Healing and the Rabbinic Diet - Berakhot 44
It has been said that “one cannot argue about taste,” but it was clearly NOT said in a Talmudic rabbinic academy – today’s page offers plenty of suggestions. “Rab says: a meal without salt is no meal.” Or “R. Jannai said in the name of Rabbi: Any food in a quantity equal to an egg, an egg is better than it” (though another argues that a boiled egg is not better than the same amount of boiled meat). A small salted fish can be deadly if not fully roasted and eaten on the 7, 17th, or 27th day of its salting without also drinking beer/liquor (shakhra). One food is good for the teeth and bad for the bowels, while another is bad for the teeth and good for the bowels. And in the Rabbinic version of “you are what you eat,” greens will turn you sickly green (kol yerek khai morik), and small foods (not fully grown) will keep you small. Eating the (formerly) living gives life, and eating from close to the source of their life does as well.
While wordplays are clever, and the advice is heartfelt, its scientific value is often unproven. It is true that food can have healing effects, and that traditions have sometimes preserved the wisdom of experience. Here the Talmud laments one who eats primarily vegetables without meat or wine – not simply because it was a sign of poverty, but because such a diet could have negative effects. Did they know about protein and nutritional value and modern medicine? No; for example, they still refer to bloodletting as an ordinary event. Food can heal, but tradition is a mixed teacher that must be constantly re-evaluated in light of our own knowledge of the world.
Rabbi Adam Chalom