Body, Soul and Summertime

Food is always a Jewish topic, and every Shabbat and Jewish holiday are new opportunities to overindulge.
Maimonides famously says (Deot 4:15) that overeating is unhealthy and everyone knows that keeping healthy makes good sense. But to what extent is a healthy body, per se, a Torah issue?

Anyone who suspects that health and fitness is only a modern concern might consider the Talmud’s opinion:
Rav Huna said to his son, Rabah, “Why aren’t you a disciple of Rav Chisda, whose teachings are sharp?” He said, “Why should I – whenever I go, he lectures me on mundane matters. For example, he gave me instructions on how to relieve myself safely.” He said, “He’s immersed in matters of health and you call them mundane? All the more so should you go to him!” Shabbos 82a

This Talmudic ethic echoes a midrashic warning that the vast majority of people die prematurely due to neglecting their health and well-being:

Ninety-nine percent die before their time due to neglecting their health. – Midrash Raba

When I first learned about the mitzvah of guarding your health, many questions came to mind: What are the parameters of the mitzvah? Is it possible that the ultimate guide to ethics and holiness includes guidance on food, exercise, and other specific health topics? Might the Torah’s approach to health provide guidance in addressing major public health challenges such as obesity and COVID-19?

Years of researching these questions in the Torah literature has culminated in a collection of more than 60 major teachings, some of which have never before been translated. The health topics covered by the Torah include:

  • Holy eating
  • Healthy eating
  • Sugar, obesity, and healthy weight
  • Special Jewish food challenges
  • Exercise
  • Sleep
  • How to raise children with healthy habits

The first step on this journey is to develop a Torah-guided relationship to the body. Mastering this framework is the key to long-term changes. Changing a habit temporarily is relatively easy, but long-term sustained change in even a single habit is one of the hardest challenges in life. Motivation is key, and learning a Torah body-framework will hopefully lead to an increase in overall well-being for all who make a modicum of effort. In the long term, a healthier body-relationship should lead to a longer life that is more thoughtful, disciplined, spiritual, and elevated.

Yet even someone immersed in Torah wisdom can sometimes lack motivation to consistently pursue healthy daily living. At such times, I personally try to recall the words of Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch:

A person can only reach his fullest spiritual potential if he is physically strong, per the Talmud, Shabbat 92a.

As much as summertime and Shabbat and Jewish holidays are food challenges, they are also an opportunity. Every time you consciously make something even slightly healthier – by reducing the sugar or increasing the vegetables – you’re fulfilling a mitzvah. When you encourage healthy habits in children, you’re giving them a lifelong gift.

Adapted from the book, Body & Soul: The Torah Path to Food, Fitness and a Healthy Life. To contact the author, visit or follow the Body & Soul class on