The Authentic Jewish Paradigm for Health

by Rivka Levy

In a time when ‘Jewish’ and ‘Doctor’ seem to go together like strawberries ‘n cream, you could be forgiven for thinking that Western-based medicine is a Jewish invention. Crack open any list of alumni for pretty much any Med school, and a whole bunch of ‘Cohens’ and ‘Weissbergs’ and ‘Steinmans’ will leap out at you. But what’s so ironic is that the authentic Jewish view of health and wellbeing couldn’t be further from the current Western medical model, which believes and teaches that the body’s health depends purely on biological and chemical factors.In the West, most leading medical thinkers, researchers and practitioners have increasingly reduced human health to one big chemical equation. How the patient actually lives, eats, and acts before they get sick is barely examined, and often completely ignored.

But the authentic Jewish view of health has always made physical health a function of a person’s character traits (ie, their emotions and their behaviour), and their soul. In the Torah, Miriam got struck with the disease of tzaraat (often incorrectly translated as ‘leprosy’) for speaking badly about her brother, Moses. A little later on, in the book of Kings, King Azaria also got smitten with tzaraat, as a direct result of doing something God told him not to do. A couple of generations’ later, King Hezekiah found himself at death’s door because he’d refused to get married, knowing that his children were going to be evil. When the prophet Isaiah came to admonish him,Hezekiah agreed to marry and raise a family – and he immediately recovered from his illness, and lived another 15 healthy year.

You can sum it up like this:

  • When a person has a strong connection to God, their soul is healthy.
  • In turn, their spiritual state has a direct impact on their emotional state and their behaviour (more on this in a minute).
  • In turn, their emotional and mental state has a direct impact on their physical health.

In Judaism, all three elements have always been bound up together, and a person’s health has never been separated off into ‘body’ and ‘soul’.Holistic health professionals, including naturopaths and acupuncturists, have known this basic truth for aeons; in those circles, it’s a ‘no brainer’ that a person’s mental and emotional state affects their physical health, and vice-versa. But the holistic health approach, while generally closer to the authentic Jewish model, is often also flawed, because it usually stops short of encouraging people to develop a strong, vibrant relationship with God.

You often find a lot of nebulous, fluffy stuff about ‘reaching out to the universe’, as well as some ideas that are, frankly, straight out of Tractate Avoda Zara (Idol Worship), which is why observant Jews have often, rightly, given many holistic disciplines a wide berth.

But you tell me: Is a healing tradition that preaches that people are purely physical, and that the body is all there is, any more ‘kosher’, for believing Jews?

Before attempting to answer that question, let’s first go back to the authentic Jewish model, and see how each part fits together.

Why do you need a strong connection to God, in order to be spiritually healthy? The answer should be obvious, because the Jewish soul is a spark of the Divine. The more the soul is in touch with its Source – via mitzvot, via prayer, via a visceral understanding that God is real, and exists in every aspect of our world and our lives – the stronger and happier it will be.

When the soul is disconnected from God, it gets weak and miserable. As the prime animating force of the body, when the soul doesn’t have enough Godjuice, the first place this problem shows up is in a person’s state of mind and emotions.

They’ll feel disappointed; angry; frustrated; anxious; depressed; scared; worried (and a few other thousand things, besides.) When people are experiencing these types of emotions on a regular basis, it can profoundly affect their behaviour: they can have difficulty sleeping; they can have difficulty eating in a balanced, healthy way; they can find it hard to concentrate, or to discipline themselves. In more extreme cases, they can develop a range of social problems, and other ‘mental health’ issues.

If left unchecked, these negative emotions start to affect a person’s physical health. For example, its common knowledge even in Western medical circles that angry, stressed people have more heart problems; and that people who can’t sleep at night and who don’t eat properly often suffer from a range of debilitating physical issues.

Western medicine says: take a pill, and it solves all the problems.The authentic Jewish approach says: check what’s got out of kilter in your life, and reconnect to God. Then, if the problem doesn’t resolve, still take the pill if you want to – but know that your health is much more than a physical issue; it’s also affected by your spiritual and emotional state.

The more you put God firmly in the middle of your health care approach, whichever model you choose to follow, the happier and healthier you’ll be. And that’s truly just what the (Jewish) doctor ordered.


Untitled presentation (5)

About the Author

Rivka Levy is the Founder of the Jewish Emotional Health Institute (JEMI), promoting God-based holistic healing for mind, body and soul. Find her on the web at: