Monday, May 4, 2020

Kashrut and Health

Rough notes on my comments on the Portion of Shmini and Health

Prompted by " Itzik Hasini", a Chinese teacher of Hebrew who has been documenting life in China during the virus: I  wish we had wise laws such as yours. What is permitted, what is forbidden to eat. All this would not have happened! Your Torah is very wise.”

This Shabbat- Parshat Shmini, among other things, has the first extensive list of permitted and forbidden animals.( Lev 9 and following).
Since we don’t eat bats and pangolins, maybe he Is on to something.

But are we really healthier? Plus and minus-

From  JTA — On the UK Jewish community: There are about 250,000 Jews in the United Kingdom. They account for only 0.3% of its population. But the coronavirus has killed 44 known Jewish victims so far — about 2.5% of the total U.K. tally.
That means British Jews are overrepresented by a factor of eight in their country’s death toll from COVID-19.
On the other hand:

In Italy, an epicentre of the new coronavirus outbreak, the death rate at the end of March stood at a sobering 11%. Meanwhile in neighboring Germany, the same virus led to fatality rates of just 1%. In China, it was 4%, while Israel had the lowest rate worldwide, at 0.35%.

Oddities on Jewish Life expectancy

Israel ranked eighth overall with 82.5 years on average, coming just behind Italy and Iceland. Japan ranked first overall with an average life expectancy of 83.7 years. The United States had an overall average of 79.3 years.


Paradox- Wealth does not = health:

"it’s generally accepted that the well-to-do live both better and longer lives than the poor. Like with other low-income people who eat what they can afford, rather than what’s good for them, the diet of haredim (ultra-Orthodox) is said to be less than wholesome. Also, as a group, they don’t seem to do much physical exercise. Many are obese.

And yet, according to the State of the Nation Report 2015 by the Taub Center, a leading research institute in Israel, life expectancy among haredi men is said to be three years higher than in the rest of the male population. And haredi women live 18 months longer than other women.

[Except when there is a coronavirus epidemic]


“ Religious people live four years longer than atheists, study finds
Abstinence, meditation and social ties may all be a factor in increased longevity

Alex Matthews-King Health Correspondent -Wednesday 13 June 2018 20:15

Religious people live on average four years longer than their agnostic and atheist peers, new research has found.The difference between practicing worshippers and those who were not part of a religious group could be down to a mix of social support, stress-relieving practices and abstaining from unhealthy habits, the authors suggest.
So- let’s go back over a century, in the US, when most Jews were poor! January 21, 1905 LONGEVITY OF JEWS. JAMA. 1905;XLIV(3):222-223. doi:10.1001/jama.1905.02500300054010

It is claimed that of all classes of New York City's population, the Jews are the longest lived. Considering the manner in which the majority of the Jewish population of our great cities live, this is a remarkable showing, if true. The poorer Jews, as a rule, are rigid followers of the Mosaic law, and this would indicate to some extent the excellence of the sanitary provisions of that ancient code. Insurance men, however, it is alleged, while recognizing the temperance of the Jews as a factor, are inclined to think that this longevity is a result of natural selection, the weaker elements of the Jewish race having been gradually eliminated during centuries of persecution. There is still another possible factor to be considered. For centuries the Jews have become acclimatized, so to speak, to city life, and therefore may represent the class most resistant to such environment.


Not just Jews

The Hispanic paradox, or Latino paradox, also known as the "epidemiologic paradox," refers to the epidemiological finding that Hispanic and Latino Americans tend to have health outcomes that "paradoxically" are comparable to, or in some cases better than, those of their U.S. non-Hispanic White counterparts, even though Hispanics have lower average income and education. (Low socioeconomic status is almost universally associated with worse population health and higher death rates everywhere in the world.)[1] The paradox usually refers in particular to low mortality among Latinos in the United States relative to non-Hispanic Whites.[2] First coined the Hispanic Epidemiological Paradox in 1986 by Kyriakos Markides, the phenomenon is also known as the Latino Epidemiological Paradox.[3]
[They have fewer fatalities now with COVID]

How about the next best thing to Jews--7th day adventists

RELIGION 07/31/2014 12:15 pm ET
What Seventh-Day Adventists Get Right That Lengthens Their Life Expectancy
By Ryan Buxton
Statistics have shown that religion makes people happier, but it turns out it can help you live longer, too.

In an attempt to “reverse engineer longevity,” Dan Buettner has spent years researching the parts of the world where people live much longer than average.. . .  but there is one long-living group stateside. It’s the Seventh-day Adventists, who live an average of 10 years longer than the American life expectancy of about 79 years.
. . . what Seventh-day Adventists do right. That includes eating a plant-based diet and having “a social network that reinforces the right behavior.” Their religious beliefs are also a big help, he said. “They take this idea of Sabbath very seriously, so they’re decompressing the stress,” Buettner said. “About 84 percent of health care dollars are spent because of bad food choices, inactivity and unmanaged stress, and they have these cultural ways of managing stress through their Sabbath.”

Acharei Mot and Kedoshim : A psychoanalysis of the purpose of their surface contradiction between ritual and the ethical/spiritual

Acharei Mot and Kedoshim : A psychoanalysis of the purpose of their surface contradictions
between ritual and ethical/spiritual.

