Does the Torah hold the secret to a healthier lifestyle?
The new podcast, Body & Soul, produced by the nonprofit Jewish Spiritual Literacy, or JSLI, seeks to answer that question for its listeners.
“It is a five- to 10-minute nugget of wisdom that comes from both ancient Jewish wisdom as well as modern medical, evidence-based science on the various aspects of the mitzvah of taking care of your health, in order to inspire, motivate and guide anybody who is looking for inspiration, motivation or guidance on living healthier,” said Rabbi Alexander Seinfeld, the executive director of JSLI, who created the podcast.
Seinfeld, who is working on the podcast with Dr. Daniel Grove, plans to make one episode of the podcast a week on Sundays.
The podcast, which officially began Oct. 24, is just one part of a larger JSLI project called Body & Soul, Seinfeld said. Other aspects of the project include a book that will be titled, “Body & Soul: The Torah Path to Health, Fitness and a Holy Life,” which he hopes to release in the next several months. The information in the podcasts will also be available in the book when it comes out.
The project as a whole was inspired by Seinfeld seeing many of his fellow Jews suffering and going to the hospital from preventable health issues, he said.
“It was breaking my heart to see people suffering for preventable reasons,” said Seinfeld, a resident of Baltimore. “I’m talking about heart attacks, I’m talking about cardiovascular disease, I’m talking about Type 2 diabetes, that includes several forms of cancer, walking with walkers and canes and wheelchairs or going to nursing homes. Not always preventable, but often, yes, preventable.”
Four or five years ago, Seinfeld recalled, he asked one of his neighbors about the man’s problems with obesity. The neighbor told Seinfeld he had tried to lose weight, but that it had proven very hard. Within six months, the man had a heart attack, and though he survived, the incident stuck with Seinfeld.
“[I] remember thinking, is there any Torah wisdom that could guide us on being healthier?” Seinfeld said. “Because the Torah is our book of wisdom for life.”
Seinfeld, who holds a doctorate in Jewish studies, has spent over eight years researching and writing about this subject, he said. He spoke with many dozens of rabbis and several medical doctors for their input on the topic. He ended up with more than enough information for the book he is currently working on, but realized that a book alone might not be the best way to reach people.
“I know that many people won’t read a book, for whatever reason, and I can’t just put out a book and think that, OK, that’s enough, after I can move on with my life,” Seinfeld said. “I need to find other ways of communicating the content to my potential audience.”
After someone suggested to him the idea of a podcast, Seinfeld got to work, he said.
When a local rabbi introduced him to Grove, who serves as assistant director for critical care at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital, Seinfeld realized that Grove would make an excellent partner for both the book and the podcast. Grove has written extensively on subjects such as weight loss, diet and exercise.
Grove’s book, “The Weight Loss Counter Revolution: The Science of Weight Loss,” was written “to give people real evidence and science-based information, not sort of fads and gimmicks,” said Grove, a resident of Baltimore’s Upper Park Heights neighborhood and member of Shearith Israel Congregation. “They can really learn and then they can be more successful.”
The podcast draws on Seinfeld’s knowledge of Torah and Grove’s knowledge of science and medicine.
“We took my book … and we sort of put it together with his,” Grove said. “So he took the Torah and the Jewish parts, and then he took from my book, we took the science and medicine part, and kind of combined the two.”
In addition to helping people live healthier, Seinfeld hopes his project will also help them live holier. He noted how, at many Jewish gatherings such as weddings or b’nai mitzvahs, it is common to see attendees eating in a manner that is less than holy, even if the food itself is completely kosher.
“One aspect of holy eating, and healthy eating, is eating slowly and mindfully and with self-control,” Seinfeld said. “And when people are presented with attractive, unlimited, all-you-can-eat, unhealthy, sweet food, and they fill their plate and they put it in their mouth without thinking about it, it’s not holy.
“Even if it’s kosher,” Seinfeld continued. “Someone who keeps kosher will say, ‘Well it’s kosher, I can eat all I want.’ No. It’s kosher, great, but you still should control what you eat, and how fast you eat.”
Seinfeld hopes that listeners to his podcast gain motivation and guidance on how to live a healthier life, and then achieve that life.
“Ultimately, I care that people achieve it, so if people get motivated and guided, but they don’t make the changes, then I wouldn’t feel so successful,” Seinfeld said. “I want people to be motivated and guided and actually become healthier.”