Bible says what? The first recorded case of anorexia nervosa…

Bible says what? The first recorded case of anorexia nervosa…

Senior rabbi of Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue Aaron Goldstein reflects on a modern issue with a progressive angle

Judaism is obsessive about food. It’s unsurprising, since our Israelite ancestors used food as one way to separate themselves from others – or dedicate themselves to their deity – through the laws of kashrut, garnished further by rabbinical law.

Add a pinch of worship through food offering; introduce with festivals replete with food (bar one when you afflict yourself through deprivation). Stir into the mix multiple (and regular) historical experiences of starvation… and let it stew.

The Biblical account of Hannah, Samuel’s mother, tells of her being tormented by her husband’s other wife for being infertile – “the other would taunt her, so that she wept and would not eat (I Samuel 1:7)”.

This is perhaps the first recorded case of anorexia nervosa, an hypothesis suggested by Isaac and Morty Schiff in their article of January 1998 titled “The biblical diagnostician and the anorexic bride”.

Now we come to think of it, if we do not live by bread alone, do we live by Jewish mother jokes – on the theme of suggesting how thin one is and the need to fatten up?

Have our more recent ancestors not been emaciated, while others stored supplies and others still plumped up?

In the Charedi world, the weights and waist sizes of mothers and brides are considered as factors for a successful shidduch; through those whose Judaism is defined by lox and bagels, Passover feasts, cholent or gefilte fish, where does a Jew with
an eating disorder turn?

Hanah Kingston, a student rabbi at Leo Baeck College, has raised all these linked issues through her rabbinic dissertation.

I look forward to her bringing this matter to a wider audience, so that we consider the particular “Jewish” traits, as well as those more generic.


υ Aaron Goldstein is senior rabbi of Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue


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