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Dear Heshy: Why are frum Jews so unhealthy?

Dear Heshy,

I am sure you can relate to this, as you and I are both very physically active and health conscious.

I have been bothered for years by the lack of healthy eating and physical activity of the frum community, I have wondered when people would start calling the overwhelming amount of out of shape people in the frum community the Obesity Crisis – it seems a lot more important than the visiting day issues that people have one day a year – yet it hasn’t gotten much attention anywhere and I just found out why. 

My wife and I had some folks over for Shabbos and they practically had a heart attack (by looks of the kids I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t have one already) that we didn’t have any soda. They seriously thought we were joking when we brought out water and iced tea, when he drank the iced tea the husband had to keep himself from spitting it out as he proclaimed “what the heck is this stuff” I told him that was what iced tea tasted like and he said he had never had an iced tea mix that tasted like that. We got to talking and it turns out he had no idea that iced tea was the same as hot tea – he had always thought it came in powder form.

So I have these three kids begging their mother to run home and get them soda and my wife and I are dumbfounded. The entire family was severely overweight and I could see the mothers cheeks swaying side to side and she assured them that the quinoa was the same thing as rice.

So like any frum Jew who’s mad at something I called up my rebbe and he told me some shocking news. He explained that due to the halachic issues surrounding looking good, many of poskim have actually discouraged exercise and that since being healthy led to tznius issues it was subtly discouraged in daily life.

In fact (you’re going to love this Hesh) did you know that certian frum events were instituted to make sure that we kept from being truly healthy, they didn’t want girls to focus on their image – midos are everything – events such as sukkah hopping, shabbos parties and pekalach throwing at bar mitzvahs were all created to get children to become used to noshing – I was shocked and I figured your readers may get a kick out of my story.

My Rebbe also explained that being healthy was out of the price range for most people. He failed to mention that by cutting red meat out of their diets they could save loads and that by buying bulk grains and shopping at farmer’s markets these families could save a lot of money, but I guess that may be assur because it would put the frum pizza industry out of business and frum people may actually have to think of fun things to do besides eat greasy food together.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • sergeant J

    Smells of satire, sounds a little too close to home for many folks out there who will eventually get the strength to lift their greasy fingers to the keyboard..

  • sergeant J

    Maybe this is part of the shidduch crisis?

  • Anonymous

    I eat quinoa, run and eat healthy during the week. On Shabbas I want to eat my F-ing cholent.
    Once I went to this family for shabbas who moved to NY from the west coast. Shabbas lunch they bring out the crock pot, I start salivating until they open it up and inside is vegetable soup!!!! WTF!!
    Then they brought out bagels.

  • Anonymous

    it is satire of the prissy lower-middle class health puritans.

  • There is a well done shiur looking at sections of Rambam’s Mishne Torah which pertain to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

    http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/747701/Rabbi_Lawrence_Hajioff/Oy_it_Hurts:_What_Judaism_says_about_Health_and_Nutrition

    The obesity prevalence in the frum community and preferences for good tasting high calorie foods runs parallel to elsewhere. I’m the doc who does the damage control after the glucose rises. My office population crosses all ethnicities and most incomes. Food is relatively cheap, purchasing power high, and is generally the first priority on spending income.

    Are the people in my shul more likely or less likely to waddle in than are the members of the Conservative or Reform congregations? There doesn’t seem to be a lot of difference. Ironically, all the clergy except one seem trim and vigorous, the one obese one being the most frum of them.

    There is a biography of Reb Yaacov Kamenetsky published by Artscroll about ten years ago. Reb Yaacov lived to his mid-90’s, survived thyroid cancer in the 1950’s, and scheduled for himself exercise time, despite a busy schedule of personal study, director of Torah Vodaath, and demands on his time as a leading posek. As a young adult immigrant to Toronto in the 1930’s where he was a congregational rav, he had to decide whether bicycles for girls was permitted. He had two daughters, allowing them each a bicycle as a means of maintaining health.

    I would think sloth and gluttony would be assur but maybe not.

