Project Genesis

Mitzvos (Commandments)

Personal Health and Hygiene

Question: What are the specific needs that people who follow Judaism have in relation to personal care?

Answer: I’ll assume by “personal care” you’re referring to the full complement of activities associated with health and hygiene that are required by Jewish law.

There is one verse in the Torah that aptly sums up Judaism’s attitude towards health and hygiene, namely, “guard yourselves and carefully guard your souls” (Deuteronomy 4:9). This is the quintessential guideline: one should take care of one’s own health needs in order to be fit to serve G-d.

Because the paradigm of health and hygiene changes as cultural and medical practices shift and progress over time, the practical application of this commandment also changes. For example, smoking and eating fatty foods were once considered to be health-promoting activities. Today, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are quite the opposite. The commandment mentioned above creates an obligation to stay away from behaviors that are unhealthy, and in an auxilliary way, to be aware of current research; you can’t fulfill this commandment in the year 2006 by implementing the medical practices of 1906.

Recommendations for health and hygienic practices appear in the Talmud, as well as in the writings of Medieval scholars (such as Maimonides, who was an expert physician) and later Jewish legal authorities. Some of these recommendations may contradict modern-day health practices (although many do not); we are generally enjoined to heed the orders of modern-day health practioners. But the main idea is for one to zealously guard one’s physical health, primarily so that one can serve G-d with a sound body and mind.

All the Best,

Rabbi Azriel Schreiber 

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