Progressively Speaking! This week: Public health campaigns such as Movember?

Progressively Speaking! This week: Public health campaigns such as Movember?

 Rabbi Danny Rich looks at a modern issue and offers the Liberal Jewish angle

Are you doing Movember?
Are you doing Movember?

Contributing to one’s health not only makes sense, but is a Jewish moral imperative which the rabbis of the Talmud derived from Torah itself.

The Deuteronomist (4:9) says: “Take care of yourself and guard your soul (life) well.” From this the principle that “one may not in-jure oneself” arises (Baba Kamma 91b).

Thereafter, Jewish tradition is replete with advice to care for oneself. Perhaps best known is the medically-qualified philosopher Maimonides, who noted: “We have a duty to avoid whatever is injurious to the body, and cultivate habits conducive to health and strength.” (Hilchot De’ot 4:1).

Turning to Liberal Jewish thought, in 1954, Rabbi Dr Israel Mattuck, Britain’s first Liberal rabbi, wrote: “When we do something which shows some moral weakness, the act is frequently condoned by the comment: it is human.  The use of ‘human’ in such contexts has given it a connotation of weakness.

“But there is another side to our nature. It is not only human to feel temptation, it is also human to resist. Every day men and women make sacrifices. By the power of the spirit they overcome the force of mere instincts.”

Reflecting on my own health, particularly on my current exercise programme and diet, Mattuck’s words flood back. I’m not alone, as for many of us it is both difficult – but possible – to take action that might improve our well-being.

Knowing that we have a Jewish obligation to be healthy, and conscious of how easy it is to fail, but how possible it is to succeed, I welcome gestures such as Movember. Campaigns of this nature often seem trite, but if they help fallible humans to take responsibility for their health then they too might be, in the words of the Psalmist (11:7) “a righteous deed which the Eternal One loves”.

Rabbi Danny Rich is senior rabbi of Liberal Judaism

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