Factsheet on Judaism and Health
A. Some Jewish Teachings on Health
v’nishmartem meod l’nafshotechem (“Be extremely protective of your lives.”) (Deuteronomy 4:15).
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 transgressions. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, Chapter 62, Section 428)
Limiting our presumption against our own body, God’s word calls to us: “Do not commit suicide!” “Do not injure yourself!” “Do not ruin yourself!” “Do not endanger yourself!” “Do not weaken yourself!” “Preserve yourself!” (Ibid, Section 427)
Since maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of God – for one cannot understand or have any knowledge of the Creator if one is ill – therefore one must avoid that which harms the body and accustom oneself to that which is helpful and helps the body become stronger. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah,Hilchot Deot 4:1)
Following the many precedents prescribed in the Code of Jewish Law, we would have little difficulty in arriving at the conclusion that, if indeed eating meat is injurious to one’s health, it is not only permissible, but possibly even mandatory that we reduce our ingestion of an unhealthful product to the minimal level. (Rabbi Alfred Cohen, “Vegetarianism From a Jewish Perspective”, Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Fall, 1981, p. 61)
As it is halachically prohibited to harm oneself and as healthy, nutritious vegetarian alternatives are easily available, meat consumption has become halachically unjustifiable. Rabbi David Rosen (Rabbis and Vegetarianism, Micah, 1995, p.54)
Health Realities and Animal-Based Diets
1. Epidemiological studies indicate that populations of countries where meat consumption is high (such as the United States, Canada, Israel, and Australia) have much higher mortality rates from heart disease, several types of cancer, and strokes, compared to countries where meat consumption is low.
2. In its 1997 position paper on vegetarianism, the American Dietetic Association stated: “Scientific data suggest positive relationships between a vegetarian diet and reduced risk for several chronic degenerative diseases and conditions, including obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and several types of cancer.”
3. In several recent scientific studies published in the most prestigious medical journals (including the Journal of the American Medical Association), Dean Ornish, M. D. showed that severe heart problems normally treated by drugs and surgery can be reversed through a very low-fat vegetarian diet, exercise, and stress reduction. Some experts believe that up to 95% of heart attacks could be prevented by such lifestyle changes.
4. European Jewish women living in Israel are three times more likely to get breast cancer than Sephardic Jews, apparently due to dietary practices. Japanese-America women who consume typical American animal- based diets are four times more likely to develop breast cancer than their counterparts in Japan.
5. An article in the peer-reviewed journal “Preventive Medicine” (24, 646-655 (1995)) revealed that annual medical costs in the U. S. associated with diseases resulting from animal-centered diets are comparable to those associated with cigarette smoking.
6. Cornell University Professor Dr. T. Colin Campbell, whose study of eating habits of 6,500 people in various areas in China that was described by Jane Brody, New York Times` nutrition editor, as the “grand prix of epidemiology,” stated that even “small intakes of animal products are associated with significant increases in chronic degenerative diseases.”
7. Recent research has linked osteoporosis to high animal-protein diets. It has been found that high levels of animal protein in the diet cause large amounts of calcium to be removed from bones and excreted.
8. A variety of health problems, including colon cancer, adult-onset diabetes, hemorrhoids, constipation and diverticulosis, have been linked to diets low in fiber. Only plant foods contain fiber; there is no fiber in any animal product.
9. According to a U. S. Surgeon General’s Report, 68% of all diseases in the United States are diet-related.
10. Extensive use of antibiotics in animal feed (more that half of all antibiotics produced in the U. S.) is fueling the development of antibiotic-resistant germs that have the potential to devastate human health.