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Is It Immoral to Be Overweight?

Is It Immoral to Be Overweight?

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Question:

As a fitness trainer, I wonder: do health and fitness have a place in Judaism? It seems that the secular world encourages a healthy life far more than the Jewish world does. I hear rabbis talk about spiritual matters, but find it hard to listen to them if they themselves are overweight. Is physical wellbeing not important?

Answer:

The scales of merit are not found in heaven anymore, but are right there on the bathroom floorIn our modern world, we are seeing health as the new morality. Good and bad are now measured in calories. My cereal box invites me to “taste the goodness”—not a moral value, but rather a nutritional one. The scales of merit are not found in heaven anymore, but are right there on the bathroom floor, and the daily judgment is pronounced in kilos and pounds.

This all makes sense if you see the human being as just a body without a soul. If the flesh is all there is, health becomes the highest ideal. But from the Jewish perspective, the soul is our true self, and the body its vehicle. The body and its health are important only because through them we express our higher self. More so, while our body houses our soul, it is a gift from our Creator to use while we are in this world. As it is on loan to us and therefore does not truly belong to us, we must always treat it with respect.

The great Jewish thinker, Maimonides, wrote in the 12th century:

“Caring for the health and wellbeing of the body is one of the ways of serving G‑d.”

And he immediately explains why:

“One is unable to think clearly and comprehend truth if he is unwell.”

If your mind is cloudy, you may lack moral clarity to know what’s right. While battling with illness, we may not find the stamina to battle the ills of the world. That’s why we need to look after our bodies. A healthy body is not in itself our life’s purpose; it helps us fulfill our purpose. It is a vehicle that transports us towards goodness, but it is not the destination.

Jewish tradition provides no excuse for being unhealthyJewish tradition provides no excuse for being unhealthy. On the contrary, it gives the best reason possible to live healthy: life has meaning and purpose, and each day is precious. Only if life has meaning is it worth taking care of. The risks of high cholesterol, heavy smoking and drug use are a concern only to one who values life. The threat of a shorter lifespan means nothing to someone who sees life as pointless.

We are the healthiest generation in recent history, and our life expectancy is reaching biblical proportions. This means we have more time and energy to fulfill our purpose—to elevate our corner of the world, and tip the scales towards true goodness.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Discussion (84)
November 7, 2013
But wait! There's more....
If we only focus on our individual eating and exercise habits, aren't we forgetting about the health of others? And, I believe it is a Jew's purpose to help others fulfill their purposes so therefore we have to also help others be healthy. Having established that, it becomes imperative to become environmental activists and take a stand against those who promote poor health through the their policies and practices.

For example, How can I support Stephen Harper when I know that he is pushing the KeyStone pipeline? The method of "natural gas" extraction he endorses not only causes environmental destruction but has very very serious implications for human health. The same goes for GMO foods and foods grown with toxic pesticides. And other harmful chemicals that find their way into our food (artificial colours and flavours, shellac to make candy shiny - this is all certified Kosher, by the way). Given the Jewish obligations to look after our health and help others achieve their life's pu
Tanya
Toronto
jrcc.org
August 1, 2013
OA
I think its important to note that there are those with eating disorders/addictions that are rooted in food addictions for which will power is not enough.
It is important to raise awareness of Overeater anonymous and their groups and programs that have helped many of those suffering tremendously from guilt and shame.
On Chabad.org there is a section about 12 step groups you can look there for more information.
With love,

Anonymous
Beijing
June 16, 2013
Diet Health.
I like this article....Many of the rules in Scripture, given to Moses, were of a health preserving nature. A people traveling in the desert had no refrigeration of course, which makes common sense regarding the eating of some things a highly risky business! Long before bacteria were discovered, they were nevertheless very prevalent and active, making it necessary for the Creator to make a few health rules such as covering up excrement with a suitable wooden stick, and keeping your hands off dead bodies, and so on. Jews were into washing themselves long before the benefits were understood. The conclusion is then clearly, that our physical care is important to the one who made us.. Even the animal world has a very sophisticated intrinsic sense of what to eat and what to abstain from!
Hooray for Aussies.....
Mrs Gillian Wardle
Sth Australia
April 8, 2013
I wish everyone who is morbidly obese could find a way to get bariatric surgery.
It saved my life. I lost 100 pounds within 6 months before the honeymoon phase kicked in. Now, I have a tool to HELP me lose the next 100. Thank Hashem!
Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell
Riverside, CA USA
April 5, 2013
Loving Gd
Everything we think, say, & do, must relate to loving Gd.
We're told to love Gd when we sit in our house, when we walk by the way, when we lie down & when we rise up. I.e., ALWAYS.
This means, among other things, to say a blessing to acknowledge all good Gd gives us. A blessing for hearing thunder or for seeing the moon. Blessings for various foods--the fruit of the ground, the fruit of the tree, the bread, the other items made from the five species of the Holy Land, the fruit of the vine (i.e., wine or grape juice), &, finally, for anything else.

