May 18, 2016
Book Review: To Your Health
A Guest Post by Dr. Harold Goldmeier
TO YOUR HEALTH: The Torah Way to a Healthy Life in Modern Times
Kulmus 2016 (English edition)
Food and water nourish, sustain life, and, serve as a Covenant (preceding brit milah), between man and God (Genesis 1:29). Adam and Eve enjoyed the bounty and sybaritic splendor in the Garden of Eden, and in return they were faithful.
When Adam and Eve violated His trust God banished them. Eve (a sobriquet for all women) suffer the pains of childbirth as punishment. Adam is banished to work the soil to eat the herb of the fields by the sweat of the brow to survive. The land became damnable sprouting thorns and thistles. The quest for food and clean water became a chore bereft of the divine (Genesis 3:15).
In his latest book, To Your Health: The Torah Way to a Healthy Life in Modern Times, Rabbi Yechezkel Ishayek, seeks to rejuvenate the transcendent mysticism of food and water as the linchpins for bringing humans closer to God once again. His book “teaches a way of life…a guide to the reader” that will fulfill the Torah obligation to achieve “the blessing of longevity.” It is a guidebook teaching us how food (and daily chores) can make us more faithful, bring us closer in spirit to God by protecting our bodies and enjoy a healthy lifestyle.
Ishayek served for nearly four decades as the humble right-hand man of the great sage and leading interpreter of Jewish Law, Rav Elazar M. M. Shach of Jerusalem. From Rav Shach, Ishayek learned the paramount Torah obligation to protect one’s health inspiring him to collect all he learned and witnessed in Rav Shach’s behavior to write this “recipe for health” for everyone.
I teach international university students a course on Jewish and Western values. One student discussed how for him how food and water best contrast values. Consuming food is a religious experience, man’s esoteric search for spiritual potency and faith in God (also see Levi Cooper, “The Tisch: The charm of cholent,” The Jerusalem Post, Magazine, p. 43). Through the acts of blessing each helping before consuming, Grace After Meals, separating meat and milk, observing the proscribed methods avoiding certain common foods, taking care to not consume fruits and vegetables grown during Sabbatical years, contribute to a healthy and spiritual lifestyle as a bond between man and God.
Ishayek’s oeuvre is teaching us “our body is not our own personal property,” but food is another means of building faith, for, “The Creator entrusted is with our bodies to use to fulfill His will.” Each has an obligation to perfect his soul, through Torah study, observing commandments, limiting materialism and physicality, and obliging us to physical health and wellbeing.
In contrast, Western values emphasize as much the gourmet experience and using to bring pleasure—how to attain a better healthier looking body. The “other” value of food, the spiritual one Ishayek writes about, is lost on a generation languishing in apostasy.
To Your Health teaches healthy behavior through knowledge, instruction, exercises, and guides. He quotes Maimonides, “it is impossible to understand anything about the Creator while one is ill. Therefore a person must distance himself from those things that destroy his body and must conduct himself in ways that preserve and enhance his health.” Ishayek pleads for us “to invest every possible effort in order to live,” by preventing illness, by guarding one’s health, to serve God as long as possible.
The author writes in silk glove fashion offering a complex mix of science, direction, and authoritative commentary from studies, Jewish sages and Talmudic figures. He refers to scientific studies but does not cite nor footnote them. Instead Ishayek relies most heavily on examples from “Our Sages” replete with citations justifying his conclusions and giving them gravitas. He quotes Rav Yehuda on the importance to healing of spending “a long time in the privy,” noting further this practice leads to a ruddy and healthy complexion.
The book contains graphics easily found on line like a medical history chart, a sample chart of blood test results, a body mass assessment chart, and a Circle of Health for estimating one’s risk of heart disease. The author urges readers to use these tools to measure daily health assessments. Keep records of all tests and regular measure your risk of heart disease.
The book travels beyond food and water. He writes about the importance of proper digestion, talking during meals, chewing, swallowing, the Torah’s view on drinking water while eating, irritable bowel syndrome, regularity, obesity, and protein needs to mention a few of the topics. The last hundred pages are devoted to caring for the body touching on everything from eyeglasses strengthening pelvic and leg muscles, venous insufficiency, how cell phones are endangering neck muscles, and insecticides. It is a trek navigating all the topics not having an appendix.
He has advice for parents and “discerning young adults.” Age will creep up faster than they can imagine. Start young practicing these lifestyle rules. His earlier book, Life without Smoking, made a huge impact on the religious community reportedly influencing many yeshivot to forbid their students from smoking. The book is credited with inspiring educators and community leaders to publicly speak out against smoking as a forbidden threat to health shortening the days of our lives.
This is not a diet book despite the look of its cover. The contents carry the reader way beyond. It is a travel guide rebuilding spirit and faith from the premise that those who thought about these issues before the 21st century offer a pathway to longevity and as one sage states, faith will gravitate toward that person.”
To Your Health is an essential complement to every home library for its explanations and range of subject matter. Every life coach, school nurse, doctor’s office, and health educator will do well for students making this book readily available. The book brings to life the symbiotic relationship of spiritual and practical essential to a healthy lifestyle. Perhaps the point of the book is best summed up in the author’s lesson from Maimonides that failing to protect oneself from illness or danger is like deliberately causing personal injury, so we must strive to protect health and life and will the be able to better serve and expand our faith in God.
Actually, Ishayek and Dr. Seuss share a great philosophy. Dr. Seuss warns kids, “In those green-pastured mountains…everybody feels fine at a hundred and three ‘cause the air that they breathe is potassium-free and because they chew nuts from the Tutt-a-Tutt Tree. This gives strength to their teeth, it gives length to their hair, and they live without doctors, with nary a care.”
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