars, the parties and the socializing in general don’t pull the tow in Judaism and are off limit trails for the Jewish skier.

If you can safely avoid these obstacles and no-ski zones, you can put on your spiritual ski pass and get on the lift.

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