  • tesyaa

    Just like fast food is the cheapest and obesity is rampant in the inner city, so it is with the frum world. Cheap cuts of meat for cholent. Cheap cold cuts. Fresh fish is expensive? And fresh produce? Expensive. At every frum school event I see trays of iceberg salad – bought at Costco for $2.49 for a huge bag. It’s the only cheap produce available.

    People would rather spend their money on tuition, kollel, vorts, and weddings.

    • Cheap cold cuts???? Where? Cold cuts around here are insanely expensive!

      • tesyaa

        I mean the packaged stuff with fillers. And hot dogs with fillers. You know, cheap “meats”.

    • eytan

      Pay me now or pay me later.
      A poor diet will catch up with you sooner or later.

  • s

    thats ridiculous, if anything the opposite is true. the gyms are filled with frum people, there have recently been events with riders or runners making it up the the catskills from nyc or nj. this writer sounds like they have an agenda to make everyone eat like they do. some of us like to eat healthy but still allow ourselves some treats. and although i dont keep soda in the house, i ALWAYS make sure to buy it for company.

    • How can they call themselves frum when they are into the way they look and being bittul torah

  • It might also be a NY (and area) thing. In most OOT frum communities, I have noticed that food is generally MUCH healthier, including at kiddushim at shul. For example, big kiddushim at my shul often have sushi and not kugel. Green salads and not gefilte fish. Cut veggies with a dip instead of fried stuff. Etc.

    • tesyaa

      That’s because OOT is closer to normal America.

      • Joe

        Normal America is obese.
        And as much as I enjoy making fun of New York, I don’t know what Mark’s talking about, but I haven’t noticed that at all. People everywhere enjoy and eat unhealthy foods.

  • shimmy

    This post is absurd. While I do not debate that there is an obesity and health issue in the frum community, it is definitely not like the “rebbe” in your story says.
    Nobody in the frum world is teaching women or men that it is a mitzva to be unattractive. I have never heard of such a thing. There are many mekoros in the gemara about looking attractive.
    The even larger “eating disorder crisis” shows what pressures there really are in frum schools.

    • A. Nuran

      It’s satire, obviously. Hint: What’s the name of the blog 😉
      But like all good satire it gets its punch from being very, very close to real life.

      • Thank you for clarifying

        • Anonymous

          It’s clearly satire, but I’m having a hard time figuring out exactly what it is that your satirizing here, Hesh. 90% of the frummies I know where I live are amazingly fit in comparison to the general population. Shabbos is typically all about the fattening food, but the rest of the week, not so much. So are you spoofing on the thin frummies, the unhealthy Shabbos diet, or what, exactly? I think of myself as a reasonably intelligent person, and I really enjoy most of your posts. This was amusing. I mean obviously, events such as sukkah hopping, shabbos parties and pekalach throwing at bar mitzvahs were NOT created to get children to become used to noshing. And it’s highly unlikely that anyone doesn’t know what real iced tea is. But I’m still a little puzzled as to the general target of this satire. Please clarify.

          • Levy Bernstein

            Where do you LIVE? That place sounds awesome.

  • Perfection

    “He explained that due to the halachic issues surrounding looking good, many of poskim have actually discouraged exercise and that since being healthy led to tznius issues it was subtly discouraged in daily life.”

    This is Bull Sh!t. There is not a single Rav who would say that!

    • Dave

      Scroll up to the top of the page. All the way up.

      Ok, now scroll back down and tell me what the name of the Blog is?

      • Perfection

        Ok, then I guess the motzei shem ra is fine.

  • Rabbi

    Time to get a new Rav.

    My Rebbe told his chassidim to walk instead of driving , and if they smoke, they should be kicked ou of the yeshiva (mind you, that doesn’t seem to stop most of them).

    And talking about middos, why isn’t it bad middos to act as that family did? Glad they didn’t come to my house, we don’t even serve iced tea on Shabbos, just cold water.

  • the other shim

    While this post might have had the ring of truth a 10 or 20 years ago it’s simply not true today. If anything the frum are much more health conscious than they used to be. I think this might be due to the influx of baalei teshuva who go from being vegan health food nuts to frummies but keep their culinary tendencies.

