Saturday, November 8, 2014

Should Kosher Mean Healthy?

"If you wilt diligently pay heed to the voice of YHVH Eloheicha, and will do that which is yashar in His sight, and will give ear to do His mitzvot, and be shomer over all His chok, I will put none of these machalah (diseases) upon you, which I put upon the Egyptians; for Ani YHVH rofecha (I am YHVH that heals you)." (Shemot/Exodus 15:26)
 
It has long been my assertion that the Torah was given to B'nai Israel as more than a mere narrative of social and judicial construct but also as a guide for personal success in life. By the word 'success' I am implying an ability of overcoming life's most difficult challenges and this overcoming ability was something that the Egyptians apparently lacked. It is certainly true that the Torah is a manual of spirituality that is meant to evolve the consciousness to a higher state of wisdom and perception- known as mochin d'gadlut. It must also be asserted though that the Torah doesn't define spirituality as something separate from the physical and requires humanity to live and work in the physical as a prerequisite for spiritual development. It is cliché to state that the human is a spirit having a physical experience, nonetheless the satatement is truthful. The physical experience is a necessary and progressive state of existence and it directly affects the quality of the spirit's ability to effectively attune the mundane to the state of higher purpose.
In the above Scriptural reference, HaShem makes it clear that by heeding and performing the mitzvoth (teachings) of the Torah, the Israelite will not be afflicted with dis-ease. In my analytical mind I take statements such as this and weigh them against current physical reality. I look at the Jewish community in all of its manifestations and observe the health (physical and spiritual) of the constituents. Can we observe a distinct realization of this promise amongst B'nai Israel today?
In the observation of health phenomena in Judaism it is much easier to look at Jewish Orthodoxy as it alone maintains a high level of segregation from outside people-groups and they provide an easier demographic for study. In physical terms of health there is little that is noteworthy concerning their longevity or immunity to common health risk factors. Amongst Ashkenazim (Jews of European origin) there is a rising affliction of genetic disease, the most notable is Tay Sachs disease but also other genetic disorder are increasing amongst Ashkenazim including: Cystic Fibrosis, Canavan Disease, Familial Dysautonomia, Fanconi Anemia Type C, Bloom’s Syndrome,  Gaucher Disease Type I, Mucolipidosis Type IV, Glycogen Storage Disorder Type I, Niemann-Pick Disease. So problematic are these genetic diseases that some Israeli organizations such as Dor Yeshorim are asking for mandates to have all potential couples tested for their genetic compatibility before they are allowed to marry. There are aslo testing centers in Chicago, Ill and New York, NY.  There is also a significant upswing in Jewish eating disorders amongst the Orthodox Jewish communities and this has been reported on in the Huffington Post, NY Times and other outlets. These eating disorders are primarily over eating due to depression in these communities and this in turn is leading to higher cases of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. The inverse is also on the rise amongst Orthodox adolescent girls who are turning to anorexia in greater numbers due in part to the pressure of over extended families and matchmaking marriages. The NY Times reported: “There is an amazing stigma attached to eating disorders — this is the real problem,” said Rabbi Saul Zucker, educational director for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the organization that issues the all-important O.U. kashrut stamp for food. “But hiding it is not going to make it go away. If we don’t confront it, it’s going to get worse.” Physical health amongst Jews is definitely not a trait that can be identified amongst the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox generally fall into the mainstream category of general society.
One interesting phenomena of health within the Orthodox community that is instructive is the low rate of cervic cancer. Cervic cancer is negligible amongst Orthodox communities and this is directly related to the observance of Niddah wherein intimacy is restricted between a husband and wife during her menstrual cycle. This is the only observable example where adherence to a Torah precept has literally reduced the physical health detriment of a disease that plagues non-Jews. If this is true with Niddah then why isn't it true with other mitzvoth such as Kashrut?
The spiritual aspect of Orthodoxy is also in peril as the rates of crime associated with molestation, embezzlement, fraud, etc. are demonstrably higher in Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities than

other Jewish communities. I will discuss this in a future article that will focus on the problematic hermeneutic technique of Orthodoxy and the prevalence of anti-intellectualism which has left a void of spiritual inspiration in many Jewish communities.