Before we make the blessing, we focus on the reason for eating, with one or more instant meditations:

May the nourishment in this food strengthen me to serve GD.
May the soul of this animal be lifted up.
May the holy sparks in this food be lifted up.

When distracted by comfort from food, we must stop, repent, & focus on the reason to eat: for strength to serve Gd.
Gabe
Denver
April 4, 2013
Rambam wisdom
I would say that the Rambam, who was a wise and rational man, was absolutely correct in distributing proportions for eating habits.
Anything else is all excuses for one's weakness and lack of will power
Eating is a survival necessity for men like for animals - but it should also be for pleasure to a certain degree, enjoy a little this, enjoy a little that, but know the limits
Feigele
Boca Raton FL
April 4, 2013
Weight Weight Don't Tell
Also the name of an NPR talk show except titled Wait Wait Don't Tell. I think of both in tandem when I consider the need to diet. It's a problem, particularly in America where we have so much plenty. It's hard to limit intake with such bounty. So weight has always been a topic in the news, and sells many glossy magaizines and Diet Programs, and how many, many books!

It's not immoral to be overweight, and there are cases of people born with a genetic problem studied by my husband, who cannot limit intake, because there is no inbuilt system that registers, FULL. Weight is a matter of "matter" and we say, "mind over matter", but it's not easy for those who like the nourishment of food, which also has taken on deepening metaphoric meaning, as it's about comfort, about how a baby gets initially satisfied, and it is paired, so deeply in our subconscious with LOVE. And so the emotional concomitants exist, and every good therapist explores this. Some even need weight as a buffer from assault.
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
March 31, 2013
It strikes me as quite ignorant to dismiss what one says because of their physical appearance. Food can also be a source of great joy and as the answer points out, physical health is a means to increasing spiritual health but is not determinive of it.
Anonymous
Toronto
January 10, 2013
The Rambam
The Rambam outlined everything with regards to eating and health long before modern science came around.
"Exercise daily, until you break a sweat, cool down, rest (and shower if possible), and then eat.
Eat only when hungry and drink only when thirsty.
Never eat until you are full. In the winter, eat until you are 3/4 full. In the summer, eat 2/3rds of what you eat in winter.
Eat a diet based on whole grains, vegetables, nuts (he was big on almonds), soft cheeses, fruits and lean meats.
A person who exercises, even if he occasionally eats unhealthy foods, will always be healthy.
"Overeating is a poison for the body and the primary cause of all sickness. Most illnesses are brought on by harmful foods or by gorging oneself, even with healthful food."
Taken from "Fundamentals of the Rambam: Ethical and Inspirational Laws and Writings of Maimonides", Vol I, (c) 2005, Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Finkel, Yeshivath Beith Moshe, Scranton, PA (this book is based on the Rambam's "Mishneh Torah")
Anonymous
November 20, 2011
Anon, you are right. But, there are levels.
From overweight, you become obese. From obese, you become morbidly obese. Then comes super-morbidly obese. At this point, it is like committing suicide. Is suicide immoral in Judaism? When the obesity has an emotional cause, such as abuse, then the eating itself becomes much like alcoholism or drug addiction. It's a way to escape life. Unlike drugs and alcohol, where you can go "cold turkey", people NEED fuel to live. It is the point where we separate food as fuel from food as a crutch or comfort that the lines of morality become confused. I would also add using any food as a way to show obedience or love of G-d is also immoral. This is done RAMPANTLY by MANY religions, not just Judaism. To me, it is immoral to pair eating with spirituality or goodness. All eating should be is FUEL for the body and NOTHING else. Not for pleasure, not for rituals, not for proof of loving G-d. Yes, food can hold together a family like at mealtime. But what kind of food? High sugar stuff is bad.
Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell
Riverside, CA, USA
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