    • A. Nuran

      I’m not sure about this. Really not sure. It certainly isn’t true overall. And my best educated guess from back when I studied population and food supply is that you’re noticing a few dramatic outliers against a background that’s worse than it was then, if anything.

      • the other shim

        Nuran, I don’t think you honestly have any frum friends other than through websites like these. There are lots of frummies that absolutely fanatical about their health to the point of being annoying. It’s like they take their tendency for chumras to apply to their eating habits as well.

        • A. Nuran

          And you are wrong, but that wouldn’t be the first time.

          • the other shim

            Ooooh. I’m so offended. To be quite honest you’re as closeminded as the chareidim you bash. Who the hell knows how you got so bitter, but it isn’t healthy. Hatred can eat a person alive if you let it.

            • Anonymous

              oh puh-lese. complacency, ignorance, and total lack of self-awareness causes cancer.

              mo aren’t even frum. haredim hate you as much as they hate him, they only want your money.

  • jewish healthy mother

    I love how some people don’t get this is a joke. It actually makes it funnier.

  • A. Nuran

    Americans in general eat poorly, don’t exercise enough, get less sleep than they need, have less vacation time than any developed country and are under a lot of stress.

    We have a national food economy which makes it easy to eat lots of salt, fats, HFCS and total calories without getting enough vitamins and minerals. Healthy food, exercise and sleep are more expensive in time and money. People substitute stimulants and more food for rest and exercise. As a result we have obesity, hypertension, cholesterol and Type II diabetes epidemics.

    For the urban frum (are there any rural frum left?) it’s got to be worse. Bigger families take time and come with heavy extra expenses. There’s less time off for off-the-books jobs. The ever-increasing dietary restrictions put an extra load on the observant. A tendency to discount science makes education on the issues more difficult.

    And we’ve got a few Jokers in our genetic deck.

    It got brought home to me when I found out my blood pressure and learned that my sisters – both distance swimmers and marathoners who are obsessive about eating well – share the problem. They also have a condition which turns out to be not uncommon among Jews, particularly Ashkenazi, stubborn high cholesterol which does not respond well to drugs or diet.

    So yes, we have America’s health problems in spades. What we should do about it I don’t know. Eat better, try to exercise and get sleep.

    Mostly I think education is the key. The sort of public health outreach that we had when this country had a public health system would do wonders. Maybe the strong community organizations and charities could make flyers or brochures a small part of what they do? Adding exercise to Jewish schools where it’s been neglected would help a lot. Getting good habits early is absolutely imperative. And it would help kids learn better during class.

    • Mahla

      Do they have P.E. classes in yeshivas or B.Y. like they do in public schools? Or is it discouraged because it would take time away from Torah learning, I wonder?

      • tesyaa

        EXCELLENT question, Mahla! Phys ed is kept to a minimum for the reason you guessed. I think in public school we had phys ed once a day. My girls in yeshiva have it once or twice a week. But my boys (in public school) don’t have it every day, either, so things have changed.

        • Mahla

          That’s unfortunate because frum Jews are already outlaying so much money for their children to have a religious education.

          I doubt many parents shelling out for multiple tuitions have extra cash just laying around to supplement with extracurricular sports activities.

          • Yochanan

            Mahla, can you answer this?

            Why is it that whenever I see a picture of Shia Muslims (I know they are Shia because of the caption), they always seem more “big boned” than Sunnis?

            • Mahla

              Huh! I’ve never noticed anything like that. It could be where I’ve lived vs. where you live when regularly seeing different Muslims.

              Most of the Muslims I know are Shia and most of them specifically hail from Irvine CA, so they’re 99.999% products of the Iranian diaspora. They’ve nearly all been in great shape physically. (I assume by “big boned” you are trying to find a kind way of saying “plump”?).

              However, those particular Shia Muslims (diaspora Iranians living in Orange County CA) tend to be much wealthier and more Westernized than most Muslim immigrant populations, so maybe that’s why I can only think of a few plump Shia Muslims I’ve personally known.

              • Sergeant J

                Yeah, it’s the Arab (mostly Sunni) Muslims I see that seem bigger.. Persians, in general , seem rather fit.. especially to 20-something lady types…. fit in the UK as well as US way..

