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September 16th, 2011
05:00 AM ET

One of world's best boxers is training to be a rabbi

By Eric Marrapodi and Ali Velshi, CNN

Brooklyn, New York (CNN) — Cutting the thick summer air, an industrial fan struggles to cool Gleason’s Gym.

Two women trade punches to the face in a morning sparring session before heading off to work.

Boxing gloves snap and thump, keeping the rhythm with the grunts and shouts. There is no music, no TVs, no smoothie bar. It smells like a boxing gym should: awful.

In walks the rabbi in training.

“Yuri!” a boxer calls out in greeting.

The champ is here.

Winning a belt does wonders for your popularity at the gym.

Yuri Foreman, right, spars with his trainer at Gleason's Gym.

Thirty-one-year-old Yuri Foreman has a tight schedule today. He kissed his wife and son goodbye early and then pedaled over to the gym to train. From here, he will bike over to see a rabbi.

Foreman is hitting the books, studying to be a rabbi with the same determination that helped him become a world championship boxer.

One goal: to be the best

He immigrated to the United States by himself over a decade ago by way of Israel but was raised in Belarus, part of the former Soviet Union.

"I came to New York just so I could experience in my own skin the American dream,” he said.

On his second day on U.S. soil, he found his way to into a boxing gym. He arrived with a singular goal.

“I came here and I told the owner, 'I want to be a world champion.' ”

Bruce Silverglade gets that a lot. He owns Gleason’s Gym.

Gleason’s opened its doors in 1937. Silverglade said it's the oldest operating boxing gym in the United States.

It has trained 132 champions. The first was Jake LaMotta, “The Raging Bull.” When Robert DeNiro studied to play LaMotta in the iconic boxing film, he came to Gleason’s to learn the sweet science.

Dozens of other Hollywood productions have followed. On this day, a sheet of paper taped to the front door says the gym will be closing early because Warner Bros. is filming that morning.

Fighters come from all over the world with pronouncements to Silverglade of their greatness.

“I was impressed with Yuri because instead of coming from (around the corner), he came from halfway around the world with no support team," Silverglade said. “He didn’t come with a father or a mother for support. He didn’t come with any money.”

Silverglade enrolled Foreman in his Give a Kid a Dream program, which provides free training to disadvantaged children.

You’re the champ, so now what?

Foreman had what it takes. He worked his way through the ranks and got a title shot.

He won the World Boxing Association Super Welterweight title and was the best boxer in the world.

But along the way, something changed.

As he was climbing in the boxing ranks, he found something he had left behind in Belarus: his Jewish faith.

Yuri Foreman, right, is training to become a rabbi.

“It was forbidden to have synagogues. Many Jews forgot about their roots. The only real reminder was in their passport; under nationality, it said 'Jew,' " he said.

Living in Brooklyn, with its thriving Jewish communities, helped him reconnect with his roots.

“It’s like my rabbi says, ‘This is the closest thing to Jerusalem,' ” he said of his new home.

When his girlfriend, who was not Jewish, asked him basic questions about Judaism, he realized he didn’t have the answers.

“She told me, ‘You know what, study some.’ So through her, she kinda introduced me to Judaism.”

That was the moment it all changed. Six years ago, she converted, and they were married. Foreman dug deep into his faith and realized he wanted to go even further, so he began rabbinical training.

A different kind of hard work

A few miles from the gym, Foreman’s bike is locked up outside a stately brownstone on a leafy street in Brooklyn Heights. Inside the rabbi's house, he is sitting at the dining room table with the rabbi and two other rabbinical students.

Sunlight floods the beautifully appointed home. The four men sit quietly around the table, books open. Rabbi DovBer Pinson uses his finger to follow the words on the page, right to left, as he reads aloud in Hebrew from a commentary and interjects quick English explanations. He gently rocks back and forth in his chair.

Yuri Foreman studies with Rabbi DovBer Pinson.

There is no shouting, no pounding. The only sound is the rhythmic cadence of the rabbi’s reading. It is as far away from the gym as you can get.