These are the rough notes to my discussion on this topic on this weeks Torah reading of the combined portions of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim, Leviticus 16-20.

You can follow my oral comments directly by following this link and start at 1:40:00 on the timeline.
A link to my discussion on May 2

Where is purification found? In ritual or in ethics? Do we need one to get to the other? Does one stop the other?

All of Leviticus up to this portion-ritual pollution and purification
 First portions- the order of sacrifices. Then- a mysterious death of two sons of Aaron for unknown sin. Then, ritual pollution through childbirth, skin diseases, bodily fluids, pollution through impure animals.

This leads us now to this portion: the key theme- purification of Aaron, the priests, and the people on Yom Kippur. Note the progression.

“The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of the LORD.
The LORD said to Moses: Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come at will into the Shrine behind the curtain, in front of the cover that is upon the ark, lest he die; for I appear in the cloud over the cover.”

Two goats are taken:
“He shall then slaughter the people’s goat of sin offering, bring its blood behind the curtain, and do with its blood as he has done with the blood of the bull: he shall sprinkle it over the cover and in front of the cover.”
“Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat; and it shall be sent off to the wilderness through a designated man.
Thus the goat shall carry on it all their iniquities to an inaccessible region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness.”

Then we wrap it up:

It is clear that purification needs the strange ritual that we come to know as “scapegoat”, seir la-azazel. The goat sent to “AzAzel.” Anyone’s; guess what it originally meant. Ez-azal-the goat has gone, or Azaz-el, The force or divine entity of Azaz, the goat demon.

It is clear that what is recorded here is a ceremony that far predates the Torah, that has its parallels in many societies. Impurities happen and we do not know why, and purification takes place by this ceremony. So it would seem.

The human being is complex- not a rational entity-an entity with feeling, imagination, creativity. In the literature of psychology- also, an entity driven by inner guilt, anxiety, fear. Freud used the ancient Greek myths because they provided the sounding board for human behavior over the centuries. The story of Oedipus- the hero has no clue of his sin. He is innocent. He has fallen into a state of sin-murdered his father and married his mother, because he is a hero, not because he is a villain. He must fall into this act of sin because it is fated for him at birth. Freud found this the appropriate metaphor for repressed desire for the mother and anger at the father, something that he felt was at the root of all civilization. That is the grounds for all ancient civilizations, and, Freud felt, was at the root of modern civilization as well.

Now, back to Yom Kippur- our sins are sins that we have fallen into by just being people. They overwhelm and cripple us- that is the core theme of Freud’s psychotherapy.It is through ritual actions that we are able to shake off our demons-Seirim- the goat-demons- send them off to the wilderness, sacrifice to them no more.

But now,we now have two new elements: 
#1- The cleansing is from God, not from the ceremony of the goats
“For on this day atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you of all your sins; you shall be clean before the LORD. “
#2 – Two actions are needed by the people- a complete Shabbat and “ self-denial” – ve-initem et nafshotyechem.
 It shall be a sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall practice self-denial; it is a law for all time.”

This is what Freudians would call “Catharsis”. From the Greek word for Purification!

Now, we move to the formation of the adult, from the pagan child to the responsible adult.
The text then goes on to intentionally forbid sacrifice to the “ seirim”, the goat-demons, that same “Azazel.” It then prohibits categorically, the ingestion of blood as the source of life. ( Ch 17)

Finally, it calls for a sexual discipline, a restraint on with whom or what we have relations with, very clearly because these are acts, like the sacrifice to the demons, that are associated with pagan ritual—the Kedeshah ( from the word"Kadosh", sacred)– both female and male prostitutes of the pagan temples.( Ch 18)

Clearly, Leviticus  has shifted Yom Kippur from a magical purgation of demons to a spiritual connection to God and is working to disconnect the people from all that has been associated with pagan cults.

Now, the next portion makes full sense. From the ritual purification , we can get to the moral purification: Ch 19 Kedoshim, which has the most famous line that Jews and Christians share, "Love your neighbor.".

Referred to as the Holiness Code:Till now, attaining holiness has depended upon the Cohen. Now, it is shifted to the people: 

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
Lev 19:  Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy.

Of the missed wheat or the fallen fruit” you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I the LORD am your God. “

You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall fear your God: I am the LORD.

You shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your kinsman fairly.

Do not deal basely with your countrymen. Do not profit by the blood of your fellow: I am the LORD.

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the LORD.

Together with these are religious regulations, which all are carefully designed to keep the people away from paganism, and loyal to God.

So, you can see the careful progression from what is ritual to what is moral/spiritual.

 Now, here is the question: Can we cut out the middle man, can we cutout the ritual aspects of religion and retain only the moral and spiritual aspects?

Judaism has always adopted a  position of “miztvoth ben adam lemakom” and “ben adam leadam”. Commands toward God, and commands toward our fellow.

God can do without us- why not just focus on our moral obligations? Is that the final step to becoming the mature adult?

Couldn't we skip what we know as halakhah, the burden of religious observances.

 It was on this very issue that early Christianity split with Judaism: For example, Paul, in Galatians: 

10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”[e] 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.”[f] 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.”[g] 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”[h]

So, for the early Christian, the observance of the Torah, which Jesus never denied, became a stumbling block.

For the Jew, it was the system that leads to binding one to God and to elevation.