              • Yochanan

                This is more of when I see the clerics than the average Joe Shiite. Maybe the turbans they wear give them a larger appearance.

                • Mahla

                  LOL! ;^D Yeah, the turbans and clerical robes may be adding a few pounds, but you could say the same about super-frum Jews, maybe they’re just padded up with the prayer shawls?

        • A. Nuran

          The ironic thing is that time spent exercising would lead to better, more thorough learning for a definite net gain.

          • Sergeant J

            Thought leads to questioning things…. Does the Frum world want people questioning?

          • Levy Bernstein

            Talmud, Gittin 67b
            Rav Yosef busied himself with a mill. Rav Sheshet busied himself with [carrying] boards, saying, ‘Physical exertion is great, for it warms its practitioner.’

      • the other shim

        We had gym once a week. One year gym was simcha dancing! I can’t dance at all and I spent the year skipping gym. Too embarrassing.

        • tirzah

          I almost forgot about Simcha dancing class- we had them in school and camp!

      • Going to write a small post on this

        • Guest

          Dude, whenever my wife is pissed off about not having so many friends, I usually say, “why don’t you round up some of the ladies at shul for a session of simcha dancing?!” I say it, thinking I’m just busting her chops, but not growing up frum I didn’t know that some schools ACTUALLY had simcha dancing for gym!

          You must post.

  • chaim

    The problem with the post is not that it is wildly inaccurate and exaggerated- its that its not remotely funny.

    to be funny, a piece has to be based on truth- this is so off-mark- for example you pay about 3 times the price at farmers markets as compared to your local store (the produce is sometimes better- often its equal or worse- but its never cheaper). Has the writer actually ever been a farmer’s market?
    Cutting out red meat by no means will lowers your food costs. There are a ton of really cheap dishes that use red meat (cholent, meatloaf, spagetti with meatsauce etc).

    It is true that many and maybe most charedi jews dont give a flyingf about their health. when size 44 wasit pants are just too painful to squeeze on- they simply move up to 46 inch waist.

    • Dave

      Actually, produce is often cheaper at the Farmer’s Market.

      A trivial web search (“produce prices farmer’s market versus grocery”) found this:

      http://www.seattlefarmersmarkets.org/ripe-n-ready/are-the-farmers-markets-really-more-expensive

      • Mahla

        Eugene has a great Farmer’s Market, but it’s annoying to have to pay for groceries in cash …. Otherwise we’d use it much more often since we already live downtown and it’s like 4 blocks from our house. As it stands, the hippie grocery store we usually shop at is at least as expensive.

  • Future Druggie

    In Monsey, all the women are super-duper-skinny.

  • WACKY MAC & CHOCOLATE PIZZA

    How about all the Jews on the upper West Side? Teaneck? East Brunswick? The Five Towns?

  • Even though this is satire I do think there’s an element of truth here. My sense is that the dividing line is between yeshivish and MO- yeshivish fatter, MO less so. Why might this be true?

    If you have a basically supernatural conception of reward and punishment (e.g. that you are Divinely rewarded for being frum enough and Divinely punished for not being frum enough) you are likely to believe that your physical health depends on being frum enough (by which I mean, good behavior in both the halachic and the broader moral sense).
    And if your physical health depends on your piety rather than your diet or exercise, why worry about diet or exercise?

    • chosid

      V’nishmartem m’od es nafshoseichem is a posuk. And our physical health DOES depend on the RSO – as does everything else. But the Torah teaches us to live within the world. Ain somchim al hanes. Staying fit and healthy is a chiyuv midoraisa.