“You’d have to have a whole mountain of salt. Why would anyone do that?” the rabbi asks as he explains a finer point of meat purification rituals.

The lesson ends with the rabbi closing his book.

“Thank you, rabbi,” Foreman says as he taps his iPhone to stop recording the session.

“I felt that it was important for him to continue to study no matter what he did for a living,” Pinson explains.

The notion of a studying to be a man of the cloth while earning a living by fighting is virtually unheard of.

“I think the idea of pursing a spiritual career takes a lot of perseverance and focus, and you have to be very committed that this is something you want to do very deeply, because you have to overcome a lot of hurdles,” Pinson says.

“Any intense study will help a person become more focused in life and more centered and aligned, so I think there’s some correlation between these two,” the rabbi says of the interweaving of Foreman’s current and future career paths.

The next round

Pinson is a well-respected Kabbalist scholar and Hasidic rabbi who focuses his scholarly efforts on Jewish mysticism.

But Foreman demurs when asked what branch of Judaism he will serve as a rabbi. He is Orthodox in some ways - he keeps kosher, which he said does not affect his ability to fight - but he is unorthodox in other ways. The clean-shaven Foreman has no intentions of becoming a long-bearded rabbi with a congregation.

"Right now, my goal is to work with young adults and with kids who perhaps need a little push, need a little motivation that I can offer them through boxing or personal experience. That would be my thing now."

Foreman has been studying for over three years and is about a year away from completing his rabbinical studies.

Many boxing commentators have wondered whether his career in the ring may be coming to a close as well.

A nagging knee injury forced him to limp through a bout with Miguel Cotto at Yankee Stadium last year. Foreman suffered a knockout and lost his title to Cotto. In his next fight, he lost again. A string of losses can shake a fighter’s confidence badly. He is taking time off to rehab his knee and plot his next steps as a boxer.

Foreman said his studies - and his faith - keep him grounded.  If and when he fights again, as with every fight, he'll first send up a special prayer.

"Protect me, protect the person I'm fighting, but help me to win."

Watch American Morning weekdays 6am to 9am ET. For the latest from American Morning click here.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Content Partner • Judaism • New York • Sports • TV-American Morning • United States

soundoff (221 Responses)
  1. Mickey

    Yes, the World cared so much about Jesus that they ignored him after his birth for about 30+ years!!!

    Give me a break, Christians. Enough already. Get thee to a nunnery and do not bred there either.

    September 17, 2011 at 7:37 am |
    • herbert juarez

      Except for the recorded episode at the temple,or the multiple gnostic writings.Don't know much about history or Bible do you Mickey?

      September 17, 2011 at 8:42 am |
    • Sid

      Let's not forget the multi-million year history that the fossil record provides, eh herbie. Your bible stories pale in comparison.

      September 17, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • J.W

      Throughout much of the time of the fossil record there were no people. Many of the organisms before humans could not write. I do not even think the first primates could write. I know that the very first organisms could not write. One cell could not hold a pencil all by itself.

      September 17, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • herbert juarez

      Apparently siddy can type at a keyboard ,he could have help of course, but sid does seem to be about a one cell organism,doesn't he?God bless

      September 17, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  2. Mathilda

    A boxer or rabbi, the Jews need Jesus to be saved. Jesus alone gives Israel the ultimate victory and beats all the villains for her.

    September 17, 2011 at 7:20 am |
    • Blah Blah Blah

      Yeah yeah. We ALL need Jesus to be "saved." What if I said that you need to give up Jesus to be "saved?" Would you?

      September 18, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  3. Mathilda

    Yes, beat the bad Gentiles. Let the whole world know no one can touch Israel and remain safe.

    September 17, 2011 at 6:21 am |
  4. Zoroaster

    Heaven Sent ... The Zoroaster story - also older than your myth:

    Zoroastrians believe that the history of the world is twelve thousand years long, with four distinct periods. In the first period good and evil are separated, in the second the good world is invaded by the evil and the third is when the fight between the two forces intensify. In the final period evil is defeated and goodness prevails. The final period commenced with the birth of Zoroaster and has not yet finished. In the final three thousand years, Zoroastrians expect three saviors to come at thousand-year intervals. The first one will be called Aushedar, “the developer of righteousness”. Aushedar will be born from a virgin and will also be a child of Zoroaster himself whose seed has been preserved in a lake. When the fifteen year old virgin bathes in the lake, she will be impregnated and the first savior will be born.

