What does the Torah say about Angelina Jolie?

With Rabbi Garry WAYLAND.

Angelina Jolie, having lost her mother and grandmother to cancer, recently made a decision that captured the world’s admiration, raising awareness of cancer, preventative therapy and the role genetics play in our lives.

Having tested positive for the mutant BRCA1 gene, she felt that a double mastectomy was the only way to sensibly deal with her genetic predisposition to developing cancer. The Torah mandates that we not only look after our bodies, but also that we take proactive steps to protect them.

The Rambam, (Spain, d. 1204), one of Judaism’s most famous and influential rabbis, who also served as a doctor, writes in his Treatise on Asthma that the foremost duty of care of a doctor is to advise on how to remain healthy.

Rambam says that just as the Talmud (Bava Metzia 31a) rules one has to build a dam to prevent damage to prop- erty, so too is one obligated to prevent illness. Angelina, in undergoing the operation, was acting to the Torah’s accords: taking cutting-edge medical advice to preserve her future health.

However, in an age that af- fords so much value to beauty, these choices may not come easy to some. Showbiz is a world that is often preoccupied with physical attraction, in which spiritual and moral qualities are relegated to second place. The Torah is replete with references to beauty – whether it is in descriptions of Biblical figures such as Rachel and Joseph, or to the beauty of Israel and Jerusalem. King Solomon, in his paean to the Jewish woman, Eishet Chayil (Proverbs 31), qualifies the value of beauty: “Grace is false, and beauty is empty, but a God-fearing woman will be praised…”

The commentaries explain that grace and beauty are, ab initio, worthless; however, the “God-fearing woman will be praised” – for these as well.  Beauty is only skin-deep if it is skin-deep. If it reflects an inner beauty, a sense of self-worth and of the majesty of the Divine within, then it is something to be truly praised.

When you choose health, or any other refined value, over beauty, you are making a profound statement that beauty is to be used, and is not an end in itself. This is a lesson that Hollywood needs to learn, and I hope that Angelina helped convey.