  • Just Saying

    I find it rather ironic that frummies have no sense of health considering that girls must be at least a dress size 4 in order to qualify for a shidduch date. How do they manage with their poor eating habits?I guess in those circumstances you are given a heter, if not have a chiyuv to improve your appearance. You can let your belly hang out afterwards. They are doing a disservice to their shidduch prospects by not keeping track of their consumption. I heard anorexia is a prevalent problem among BY girls. Its not that difficult to connect the dots. People are indoctrinated to look good if they ever have hopes on getting married. Its interesting that the man’s rebbe was concerned about people looking fit lest it lead to sexual illicit activities. As a matter of fact, obesity can be counterintuitive to a relationship. I’ve heard stories about people cheating on their spouses for others in better shape. People turn to porn because they can’t stand the morbidly grotesque sight of their partners ( I’m not trying to make a case for porn addicts). I listened to a lecture where a Rabbi advised married couples to look presentable for their spouses in order to retain the sparkle. Even if it means adapting to a healthier lifestyle. He even goes further to castigate those who neglect their physical appearances. I think this guy should look for a more sensible Rabbi to seek advice from.

  • Rob

    It’s all about the carbs. We frummies eat so much sugar and starch in bagels, pizza, pasta, kugel, knishes, potato salad, matzo, challah, rugelah, babka, it’s no wonder we’re outa shape despite all that walking on Shabbos.

    I’ve never seen a green vegetable at a Shabbos table (too lazy to check for bugs?). There is no word for “cruciferous” in Yiddish or Hebrew.

    Pile on the brisket, rib-eye, turkey, chicken, lamb, beef-fry, the tuna salad, sashimi, egg salad. Then cut out the carbs and we’ll be back in shape in no time. We need a chain of kosher restaurants based on the Atkins diet.

    • Perfection

      Clearly you eat in the wrong places.

  • You know how most of the Jewish holidays came about:

    “They tried to kill us. They failed. Let’s eat”

    We should invent one dedicated to unhealthy Jewish food.

    • Debbie Far Rockaway

      Unhealthy Jewish food — Sounds redundant to me!

  • MonseySixPack

    My name says it all.

    • Mahla

      LOL! ;^D

      • MonseySixPack

        i really have a six pack.

        • Dave

          Sixpack shmixpack, pal.

          I worked my way up to a Pony keg!

        • A. Nuran

          Six pack or keg?

    • Debbie Far Rockaway

      Abs or beer?

  • tirtzah

    The community I grew up in was certainly not worried about health but almost as a rule the women were thin and the men started to get chubby about middle age. If fact the thin-ness became a problem and we had the (usually pre-shidduch) anorexia crisis. We had speakers and dr’s come to talk to us about nutrition. I don’t think it was ever as big a problem as they made it out to be, but the pressure to be thin can be high in the frum world too.

  • Green vegetables were scarce in Eastern Europe; this has led to most traditional Ashkenazi foods being made with animal flesh and potatoes. NOT very healthy! Also, many of yeshivish friends tell me they eat fleishiks every night of the week. Also NOT healthy!

    And sitting and shteiging is valued more than working out a few hours a week.

    • the other shim

      Tova, we’re from Detroit for f*ck’s sake. NOBODY can afford meat every night of the week!

      • Mahla

        We don’t eat kosher but we eat locally raised, grass-fed and organic … and we are DEFINITELY not eating meat every night of the week!

        I can’t even imagine how much money kosher families must spend on meat. I don’t think there’s even any kosher meat around where we live, but if there was it would probably be even more pricey than the meat we like to buy.

        • the other shim

          I don’t know where people got this idea that frummies eat meat every night of the week but it’s absolutely untrue. Kosher meat is waaaay too expensive for any family to afford it nightly unless they’re wealthy.

      • We must not know the same people, then.

        Most chareidi Jews I know around here eat chicken or turkey nearly every night of the week. This is something they’ve told me and not some snippet I’ve made up.

        • the other shim

          Charedi families with 10 to 12 kids can afford chicken or turkey nearly every night of the week? Where are they shopping?

          • Anonymous

            they keep chickens in their appartments

          • Why don’t you ask them yourself? They’re the ones who told me about it.

            In the meantime, lose the attitude.

            • the other shim

              I’d get rid of the chip off my shoulder if I were you. Your arguments against the frum are pretty facile.

  • FrumGer

    Whats up with all the yahoos that dont get that this is a fake letter wirtten by heshy?

    Also I must say Americans in general are totally unhealthy.

    Also I must say I try to exercise and eat healthy through out the week, But on Shabbes, I nosh on everything i can and get lots of sweet too. I really think its a mitzvah.

