Shrinking Halakah: How Torah Principles Helped Me Lose Weight

Source 1: Health, body and Torah

Devarim 9

רַ֡ק הִשָּׁ֣מֶר לְךָ֩ וּשְׁמֹ֨ר נַפְשְׁךָ֜ מְאֹ֗ד

But take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously


1. Kli Yakar

"'Guard yourself' means taking care of the body.”

2. Rambam: Mishneh Torah: Hilchos Deos 4:1

"Bodily health and wellbeing are part of the path to God, for it is impossible to understand or have any knowledge of the Creator when one is sick. Therefore one must avoid anything that may harm the body and one must cultivate healthful habits”

3. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, Derech Hashem 1:4:7

‘….one of the commandments requires that we keep our bodies fit so that we can serve God, and that we derive our needs from the environment to achieve this goal. In this manner, we elevate ourselves even through such activities. The world itself is also elevated, since it is then also helping man to serve God.


Source 2: We are all responsible for ourselves

1. Shulchan Arukh: Choshen Mishpat 427, 8-10).

"It is a positive duty to take all due precautions and avoid anything that may endanger life, as it is written: 'Take care of yourself, and guard your soul'. The sages prohibited many things that involve a risk to life. Anyone who violates such prohibitions, saying 'I'm only putting myself at risk - what business is that of anybody else?' or 'I'm not particular about such things' deserves a lashing, while those who are careful about such things will be blessed”

Source 3: Using the medical profession: it is alright to ask for help

1. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (32:14):

"Every person needs to learn from doctors what are the best foods according to his particular constitution, place and time”.

Source 4: Rambam on healthy eating

1. Rambam: Mishneh Torah: Hilchos Deos 4:2

"One should not eat until his stomach is full. Rather, [he should stop when] he has eaten to close to three quarter's of full satisfaction”

Source 5: Rambam on sleeping well

1. Rambam: Mishneh Torah: Hilchos Deos 4:4

"Together, day and night make up [a period of] twenty four hours. It is sufficient for a man to sleep a third of this period; i.e., eight hours. These should be towards the end of the night, so that there be eight hours from the beginning of his sleep until sunrise. Thus, he should rise from his bed before sunrise.

Source 6: Rambam on fructose and other sugars

1. Rambam: Mishneh Torah: Hilchos Deos 4:11

"One should always avoid fruits. He should not eat of them in quantity even [when] dried and, it goes without saying [when they are] fresh. When they are not sufficiently ripe, they are like swords to the body. Carobs, too, are always harmful.”

Source 7: Rambam on exercise and lack of exercise

Rambam: Mishneh Torah: Hilchos Deos 4:14-15

14. They have given another principle with regard to physical well-being: As long as one exercises, exerts himself greatly, does not eat to the point of satiation and has loose bowels, he will not suffer sickness and he will grow in strength. [This applies] even if he eats harmful foods.

15. [Conversely,] whoever is idle and does not exercise, or does not move his bowels when he has the need, or is constipated, even if he eats the proper foods and takes care to follow the rules of medicine, will be full of pain for all his days and his strength will fade away.

Overeating is like poison to anyone's body. It is the main source of all illness. Most illnesses which afflict a man are caused by harmful foods or by his filling his belly and overeating, even of healthful foods. This was implied by Solomon in his wisdom: "Whoever guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from distress" (Proverbs 21:23); i.e., "guards his mouth" from eating harmful food or eating his fill and "his tongue" from speaking [about things] other than his needs.

Source 8: Follow the Rambam?

Rambam: Mishneh Torah: Hilchos Deos 4:20

"Whoever conducts himself in the ways we have set forth, I will guarantee that he will not get sick throughout his life…. He will not need a doctor and his body will be in perfect shape and remain healthy all his life."

Warning: Rambam is not saying that you should not go to a doctor if you feel ill; actually the opposite.

Source 9: Habits

Rambam: Treatise on Asthma 13:51 (also see Guide to Perplexed 1:31 - on habit)

"One of the most powerful forces of human nature is habit, irrespective of whether these are actions or preconceived perceptions…. For instance, a person might choose bad foods to which he is accustomed over good foods to which he is not accustomed¹ [even though it is the less correct choice].”

Source 10: Body: preserving to serve Hashem; not desecrating it as it is a desecration of Hashem

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (32:1) as a source for the obligation to aspire for good health: “Because possessing a healthy body is among the ways of Hashem, for a sick man cannot know or comprehend anything of Divine knowledge, therefore a person must distance himself from things that damage the body, and to cling to ways that heal and maintain the body. Of this the verse states, ‘Guard yourselves very carefully.’”

Radvaz (commentary on Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 18:6) explains that a person’s body is not his own property, but the property of Hashem.

WARNING: Equally: there are texts warning us not to do damage to our bodies by under-eating or doing harm to them. My diet had to be sustainable and was a change of diet and lifestyle… It involved eating properly… and fits well with:

Tzelem Elokim text:

Gen 1:26–28

And G-d said: 'Let us make man in our image/b'tsalmeinu, after our likenesss/kid'muteinu; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.' And G-d created man in His image, in the image of God He created him, male and female created He them. And God blessed them; and God said to them: 'Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creepeth upon the earth.'

Gen 5:1–3

This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that G-d created man, in the likeness of G-d made He him. Male and female created He them, and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. And Adam lived a hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth.

Gen 9:6

One who spills the blood of man, through/by man, his blood will be spilled, for in G-d’s image/tselem He made man.

Source 11: Mind: how do we change it

Like everything else in Judaism: we look at other areas of Halakhah: food, Kahruth etc. and apply it to Rambam’s rulings and science’s idea on unhealthy foods and unhealthy lifestyles:

What I did:

- Declared all dangerous foods ossur.

        • Allowed myself b’shishim / b’rov in certain everyday products
        • Pray then exercise: its in the Talmud to do it that way around: wise man is challenged
        • Worked out ways to train my mind to do long runs
        • Looked for support from professionals, family and friends
        • Look after my body, wanting to live longer was my main motivation
        • Reward: is not in the food or the exercise but in the achievement of being able to better, fitter, clearer and more able to look after myself, my family, my community and others…