Introduction to the Rambam's health advice

    October-November 2009            
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The Rambam on Health

By Larry Fine

The Rambam, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon lived about a thousand years ago. Besides being one of the great codifiers of Jewish law, he was also a renown physician. His reputation was so great that he became the official physician to the sultan of Egypt. His views on health are recorded in his great book, the Mishnah Torah, in the section De'ot. It should be realized that although the life style a thousand years ago is different from ours, still there is much that we can learn from his advice.

It should be remembered that the following is only a brief excerpt from his extensive writings. This article is meant only as an introduction to his treatise on health and not as a fully documented translation. Readers who find this interesting and wish to pursue it further are encouraged to ask their rabbinical leaders to explain it in greater detail.

(Note: the letters, A., B. etc. refer to the paragraph number)

A. (He writes, explaining why he has inserted in a primarily halacha book, meaning a book on Jewish law…) the reasons for inclusion of health rules are that since it is a necessity to have a healthy body in order to serve G-d properly. It is impossible to understand anything of G-d in depth when one is ill therefore a person must distance himself from that which causes a loss of health and must accustom himself to that which promotes health. Never heat until one is hungry; never drink until one is thirsty and never delay using the toilet when one needs it. When one feels the need to urinate or defecate he should do so immediately.

B. A person should not fill his stomach but rather eat three quarter of what will fill his stomach. He should not drink water during his meal but rather a small amount and it should be mixed with wine. Once the food begins to digest in his stomach then he may drink what he needs to drink. He should not drink over much water even if the food has finished being digested. He should not eat until he has ascertained that he does not require relieving himself.

He should not eat until he has walked enough to warm his body or do some work or exercise. The general principle is to afflict the body strenuously each morning until the body is warm, then he should rest a short bit until he feels rested, then he should eat. It is beneficial to bathe oneself with hot water after exerting his body, then rest, and then eat.

C. When a person eats he should either sit in one place or lie on his left side. He should not eat while walking or riding, nor should he exercise or bounce around or stroll about until the food has been digested. Any one who goes walking about or exerts themselves after eating brings upon themselves illnesses.

D. The day and night are divided into twenty-four hours; it enough for a person to sleep one third; i.e. eight hours. He should go to sleep late enough so that his eight hour sleep will end slightly before the sun rises. In this manner he will arise slightly before the sunrise.

E. A person should neither sleep on his face (on his stomach) nor on his back but rather on his side. At the beginning of the night he should recline on his left side and at the end of the night on his right side. He should neither go to sleep immediately after his meal but rather three or four hours afterwards. He should not sleep by day.

F. Those foods which have a laxative effect such as grapes, figs, berries, pears, melons, squashes, and cucumbers should be eaten before all food and should not be eaten together with the main (grain) part of the meal. He should pause for a short period until they have left the upper tract and then eat the main part of the meal. Foods which are taxing to the stomach like pomegranates, apples, and the like should be eaten after the main meal but should not be eaten in quantity.

G. When a person desires to eat fowl and meat at the same meal he should eat first the fowl. If he desires to eat eggs and fowl together, he should eat first the eggs. Meat from a large animal and meat from a small animal, he should first eat the meat of a small animal. A person should always eat the lighter dish and afterwards the heavier one.

H. In the summer he should eat cool foods and not with much seasoning; and he should eat sour foods (pickled or with vinegar). During the rainy season (winter), he should eat warm foods with spices and he should eat a small amount of mustard. In this manner should he eat in hot areas and cool places.


from the October-November 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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