    When Aushedar turns thirty, the sun will stand still for ten days right above head. This is where the sun stood before Ahriman (Evil) attacked the perfect world. Through the coming of the savior, some good will prevail and for three years people will live more harmoniously, conditions will improve and the renovation of the universe will start. Some harmful creatures belonging to the forces of evil, such as wolves, will perish.

    The second savior will be called Aushedar-mah and he will be born born in the same manner as the first savior. The sun will stand still for twenty days this time, the period of renovation will last for six years and more harmful creatures will perish. The original perfect state of the world, as it was at the beginning, will draw closer. Men will stop eating meat and will only drink water. However this is not the end of Evil, he will reappear in form of Azhi Dahaka (Zahak in Shahnameh), a monster who was earlier defeated and imprisoned on top of Mount Demavand by the hero Thraetaona (Thahmoureth). The monster will escape, invade the world and smite the sacred elements of fire, water and vegetation. Another hero Keresapa (Jamshid) will rid the world of Azhi Dahaka and the power of evil will be further reduced. However, Azhi manages to escape.

    During the third and final stage, the last savior Soshyant is conceived in the same manner as his predecessors and will eventually defeat all the forces of evil. The perfect state of the world arrives when death, disease and all forces of evil and disorder are forever defeated. Soshyant raises each of the dead from the spot where they died. All people will be lead to the place of judgment where they will see the good and bad deeds of their lives. Then the wicked will go to the hell and the good to heaven for a period of three days and three nights. This last judgment of the individual will be only concerned with the soul, while the universal judgement will be concerned with both body and soul and will involve the resurrection of the body. Humans as whole beings will put through several tests such as passing through molten metal.

    The hot metal will flow over and purify the earth and return it to a perfect and unified state. The stream of molten metal will sweep over all men and make them pure and uniform as well. The gift of immortality will be conferred when Soshyant, acting as a priest, celebrates the final sacrifice with the last animal (the ox) to die in the service of man. From the fat of the ox and the mythical White Hom (Haoma a sacred mix used in ceremonies) from the cosmic ocean the elixir of immortality will be prepared. Ahriman and Azhi, will run into Hell to escape and the molten metal will destroy Hell and Azhi. Ahriman will become impotent and be annihilated.

    September 17, 2011 at 3:25 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Zoroaster. You need to read about Cain (the first murder, who slew his brother Abel). At that time he flew to the land of Nod, married, had offsprings. Cain is the son of satan. Cain's offsprings are guess who's grand and great great etc. children?

      All religions were created by Cain and his offsprings doing the bidding of their father/grandfather satan. They take 95% of Jesus Christ's truth, add 5% of satan's lies (to destroy God's children, that means you Zoraster) to confuse and instill doubt in the minds of God's children.

      You have a choice Zoroaster. Choose wisely by stop being duped by evil folks that want your soul to fry. No eternity.

      God Bless you Zoroaster.

      Amen.

      September 17, 2011 at 3:55 am |
    • Zoroaster

      Heaven Sent...

      Yes, there is always a real bad guy (or bad god) or two in all of these old stories too.

      Stop being duped by people who are also duped; and stop trying to dupe others.

      I wish you... and all people peace.

      September 17, 2011 at 4:08 am |
  5. Zak

    I was blown away!!
    Way to go Foreman
    No wonder you re called that!

    Israel loves you and misses you!!!

    September 16, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  6. Kebos

    So two quacks in one body. I suppose being a rabbi is better than getting a real job.

    September 16, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  7. Adam

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TjmW_8dInM&w=640&h=390]

    September 16, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  8. when

    Sorry. I miss-quoted. "Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess the name of the Lord." @ uh I'm willing to write, while you're in there but I prefer not to visit.

