This post was inspired by one I read on Orthomom's blog. She mostly talks about the place (or lack thereof) for junk food in schools, however an anonymous commenter made the following statement which I found interesting:
I would like to see our Yeshivas (even the really frum ones! and even the girls!) have serious gym classes with certified Phys. Ed. teachers that show the kids how to stretch and to do daily exercises and to try different sports. Ban Dodgeball!!!
And then I remembered reading something, not so long ago, on Frumteens.com, about the immodesty of taking part in certain athletic behaviors in the sight of men, even while modestly dressed. I'm not going to talk about the unfair double-standard again, but instead how physical activity and fitness are not given the proper emphasis in the Jewish community. For the record, I understand that there are a lot of pressures in the modern world that did not previously exist. The double curriculum at Jewish Day Schools leaves little time for after school activities like sports, but that makes this issue all the more important. Traditionally, observant Jews have put more emphasis on scholastics than athletics, which has lead to stereotypes about what Jews look like, and their athletic abilities. I mean, just take a look at Not Chosen's old post about the JAP Workout.
If you want to talk about the history of Jews in sports, there is a lot to talk about, as shown by the book every boy I know received upon becoming a bar mitzvah (as I recall, one of the "sports" is chess). So there were not only Jewish boxers, but according to NNSeek, Jews were also some of the earliest diseminators of different sports throughout Europe. Not sure of the truth of that claim, but is sounds good. What the piece does mention is the concept of the "muscle Jew," which was popular around the turn of the 20th century in Jewish cultural, but not necessarily religious, circles.
Also: random historical fact: at one point, in certain places it the medieval world, Jewish women were considered especially beautiful, and Jewish men virile. I know this from a lecture I attended by a well-respected Jewish historian. Also Ivanhoe. Point being, with the American obesity crisis only getting worse, (American) Jews need to change how we think about fitness, its importance, its place in our community, and how we pass it on to our children. After all, it says in the Talmud (Kiddushin 82a) that of the four things a man is required to teach to his son, one is "how to swim."