The Ladder: Jewish Mindful Food Rules
What’s Chewdiasm you may ask? In Drop-Dead Healthy, A. J. Jacobs talks about a food movement based on chewing slowly. In an NPR interview about his book, he says, “They say that we should be chewing 50 to 100 times per mouthful, which is insane. I tried that. It takes like a day and a half to eat a sandwich.” Jacobs decided not to eat that slowly yet acknowledges that the “basic idea is right.” Eating slowly helps us eat intentionally. But Judaism has even more to say than Chewdiasm about mindful eating.
Here are ten Jewish principles – or, if you like ten commandments (more like ten helpful recommendations) – of mindful eating on a ladder of ascents from morning to night that have emerged from texts I’ve studied for many years. Principles of eating are different than diets. Diets tell you the what of eating – what you can and can’t eat. Re-focusing on mindful eating is not about what but about how. How we eat reflects our spiritual core more than what we eat.
These ten principles are prefaced by a Jewish text in English and Hebrew and English and what I’ve learned from these sources of wisdom. Feel free to add or to create your own. I have tried to put these principles into everyday practice. When I fall short of these aspirations, I remind myself that every day presents a new chance to be my best self.
A Mindful Ladder of Jewish Eating
1) “Wake up in the morning like a lion, ready to serve one’s Creator who awakened the day.”
(Shulkhan Orekh O.H. 1:1)
יתגבר כארי לעמוד בבוקר לעבודת בוראו שיהא הוא מעורר השחר
I will start my day with infectious enthusiasm and a ferocity for life. I will also start my day with a healthy breakfast.
2) “When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Lord your God…” (Deuteronomy 8:10)
וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ וְשָׂבָ֑עְתָּ וּבֵֽרַכְתָּ֙ אֶת־יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ
I will invite moments of gratitude multiple times a day by saying blessings over food. It’s the pause that refreshes.
3) “Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty.”
מַחְשְׁב֣וֹת חָ֭רוּץ אַךְ־לְמוֹתָ֑ר וְכָל־אָ֝֗ץ אַךְ־לְמַחְסֽוֹר
I will take the time to prepare food in advance to make good choices, and I will eat slowly and with intention.
4) “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (Isaiah 12:3)
וּשְׁאַבְתֶּם־מַ֖יִם בְּשָׂשׂ֑וֹן מִמַּעַיְנֵ֖י הַיְשׁוּעָֽה
Water represents everyday holiness and is the source of all life. I will drink 60-100 ounces of water a day.
5) “A person should always eat and drink a bit less than what he or she has.” (Talmud BT Hullin 84b)
לעולם יאכל אדם וישתה פחות ממה שיש לו
I will practice restraint. I will eat what’s on my plate, leave a bit over and not go up for seconds.
6) “The fruit of the tree was good to eat.” (Genesis 3:6)
כִּ֣י טוֹב֩ הָעֵ֨ץ לְמַאֲכָ֜ל
I will eat one piece of fruit or nuts between meals, reflecting on nature making focused blessings to savor these gifts.
7) “She has set her table.” (Proverbs 9:2)
אַ֝֗ף עָֽרְכָ֥ה שֻׁלְחָנָֽה
I will set the table nicely for each meal. Where I eat matters.
8) “Do not follow your heart and eyes out of your desire.” (Numbers 15:39)
וְלֹֽא־תָתֻ֜רוּ אַחֲרֵ֤י לְבַבְכֶם֙ וְאַחֲרֵ֣י עֵֽינֵיכֶ֔ם
I will not tempt myself buy buying food I should not be eating or having food I don’t really need to eat in front of me.
9). “If you do what is right, will it not be good for you? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7)
הֲל֤וֹא אִם־תֵּיטִיב֙ שְׂאֵ֔ת וְאִם֙ לֹ֣א תֵיטִ֔יב לַפֶּ֖תַח חַטָּ֣את רֹבֵ֑ץ וְאֵלֶ֙יךָ֙ תְּשׁ֣וּקָת֔וֹ וְאַתָּ֖ה תִּמְשָׁל בּֽוֹ
I will not let my short-term desires topple my long-term goals. I will not eat anything after supper. I am stronger than my desire.
10) “Watch over yourself very carefully…” (Deuteronomy 4:15)
וְנִשְׁמַרְתֶּ֥ם מְאֹ֖ד לְנַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶ֑ם
My body is holy. I am made in God’s image. I honor what is divine in me when I take good care of myself.
Eating mindfully is more than self-care. It’s a lived articulation of our relationship to food, to self, to nature and to God.
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