    September 16, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • uh

      Yes master, I's a comm'n master.....a god that needs gullible moronic people like you to worship it, means that is not as powerful, all knowing, super deity you're trying to make it out to be, it's a pathetic looser with a huge ego complex.

      September 16, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Carey

      uh, right on.

      September 16, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  9. when

    Reality...maybe you should check out the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    September 16, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Carey

      Hardcopy scrolls are long dead. How come your god can't make his case in modern multimedia over the internet?

      And I mean god all by himself, not some screacher preacher godseller doing a cheesy video before he gets back to his boy-w_hore.

      So your omnipotent being can't even produce an internet presence? Hmmmmmmmmmmm....

      September 16, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  10. when

    And we are supposed to believe this new version of Je wish history, why? They didn't even recognize their own Messiah!

    September 16, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      End of days, the children are doing such outrageous carnal activities following the ways of the world instead of focusing their attention on our Lord, Jesus Christ.

      Amen.

      September 17, 2011 at 2:27 am |
  11. jonah jones

    ""The notion of a studying to be a man of the cloth while earning a living by fighting is virtually unheard of""

    you missed Rabbi Halperin
    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4111512,00.html

    September 16, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  12. when

    It is the d evil's obsession to discredit the Bible. He is the father of lies and a master of manip ulation. Believe what you want but one day, "every knee shall bow and confess the name of the Lord."

    September 16, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • uh

      Seriously you need to be put in the loony bin.

      September 16, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Carey

      quite the insecure god you've made for yourself there. Sadistic bas-tard too. No thanks. I don't bow to your big per-vert.

      September 16, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Kebos

      And if I wrote the Bible I'd say the same thing about the devil and such. Please read any book that discusses the contradictions in the bible and spare those of us who live in the real world your kitchy phrases.

      September 16, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      When...I think you must be referring to old age.. most knees do start to bow, and i most certainly hear people people say Jesus Christ this hurts... I do not think it has anything to do with the devil....

      September 16, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      When, these non-believers need to read and believe Revelation 20:14-15

      14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
      15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

      Amen.

      September 17, 2011 at 2:37 am |
    • tallulah13

      Gee, HS, reading a line from a book of bronze age fables really convinced me. You bet. I also saw a Harry Potter movie, so now I believe in magic.

      September 17, 2011 at 2:43 am |
    • HeavenSent

      tallulah13, the reason you don't get His truth ...

      Isaiah 55:8-9

      8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
      9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

      Amen.

      September 17, 2011 at 3:59 am |
  13. ColoredMountains

    I'd like to be his punching bag. My fat head is good for that.

    September 16, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  14. ColoredCrayons

    ColoredMountains are fakes.

    September 16, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  15. when

    YOURS...NOT the Trolls

    September 16, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • LMAO

      LMAO.......LOL.....LOL! LMAO!
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      September 16, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      They're being groomed as T A R E S and don't know it.

      Amen.

      September 17, 2011 at 4:01 am |
  16. when

    I am refering to YOUR posts CM. NOT the cowardly Troll. And the person blabbering about Jesus and a USA court of law...I suggest you do your homework! You can find writings about Jesus in at least 9 different first century philosophers/historians/non Christian litterary works. So roll that up and smoke it pot brain!

    September 16, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • LMAO

      LMAO.......LOL.....LOL! LMAO!
      LMAO.......LOL.....LOL! LMAO!
      LMAO.......LOL.....LOL! LMAO!
      LMAO.......LOL.....LOL! LMAO!
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      September 16, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      When, after blogging on this site, you'll come to realize that all these non-believers are young, wet behind the ears, and had the worst education in the history of our country by older non-believers converting them over to loving and following satan's lies.

      Amen.

      September 17, 2011 at 2:44 am |
    • tallulah13

      Isn't lying against one of the 10 commandments, HS? What is it about you christians? You make up the silliest, most offensive things about people you don't know and you shamelessly say it as if it is a fact. Any way you slice it, you're a liar. If there's a hell, I guess I'll be seeing you there.