    In a lot of frum families i have noticed that the men are Fat and fugly, and the women are thin and well presented.. I wonder how that works? do the women just not care? I mean as a guy i have seen Male frummish guys beard peyos whole bit that look presentable, even handsome maybe. But then I see frummish guys with faces only a momma could love with one of those ” i dont have a real beard” beards, basically just 15 or so long scraggles on their chin, and fat… but with attractive wives. And to an extent i know the look past the looks stuff I mean i realize its Greek/ Roman culture that made people so obsessed with looks, but I always wondered- do they really not care at all that they are 120 pounds and their beshert is 350 with ground beef for a face. ? I never would ask to find out…. Do the men really not care either? I mean if I get even just a little over weight I feel totally uncomfortable.
    I dont spend time in front of the mirror or anything but I dont want to look like a big mess either.

    • A. Nuran

      Kind of like Iceland where (gross generalization) the women are beautiful and the men look like trolls?

  • Moe

    I live in SoCal. I only know one overweight frum jew. My wife keeps kosher and that’s what I eat at home. I can eat whatever I like when she’s not around, but I’m in good shape. I always thought that there aren’t any fat frummies ’cause kosher food tastes so bad. I won’t eat kosher red meat because it’s so tough and fatty compared to a nice NY steak. Not to mention twice as expensive for something that’s tough to get down and keep down. The wife mostly cooks chicken. I mean how can you mess up chicken? Then there’s the tasteless desserts at shul. They all look good, but how can you make anything that tastes good without milk? Bleccch! The worst sandwich I ever ate in my life was at the Kosher Subway in LA. I could only choke down one bite and I was hungry. All I can say is it sucks for you guys to never have tasted good food. Haven’t you ever wondered what non-kosher food tastes like?

    • Mahla

      Kosher food tastes bad?! But what about the (and I quote) “bagels, pizza, pasta, kugel, knishes, potato salad, matzo, challah, rugelah, [and] babka” Rob was talking about?!

      Oh my goodness, he had my mouth watering! ;^D

  • FrumGer

    I have have ate both, and I love kosher food….

  • zaftig mama

    Shabbos is not Shabbos without chulent, kugel, GOOD challah,kneidel, meatballs and shnitzel. Did I forget the sweet salads and dessert selection? That also goes for Yom tov and smachot, as well. So what if my blood type is shmaltz?You skinny people who judge are not going to live any longer, it is just going to feel that way. Heshy, enough with the hiking and the bike trips. Get your excercise running away from the anti semites while eating a pocketfull of kishka.

  • NotSoLonelyMan

    If I had to pin it on one thing, it would probably be stress, though lack of education about the value of nutrition (especially in Yeshiva schools) would be a close second. When people are stressed, cortisol is released, which makes people more hungry and causes an increase in blood sure. Eating is a way, though ineffective, to ward of stress and frum people are more stressed than any others overall. Between work, yeshiva tuition and community functions and pressures, they are probably the most stressed group in America so the weight gain is no surprise.

    A good article on stress and cortisol (by actual research scientists)
    http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/stresscortisol.html

  • Kate

    although I laughed through out the article because it was written humorously, the truth is really sad. I had no idea that any rabbis actually discouraged a healthy lifestyle. If that’s true, they seem to have forgotten the mitzvah of ‘venishmartem meod lenafshoseichem’. And people are really taken by surprise when a relatively young guy dies suddenly, leaving behind an entire sob story with his family. Hey, if I lived with the prevailing attitude of ‘munch-n-grow-who-the-heck-cares’, I’d probably be dead (or with serious health problems) by the time I hit 20. What the hell is wrong with people?! Any rabbi who thinks a girl has to look like the Amish in order to be ‘tzniusdig’ should take a flying leap.

  • Amercan111

    As a homecare nurse I’ve noticed that almost all of my Jewish patients are morbidly obese, diabetic, and eating diets loaded with refined carbs (sodas, baked goods, bagels), fried foods, etc. If a vegetable makes it through it’s smothered in a sugar or cream sauce. Is this a cultural thing?