Every four years, much of the world tunes in to the Olympic Games with rapt attention. A tradition stretching all the way back to ancient Greece, at its core, these games still pay homage to the greatness of the human body.

Indeed, those ancient Greeks were fascinated with the human body, glorifying it and marveling at its finesse and power. Seeing just how far they could push it was a near obsession, which they saw as part of their idolatrous worship.

While the terms may have changed in modern times, and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who literally worships their body, the idea lives on in many different forms, and the pagan origin of the Olympics can still be seen in some of its modern iteration.

So, what is the Jewish approach to our bodies? The body, after all, is a marvelous thing; we can’t just ignore it. But glorifying it seems a bit over the top, as well.

By Your Own Words

Among the many items in the Torah portion of Shoftim, we learn of the ironclad Torah rule that in a Jewish court of law, the only form of acceptable testimony is from two valid witnesses:

One witness shall not rise up against any person for any iniquity or for any sin, regarding any sin that he will sin. By the mouth of two witnesses, or by the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be confirmed.1

But there’s an exception: monetary disputes. Say, for example, Reuven claims that Shimon owes him $100. If Shimon readily admits that he does owe the money, then his “testimony” is accepted. In the words of the Talmud,2 “A person’s own admission is like a hundred witnesses.”

But this rule is limited to finances alone. In cases of capital punishment or other corporal punishment, a person’s own admission is unacceptable. So, say Reuven is being tried in court for murder, a grave offense with a serious punishment that is only administered upon the testimony of two valid witnesses, and then, to everyone’s surprise, Reuven shockingly admits to the crime.

Is his testimony accepted? Do we put him to death upon his own admission?

Absolutely not.

Why? What better proof can there be than the defendant’s own admission that he or she did the crime? And why do we accept a person’s own testimony with regards to their property, but not their own life?

It’s Not Your Body

A classic rabbinic explanation: Your property belongs to you, so you’re free to do with it as you please. If you want to give your money by admitting to your litigant in court, go right ahead.

But your body doesn’t belong to you; it belongs to G‑d. It’s not your property to do with as you please. It is a treasured loan that G‑d gives you for however long you’re on this earth. It’s absolutely not yours to do with as you please, and so a persons’ own admission in court will be rejected if the outcome is death.3

Which leads us to a fascinating conclusion: According to Jewish tradition, you own your property more than your very body!

Your Body Is Holy

Think about that for a moment: Your car, your house, your computer, and your phone, they’re all yours to do with as you wish. No one will stop you from tossing your phone off a bridge, and if you can find some sort of constructive reason for taking a hatchet to your freshly painted walls, go right ahead.4

But Judaism looks at your body in a completely different way. As the Torah tells us in the very beginning of the Creation story, the human body was fashioned in the “image of G‑d,”5 and it is really only given to you on loan.

Just as you wouldn’t borrow your neighbor’s car and ram it into a tree, you ought not to harm, mutilate, or otherwise disrespect your body.

So, the Greeks got it right … and terribly wrong at the same time.

They were right that the human body is, in fact, a marvelous thing. But they got it egregiously wrong to think that the body is something to worship in its own right.

This is a narcissistic, base perspective that ultimately drags the human being down to primitive levels, unable to appreciate his or her body for anything more than the brute physical matter that it is.

You know why the human body is really marvelous? There are many reasons. For starters, because it is G‑d’s gift to us. It’s also marvelous because it’s created in G‑d’s image. It’s even more marvelous because it houses a soul, something that makes you, me, and every other person special, unique, and Divine.

And that’s how you ought to approach your workout regimen or your fitness class. Judaism has nothing against working out, being fit, eating healthy, or running the marathon. These are excellent activities.

The key is perspective. Why are you running the marathon? Is it because you’re in love with your physique, or do you simply want to see how far you can push yourself?

Do better. Run that marathon because G‑d gave you a body that houses a soul, and you respect that gift and wish to take care of it. You know that you can better serve your Creator, you can be a better parent or friend, when you’re feeling healthy, well-rested, and fit.

That’s why you’re following a food regimen and lifting weights. Not to compete in next year’s Olympics, but to bring glory to G‑d by respecting the body He gave you.6