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Laws of Religion

Laws of Judaism Concerning Food

 

19.  Food and Health

 

From the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah)

 

One’s intention for eating and drinking should be to maintain health, not just to derive pleasure. For example, an infusion of chicory (“chicory” in Feldheim translation; “endive juice” in Moznaim translation) should be consumed for good health even though it is bitter.[1] One should eat only when he is hungry and has no need to relieve himself.[2] A person should either be sitting or reclining on his left side when eating.[3] Overeating is a major cause of illness.[4] Eating to fullness is to be avoided; stopping when one’s stomach is two-thirds (“two-thirds” in Feldheim translation; “three-quarters” in Moznaim translation) full is best. Water eaten with a meal should be mixed with wine and only consumed in small quantities.[5] Eating meat once a week, on the eve of the Sabbath, is sufficient for health though those who can afford it may eat meat even every day.[6] It is especially important for a learned sage to eat in moderation.[7] However, an individual is not to act like an ascetic – denying himself permitted things such as meat or wine, or fasting excessively.[8]

 

It is best to warm one’s body before eating by walking or else by bodily exertion followed by some rest. An additional benefit to health ensues when one takes a hot bath after exercise and then waits before eating.[9]

 

It is essential for health to have easy bowel movements.[10] Laxative foods should be eaten before meals and allowed to become digested before moving on to the main meal. Such foods include grapes, figs, mulberries, pears, melons, cucumbers and zucchini.[11] (Editor’s note: The actual modern names of the various fruits and vegetables named by Maimonides are not all known and so the translations are to some extent uncertain.[12]) Foods such as pomegranates, quinces, apples and pears that tone the digestive organs (Feldheim translation; cause constipation in Moznaim translation) should be eaten at the end of a meal and only in small amounts.[13] Treatments for constipation in a young person include drinking water from the cooking of spinach or cabbage with olive oil, fish brine and salt. For an old man, the treatment for constipation is to drink honey mixed with hot water four hours before the morning meal.[14]

 

Among the harmful foods that should never be consumed are aged and salted large fish, cheese or meat; truffles and mushrooms; wine fresh from the winepress; and any bad-smelling or very bitter-tasting food. Less harmful foods that should be eaten only occasionally include large fish, cheese, day-old milk, meat from large oxen or male goats, beans, lentils, chickpeas, barley bread, unleavened bread, cabbage, leeks, onions, garlic, mustard and radishes.[15] Fruit from trees should not be eaten. Sour (Feldheim translation; pickled in Moznaim translation) fruits should be consumed only in small amounts though figs, grapes and almonds are good for health and should be consumed freely, but not constantly.[16] Meat, honey and wine should be avoided by anyone with a warm constitution.[17]

 

(Editor’s note: The text above on this page includes recommendations of Maimonides that are not necessarily founded in the teachings of rabbinic law.[18] Maimonides was a physician.)

 

The Sages forbade many dangerous things and ignoring such dangers is punished by flogging for disobedience even if the danger is only to oneself.[19] It is forbidden to eat an animal or bird that has been bitten by a poisonous snake or that has, itself, eaten anything poisonous. Similarly, the prohibition against eating dangerous food applies to any animal or bird with a cut off leg since this may have been the result of a bite by a poisonous reptile. If, upon roasting in an oven, the meat from such an animal appears normal then it may be eaten.[20] It is also forbidden to eat juicy fruits such as figs, grapes, cucumbers, pumpkins or melons if they appear to have been bitten because the bite may have been from a poisonous creature such as a snake.[21] Drinking water, wine, milk, honey or brine that has been left uncovered is prohibited because a poisonous reptile, such as a snake, may have drunk from it and left poison in it. Similarly, eating crushed garlic or cut melon that has been left uncovered is prohibited. Putting one’s mouth on a pipe flowing with water or drinking from rivers or ponds at night is prohibited because it might result in swallowing an unseen leech.[22]

 

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Laws of Religion is a project of the Religion Research Society.

 

Updated October 16, 2016

 

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Abbreviations used in footnotes:

MT:  The Mishneh Torah of Maimonides (Code of Maimonides). The names of the specific books and treatises within each book are given according to the Yale University Press translation and also the Moznaim/Touger Hebrew transliterations to facilitate locating the texts posted here.

F:  indicates page numbers in the Feldheim Publishers, Ltd., translation of Book 1 of the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides, the Book of Knowledge.

M:  indicates page numbers in the relevant volume of the Moznaim Publishing Corporation’s Touger translation. (Some of the books of Mishneh Torah are published in several volumes by Moznaim, so the Moznaim volume numbers do not correspond to the Book numbers of Maimonides’ work.)

Y:  indicates page numbers in the translation of the Yale University Press Judaica Series.

●  The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Judaism.

 



[1] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 2 De’ot Personality Development, Chapter 3, sec 2 (pages 49b-50aF 54-56M)

[2] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 2 De’ot Personality Development, Chapter 4, secs 1-2 (pages 50a-50bF 66M)

[3] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 2 De’ot Personality Development, Chapter 4, sec 3 (pages 50bF 66M)

[4] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 2 De’ot Personality Development, Chapter 4, secs 14-15 (pages 51bF 74M)

[5] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 2 De’ot Personality Development, Chapter 4, sec 2 (pages 50a-50bF 66M)

[6] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 2 De’ot Personality Development, Chapter 5, sec 10 (pages 54aF 106M)

[7] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 2 De’ot Personality Development, Chapter 5, sec 1 (pages 52bF 82-86M)

[8] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 2 De’ot Personality Development, Chapter 3, sec 1 (pages 49bF 50-54M)

[9] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 2 De’ot Personality Development, Chapter 4, sec 2 (pages 50a-50bF 66M)

[10] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 2 De’ot Personality Development, Chapter 4, secs 13-14 (pages 51a-51bF 74M)

[11] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 2 De’ot Personality Development, Chapter 4, sec 6 (pages 50bF 68M)

[12] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Note 11 in Moznaim translation to Treatise 2 De’ot Personality Development, Chapter 4, sec 6 (page 67M)

[13] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 2 De’ot Personality Development, Chapter 4, sec 6 (pages 50bF 68M)

[14] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 2 De’ot Personality Development, Chapter 4, sec 13 (pages 51a-51bF 74M)

[15] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 2 De’ot Personality Development, Chapter 4, sec 9 (pages 51aF 70-72M)

[16] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 2 De’ot Personality Development, Chapter 4, sec 11 (pages 51aF 72M)

[17] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 2 De’ot Personality Development, Chapter 3, sec 2 (pages 49b-50aF 54-56M)

[18] Introduction to chapter 4 in Moznaim/Touger translation of MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 2 De’ot Personality Development (pages 62-65M)

[19] MT Book 11, The Book of Torts, Sefer Nezikin; Treatise 5 on Murder and the Preservation of Life, Rotze’ach USh’mirat Nefesh; Chapter 11, sec 5 (pages 582M 227-228Y)

[20] MT Book 11, The Book of Torts, Sefer Nezikin; Treatise 5 on Murder and the Preservation of Life, Rotze’ach USh’mirat Nefesh; Chapter 12, sec 1 (pages 588M 230Y)

[21] MT Book 11, The Book of Torts, Sefer Nezikin; Treatise 5 on Murder and the Preservation of Life, Rotze’ach USh’mirat Nefesh; Chapter 12, sec 2 (pages 588-590M 230Y)

[22] MT Book 11, The Book of Torts, Sefer Nezikin; Treatise 5 on Murder and the Preservation of Life, Rotze’ach USh’mirat Nefesh; Chapter 11, secs 6-8 (pages 584M 228Y)