      September 17, 2011 at 2:53 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Actually, Tallulah13, you are angry that I write and post His truth. Speaking of His truth, the mod squadders are blocking the posting of Matthew 13:36-43. I guess you'll just have to read it yourself.

      Amen.

      September 17, 2011 at 4:06 am |
    • tallulah13

      HS, you are lying about atheists. We make you uncomfortable, so you feel the need to make up stories about how evil we are. When you present your opinion as fact, you are telling a lie, which goes against one of the more important tenets of your faith. Therefore, you are simply a liar and a hypocrite, wrapping yourself in a robe of vain, pretend-piety.

      Amen.

      September 17, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  17. when

    Good posts, CM.

    September 16, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  18. ColoredMountains

    I see the world through sh!t-colored glasses. My religion causes that.

    September 16, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • The Original

      The above ColoredMountains is a fake. And a few fakes in the previous page.

      September 16, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • The Original Original

      The above Original is a fake.

      September 16, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  19. Reality of Israel in Jesus

    1 While Jeremiah was still confined in the courtyard of the guard, the word of the LORD came to him a second time: 2 “This is what the LORD says, He who made the earth, the LORD who formed it and established it—the LORD is His name: 3 ‘Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’ 4 For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says about the houses in this city and the royal palaces of Judah that have been torn down to be used against the siege ramps and the sword 5 in the fight with the Babylonians: ‘They will be filled with the dead bodies of the people I will slay in My anger and wrath. I will hide My face from this city because of all its wickedness.

    6 “‘Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal My people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. 7 I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before. 8 I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against Me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against Me. 9 Then this city will bring Me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.’

    10 “This is what the LORD says: ‘You say about this place, “It is a desolate waste, without people or animals.” Yet in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither people nor animals, there will be heard once more 11 the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the LORD, saying,

    “Give thanks to the LORD Almighty,
    for the LORD is good;
    His love endures forever.”

    For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were before,’ says the LORD.

    12 “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In this place, desolate and without people or animals—in all its towns there will again be pastures for shepherds to rest their flocks. 13 In the towns of the hill country, of the western foothills and of the Negev, in the territory of Benjamin, in the villages around Jerusalem and in the towns of Judah, flocks will again pass under the hand of the one who counts them,’ says the LORD.

    14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

    15 “‘In those days and at that time
    I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
    He will do what is just and right in the land.
    16 In those days Judah will be saved
    and Jerusalem will live in safety.
    This is the name by which it will be called:
    The LORD Our Righteous Savior.’

    17 For this is what the LORD says: ‘David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of Israel, 18 nor will the Levitical priests ever fail to have a man to stand before Me continually to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to present sacrifices.’”

    19 The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: 20 “This is what the LORD says: ‘If you can break My covenant with the day and My covenant with the night, so that day and night no longer come at their appointed time, 21 then My covenant with David My servant—and My covenant with the Levites who are priests ministering before Me—can be broken and David will no longer have a descendant to reign on his throne. 22 I will make the descendants of David my servant and the Levites who minister before Me as countless as the stars in the sky and as measureless as the sand on the seashore.’”

    23 The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: 24 “Have you not noticed that these people are saying, ‘The LORD has rejected the two kingdoms He chose’? So they despise My people and no longer regard them as a nation. 25 This is what the LORD says: ‘If I have not made My covenant with day and night and established the laws of heaven and earth, 26 then I will reject the descendants of Jacob and David My servant and will not choose one of his sons to rule over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and have compassion on them.’”
    (Jeremiah 33)

    September 16, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Reality, you're bucking for the other side of the divide.

      Amen.

      September 17, 2011 at 2:47 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Reality needs some of His truth. Read Matthew 13:36-43 to see how you are being groomed.

      Amen.

      September 17, 2011 at 4:10 am |
    • hushupp

      Wow! The comment is longer than the story. How's that for wandering away from the task at hand? Put your soapbox away.

      September 18, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  20. boxing ring

    Welcome, the match today is between the imam and the atheist.

    Round 1 starts now..

    September 16, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.