Love Your Body campaign is still going strong, so I figured I’d post something about Judaism, body image, and eating disorders.
Judaism and Food Judaism has an extremely close connection with food. Many Jews keep kosher, the set of extensive dietary laws established by the Torah and later expounded on by the rabbis in the Talmud. For example, Jews cannot eat pork or mix meat and poultry with milk. Jews also have to say blessings before and after eating, even before chewing gum, and ritually wash their hands before eating bread. There are also only certain brands that are considered kosher, usually marked by a little U within an O or a K within a shape like a triangle or tablet.
Most Jewish holidays are associated with some sort of food. Shabbat (Sabbath) begins on Friday nights and ends on Saturday nights; that means four big, celebratory meals every week. The most commonly-known examples of annual holiday foods are probably latkes with Hanukkah and matzah with Passover. Jewish comedian Alan King even joked that the summary of every Jewish holiday is “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!”
Judaism, Eating Disorder, and Body Image Gen. 1:26 explains that God made humankind “in Our image,” referring to God and the ministering angels. Rabbis have used this verse to show that we must take care of our physical bodies because they encase our souls, which are made in the image of God. “Only take guard of yourself and greatly guard your soul,” Deut. 4:9 says. This verse cautions people to take care of their bodies. Rabbis use this verse as the source of disapproval for anything that will harm the body, like drugs and smoking. It can also be applied to eating disorders: because it harms the body, Deut. 4:9 certainly frowns on of it.
Despite holy texts’ encouragement to take care of our bodies, eating disorders have become an increasing phenomenon in the Jewish community. “In general, the occurrences of eating disorders among observant Jews are usually lower,” Orthodox women’s issues author Gila Manolson said. However, due to the strong presence food has within Judaism, the prevalent pressure to obtain good marriages, and all of the external demands for women to be thin, the number of eating disorders within the Jewish community has gone up.
There are many things being done to remedy the situation, however. The Orthodox Union, the arbiter of all that is kosher (and the organization whose kosher symbol is a U within an O), made a documentary called “Hungry to Be Heard.” It explores the reasons behind the increasing statistics of eating disorders in the Jewish community and methods to prevent and treat them.
Many Jewish day schools have integrated eating disorder awareness into the curriculum. The Ramaz School in New York includes a unit on eating disorders in their high school health curriculum. The Hebrew Academy of Nassau County and Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway both have the “Full of Ourselves: An Empowerment Program for Girls” in their seventh and eighth grade curricula, a creative writing program that teaches self-awareness and healthy nutrition. Many ultra-Orthodox girls’ schools, like Bruriah High School for Girls, feature units on eating disorders and fostering healthy body images.
While the Jewish community has a long way to go regarding treatment and prevention of eating disorders and bolstering positive body images among teenage girls, there are definitely important steps being taken today.