If Niddah demonstrably affects physical health then can Kashrut affect physical health? It is my perspective that the Torah's promise of freedom from dis-ease is inextricably linked to the keeping of Kashrut as well.  The Torah itself doesn't provide an explanation for its dietary regulations but these restrictions have a practical significance. Many Rabbonim have tried to explain various reasons for the rules of Kashrut and several have renounced the idea that they are tied to physical health, instead opting for a mystical explanation. Perhaps there is a mystical application for the laws of Kashrut but this is not evident from the Torah's narrative. The Torah's admonition to obey and be healthy applies to every mitzvah in the Torah albeit the health can be physical, psychological, emotive, and/or societal. The health benefits of the proscribed Biblical diet are quite evident from the perspective of a health professional or dietician. The Torah describes a clean diet of food which contains less toxicity and greater nutrient density than the diets of other nations during that time in history. This proscribed diet would have likely maintained a safeguard against many of the ailments that other nations experienced by consuming food that was higher in toxicity (i.e. raw meats, pork, shellfish, etc.). Culturally, while meat was permitted for consumption it was a rare occurrence and the context of the Biblical diet would have been primarily vegetarian. We see the vegetarian diet being proscribed to man in Gan Eden and later Abel was a sheep-herder; meat was permitted to Noah and his family as this was likely the only food available to them at that time. We also see that the manna provided to the Israelites in the Wilderness was vegetarian and completely sustained them physically as well as elevated them spiritually. Meat was provided only because the Israelites incessantly complained. Thus it is apparent that meat was a later add-on to man's diet and was provided because of mankind's lower animalistic desires.
If observance of Kashrut is healthy then why do Orthodox Jews not represent the epitome of health to the world? Judaism today eats the same diet as the rest of the world. There may be an exercise of shechita but this is more of a (supposedly) humane method of slaughter than an actual health practice. The draining of blood is allegedly the utmost concern in shechita, however the comparison between shechita and commercial practices demonstrates that the differences are negligible. The Jewish diet today is not a clean diet and this is the root of the problem. You cannot expect to attain health and vitality when your diet consists of a toxic concoction of synthetic chemicals, hormones and pesticides. You cannot eat processed foods and expect to attain healthful effects. It doesn't matter is the processed deli meat and bag of chips has a Kosher hescher (certification)- the food is still unclean and diminished the vigor of the human physiology. In Biblical times, the issues we have with diet did not exist. Today, Judaism vaguely maintains any semblance with the ancient Mediterranean diet of clean foods of our ancestors. Rather, today Jews eat the standard diet of toxic meats and processed foods.
The problem with health and the Biblical promise is directly related to circumstances of today's standard diet. The laws of Kashrut as they are observed today will not change to address the current physiological crisis that is occurring today because most modern Rabbonim don't believe that Kashrut has anything to do with health. Consequently, Judaism will continue to progress into dis-ease as it doesn't see the Torah as a viable option in eliminating any of its ailments.

A return to the diet of our ancestors is vital for our health. Some people may protest that our ancestors didn't live as long as modern man therefore we shouldn't emulate their diet. This is a valid concern but is not legitimate for a variety of reason. First, our ancestors didn't die from the food that they ate rather they died from a lack of food. Secondly, a lack of proper hygiene was the primary culprit behind dis-ease in ancient times and it can be observed that in third-world countries today a lack of basic hygiene is still the leading cause of mortality. These examples, combines with the lack of sophisticated medical procedures in times of injury guaranteed certain death. The diet of our ancestors is most closesly akin to the Mediterranean diet of our modern-age. This diet has been scientifically proven to be amongst the most beneficial diets for human consumption. The Mediterranean diet is an evidence-based diet which can literally save your life.
The Mayo Clinic has noted that research indicates that the Mediterranean diet is the best choice for heart health. Researchers have also noted that those in the Mediterranean who consume this diet were significantly healthier than Americans or those who consume a standard American diet. Numerous studies have now shown that the Mediterranean diet can cause weight loss and help prevent heart attacks, strokes, type 2 diabetes and premature death.
There is a lot of variety in the Mediterranean diet and it is important to acquire some reading material and cook books in order to grasp the dynamics of this method of eating, especially if you are accustomed to eating steak and potatoes as a staple. There are a number of general guidelines that can be looked at however.
The Basics of the MD
·        Eat: Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, breads, herbs, spices, fish, seafood and extra virgin olive oil.
·        Eat in Moderation: Poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt.
·        Eat Only Rarely: Red meat. Research indicates that no more than 6 oz of red meat should be consumed in a given week.
·        Don’t Eat: Sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars, processed meat, refined grains, refined oils and other highly processed foods.
Avoid These Foods
·        Added sugar: Soda, candies, ice cream, table sugar and many others.
·        Refined grains: White bread, pasta made with refined wheat, etc.
·        Trans fats: Found in margarine and various processed foods.
·        Refined Oils: Soybean oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil and others.
·        Processed meat: Processed sausages, hot dogs, etc.
·        Highly processed foods: Everything labeled “low-fat” or “diet” or looks like it was made in a factory.
Foods to Eat A lot
·        Vegetables: Tomatoes, broccoli, kale, spinach, onions, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, etc.
·        Fruits: Apples, bananas, oranges, pears, strawberries, grapes, dates, figs, melons, peaches, etc.
·        Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, Macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and more.
·        Legumes: Beans, peas, lentils, pulses, peanuts, chickpeas, etc.
·        Tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, yams, etc.
·        Whole Grains: Whole oats, brown rice, rye, barley, corn, buckwheat, whole wheat, whole grain bread and pasta.
·        Fish and Seafood: Salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, mackerel, etc.
·        Poultry: Chicken, duck, turkey and more.
·        Eggs: Chicken, quail and duck eggs.
·        Dairy: Cheese, yogurt, Greek yogurt, etc.
·        Herbs and Spices: Garlic, basil, mint, rosemary, sage, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, etc.
·        Healthy Fats: Extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocados and avocado oil.

This only represents a very insignificant look at the Mediterranean diet and I recommend reading and watching videos on this subject. It is my hope that this article will spark an interest in the healthy diet and lifestyle of our ancestors.