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ISRAEL: Sports and philosophy

June 3, 2008 |  7:43 am

PhilosophyRecent reports express concern at the growing numbers of overweight Israelis, and the state comptroller has even urged educational and health authorities to come up with a national action plan. In Israel, more than 60% of adults -- and about 20% of children -- in Israel are overweight, say officials, who estimate the various costs of this phenomenon at 10 billion NIS a year.

Here too, health awareness is on the rise and sports such as running and cycling are gaining popularity in Israel. Though Israelis are a physical lot, only around 30% engage in sports.

So until the Beijing Olympics, with hopes of adding another Olympic medal to the six in the national showcase, here's an Olympic branch that seems custom-made for Israelis, who love raising questions but abhor giving answers: philosophy.

The Israeli team of high school philosophers competed in the 16th International Philosophy Olympiad held in Romania in May, winning a bronze medal and honorable mention for their essays on the essence of man, social justice, tolerance and political philosophy.

Philosophy is also a popular major among university students. Hebrew University, for example, has 227 undergraduates enrolled in its philosophy department, and another 82 studying for advanced degrees in this ancient and noble form of brain-sport. 

The ultimate connection between sports and philosophy was made by Monty Python in its unforgettable sketch about the soccer match between the German philosphers' team and the Greeks.

Street_philosophyBut those who prefer the straight-faced version can ponder this year's themes of the philosophy Olympiad here.

Subversive philosophy fans might consider this Jerusalem graffiti (left, Hebrew): "Ecclesiastes was right." The book of Ecclesiastes ("Vanity of vanities, all is vanity") is regarded by some as one of the earliest texts of Western existential philosophy. It had been traditionally attributed to King Solomon but this has since been disputed by most modern scholars, who put the writings at a later date.

— Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

Photos: Top, philosophy medalists Tal and Yuval and proud teachers (Courtesy of Adit Kesten, Harel High School, Mevasseret Zion). Bottom, street philosophy in Jerusalem. (Batsheva Sobelman).

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East. You can subscribe by registering at the website here, logging in here and clicking on the World: Mideast newsletter box here.

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