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A Jewish Perspective on Body, Health and Diet

Debbie Young-Somers's picture

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My grandmother fits what many might consider to be the stereotype of a Jewish bubba (grandma). She is Polish, round and always trying to feed her grandchildren! She (along with many, many grandmothers, Jewish and not) obviously didn't know about the teachings of Moses Maimonides, an important Jewish teacher from the twelfth century, who was very concerned about the effects of food on our health. For example, he interpreted Deuteronomy 21:20 to be forbidding overeating, or gluttony:


18. If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not listen to them;


19. Then shall his father and his mother lay hold of him, and bring him out to the elders of his city, and to the gate of his place;


20. And they shall say to the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. [7]


As a religion that observes many rituals that involve the body (circumcision, ritual bath) there must be some significance to it, and to the need to protect it by not overeating, or damaging it in any other way! This seems to be because, without the body, the spirit can't do very much (and tradition teaches that the opposite is also true). As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a nineteenth-century orthodox rabbi, wrote:


You may not in any way weaken your health or shorten your life. Only if the body is healthy is it an efficient instrument for the spirit's activity ... Therefore you should avoid everything which might possibly injure your health ... And the law asks you to be even more circumspect in avoiding danger to life and limb than in the avoidance of other

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