Talmud Study And Basketball - Poem by gershon hepner
TALMUD STUDY AND BASKETBALL
Japanese for seriousness and play,
majime and asobi,
reminds me that all Talmud students may
combine them, not like Kobe,
playing basketball and jumping high,
but studying a daf,
which helps them jump up to the sky.
Their seriousness is tough,
but out of seriousness emerges joy,
a question, when they ask it,
helps them rise higher than a goy
does dunking in a basket.
Nick Paumgarten ("Master of Play: The many worlds of a video-game artist, " The New Yorker,12/20 & 27/10) write a profile of Shigero Miyamoto, guiding spirit of Nintendo:
The Japanese word for play is asobi. In "Homo Ludens, " in a chapter summarizing various languages' expression of the "play-concept, " Johan Huizinga notes that asobi can mean "play in general, recreation, relaxation, amusement, passing the time or pastime, a trip or jaunt, dissipation, gambling, idling, lying idle, being unemployed." The opposite of asobi might be majime, which can mean "seriousness, sobriety, gravity, honesty, solemnity, stateliness; also quietness, decency, ‘good form.' It is related to the word which we render by ‘face' in the well-known Chinese expression ‘to lose face.' "
"Anything that is impractical can be play, " Miyamoto said. "It's doing something other than what is necessary to continue living as an animal." As to its purpose, he said, "When it comes to other animals, they play to prepare themselves for hunting. If you ask me why human beings play, well, I just don't know. It must be just for pleasure. We generate chemicals in our brain so that we can have some pleasure, and by now we've come to understand that pleasure makes you happier, and being happier makes you healthier."
Before transcribing this poem I had read a profile of Clayton Christensen by Larissa MacFarquhar in 5/7/12 The New Yorker but I did not realize the connection between a decision he made regarding playing basketball on his Sabbath and my poem. Christensen is a devout Mormon. He used to be a great college basketball player, and now teaches at the Harvard Business School. One of the topics he discusses with his students is ethics. He asks them all: why do good people like his friend Jeff Skilling, who used to study at HBS with him, end up in prison? He answered his question using an example taken from his own life. His team was due to play in a basketball championship final which was being played on a Sunday, but he had had made a commitment to God at the age of sixteen never to play ball on Sundays. It would have been a minute exception if he had played on his Sabbath in this final, as everyone encouraged him to do, but he decided not to play and to stick to the commitment to God that he had made when only sixteen. From this he deduces that it is making minute exceptions to ethical rules which leads to the downfall of good people like Skilling. When I watched Christensen repeat the story on Charlie Rose on the same day that I transcribed this poem (5/15/12) I realized that Clayton Christensen illustrates the connection between the inviolability of the rules of the Talmud and the decision of Clayton Christensen not to play basketball on his Sabbath.
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