Ancient Jewish Health & Wellness Traditions Still Practiced Today

May is American Jewish Heritage month! From ancient times to modern-day, Jewish tradition has always emphasized the importance of self-care and health. Even before the advent of modern medicine and science, many wellness practices were documented as divine commandments in the Old Testament, or Torah. In honor of Jewish heritage everywhere, here are a list of three ancient health practices that are still observed today:

1. Kosher Dietary Laws

The laws of kosher detail which foods and animals are permissible to eat and which are forbidden, are recorded in the third book of the Old Testament, Leviticus. According to Jewish tradition, these laws were given to Moses at Mount Sinai over 3,300 years ago. A large portion of the Jewish population, including 95% of Orthodox Jews in the United States still observe these laws today.

While there are many determining factors for food to be kosher, the preparation and consumption of meat and poultry are among the most regulated. Kosher law requires animals to be raised and slaughtered in a humane manner, with an emphasis on minimizing the animal’s stress and suffering as much as possible. The slaughtering process is highly specific and instantaneous, ensuring that death is quick and all blood is drained from the animal’s body, reducing the risk of foodborne illness. The animal is inspected for any physical abnormalities such as broken bones, heart or lung defects, and disease, which ensures that only healthy animals are used for consumption. This approach prioritizes the health and well-being of both the animals and the people who choose to consume their meat.

Kosher meat is clearly labeled and available for sale at most national grocery stores. The emphasis on humane treatment and well-being for the animals, along with the reduced risk of foodborne viruses and contagions, make the kosher diet a popular choice among health-conscious individuals and those seeking more sustainable food choices.

2. Ritual Baths

Jewish ritual baths, also known as mikvahs, have been used for spiritual and physical purification for thousands of years. A mikvah is a small “indoor pool” filled with fresh rainwater that meets specific size, depth, and water filtration requirements. Every Jewish community is required to have at least one mikvah. In Jewish tradition, men and women privately immerse themselves in the mikvah for a variety of reasons, including preparation for marriage, after menstruation or childbirth, conversion to Judaism, before holidays or for a sense of spiritual renewal and connection with God.

Although its primary purpose is for spiritual purification, the mikvah offers several health benefits, too. Hundreds of years ago, when regular bathing was not a common practice, the mikvah served as a means of personal hygiene and health. Before immersing in the ritual bath, mikvah-goers thoroughly clean and inspect their body to ensure that they are free of any dirt or impurities. Modern mikvahs are designed to enhance the overall experience, with suites for meditation, prayer, showering, and engaging in personal hygiene practices such as cutting nails, shaving and exfoliating the body. The overall experience can be compared to a spa-like environment, promoting mental and physical relaxation and emphasizing self-care. Visiting a mikvah can provide a spiritual and physical rejuvenation and reinforce the importance of self-care and alone time in one’s life.

3. Shabbat

The origins of Shabbat, the day of rest, can be traced back to the book of Genesis, when God rested on the seventh day after creating the world. For thousands of years, the day of rest has been a central part of Jewish tradition, with 40% of American Jews stating that Shabbat is meaningful to them.

For those who observe Shabbat, starting from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday, people disconnect from electronics including cell phones, TVs, and computers, and refrain from any activity that can be deemed as “work,” except for specific exemptions such as using medical devices or attending to emergencies. While traditional practices include attending religious services and praying during this time, Shabbat is a personal and unique experience for each individual.

Shabbat allows Jewish community members to take leisurely strolls outside, socialize with friends and family, enjoy home cooked meals and engage in activities that promote their overall relaxation. By disconnecting from the stresses of daily life, this day of rest reduces anxiety and promotes overall mental and physical health. The social connection and sense of community associated with Shabbat also helps reduce feelings of isolation, improve overall well being, and leaves individuals feeling rested and focused for the week ahead!

By prioritizing self-care and connection with community, ancient Jewish tradition continues to provide a valuable example for promoting mental and physical health in our modern-day society. Happy National Jewish Heritage Month!

Written by Basha Rubinstein

Basha currently works for Jewish Family Service of Greater Dallas and holds a degree in Journalism with a minor in Jewish and Israel Studies from University of North Texas.

Further reading:

-Take a look inside of Dallas’s newest women’s Mikvah from Jewish lifestyle influencer, Dalia Oziel:…


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