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Nissan 5763 – Coed Gyms

1 Nissan 5763

Dear JemSem Readers,

I have received several letters concerning coed exercise gyms, and male exercise instructors. I am reprinting [with permission] a question and answer from Rabbi Dovid Oratz, Posek at Seminar Bnot Torah [Sharfmans] followed by a letter from a JemSem reader and my reply.

Mrs. Chana Silver

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Dear Rabbi Oratz,

I want to know if you can go to a class in an all women’s gym that has a male instructor. The gym doesn’t feel it’s a problem to have a male instructor. The rest of the women who go to the gym, go, because it is all women, but they don’t have any religious problems with it. A few other frum girls go to the class but they just wear a skirt. Can you please tell me if there is a problem going to such a class?

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Dear Sharfman’s Alum,

When looking at this at first glance, a gym instructor would seem to be like a doctor. Just like a doctor, whose job it is to examine women, may examine women [with common sense restrictions]. So too it would seem that gym instructors would be permitted to help women with their exercises.

However, it seemed to me that there are some clear-cut differences between a doctor and a gym instructor that would disallow a man from instructing a women’s gym class.

I decided to run this question by some of our female staff members. Their unanimous opinion was that exercise includes some very untznius movements. There are also times when an instructor has to physically help a woman through those movements. Either of these would make an instructor worse than a doctor.

I checked with a senior Posek in Yerushalayim who agreed that based on the problems mentioned by those women, it was in fact prohibited.

I am sure that you can find a gym with a female instructor, even if it is less convenient than this one, but which would raise no Halachic problems.

With best regards,

Rabbi Dovid Oratz

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Dear Chana,

Having returned from Seminary, I wanted to loose those few extra pounds that I put on. The first week I was home I went to a mixed gym without giving much thought to it, but now I started wondering if this is a tznius thing to do. I go in the morning when there are only a few people at the gym and I really enjoy myself and feel a lot better after my work out. Is it proper for a frum girl to be working out in a mixed gym?

Thanks so much for taking out time to answer my question.

Name Withheld Upon Request

Afikei Torah, 5752

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Dear JemSem Reader,

Good for you for wanting to go to the gym and help yourself out!! I am all for exercise [I’m an avid exercise fan – as a participant of many varied types of exercise and classes, not just a bystander! :)] but, as in everything, one must be careful how one goes about what one does, making sure to be that one is in sync with Torah Values and Halacha. Exercise is an amazingly important thing. It not only helps us physically, but emotionally as well, giving us energizing abilities to be more upbeat and positive in our lives. It helps with self-esteem. It is overall a grand thing that aids our personhood.

However, as is clear from Rabbi Oratz’s reply about a male instructor being prohibited, a coed gym would certainly seem to fall under the same category. Even if you go early in the morning, there is still always a possibility of a male walking in. As a matter of fact this question is really a Kal V’chomer to Rabbi Oratz’s Psak because men visiting exercise gyms cannot be described as “Osek Bemelachtam” professionals totally focused on their own work. Furthermore, there is a social dimension to a gym class, and there will always be men who, let’s put it politely, are not just admiring your Nike athletic shoes. If we need a mechitza at a wedding where women are dancing, we would certainly need one here!!!

The trick is to figure out a way to get the exercise that you need in a Halachikly permissible kosher fashion. Whether that means, as Rabbi Oratz said, to go to a gym that is less conveniently located, but is for women only, or perhaps get some other form of exercise not in a gym. Each person will find a way that works best for them. Sometimes you have to be creative.

On this topic – a true anecdote: The proprietor of a coed gym in NY told a JemSem reader that you can always tell that the year is moving on, because all the girls start out in September [my addition: having just come back from seminary] looking very modest in big baggy clothing and as the year progresses the layers of clothing get peeled off and lo and behold by the time the year the ends they are in proper tight fitting spandex exercise clothes!

An honest and sad observation.

The fact that you are asking this question is excellent and shows that you are a thinking person who truly wants to do the right thing. At first glance….. exercise is exercise, right??! As we are seeing, not all exercise is equal in terms of Torah standards.

Tznius in general is rooted in Halacha, and is very much the development of the subtleties and delicate nuances of our female internality. These are sensitivities that we as Jewish woman must work hard to inculcate within us – especially given the fact that we live in a world where immorality abounds and women are reduced to nothing more than a body. One of the roles of women is to use our ability to express in the world by taking the physical and connecting it to the spiritual all the while holding on to our tzelem Elokim and not losing our essence. We have an inherent dignity within us and tznius helps us stay attuned to that, rooting us to be in touch with our p’nim. This is a key concept for us to keep in mind as we go about all aspects of our lives. These are my thoughts as a Jewish woman.

Thanks for bringing up an important issue.

With Warmest Regards,

Chana Silver