Allah’s Divine Diet – OpEd


Scientific evidence keeps accumulating that following a religious diet religiously is good for both body and soul. BBC news (August 19, 2015) reports that even light and moderate drinking of alcohol could increase the risk of cancer according to a study in the British Medical Journal that looked at two large US studies involving more than 100,000 adults. These findings reinforce the health message that people should limit how much they drink and have frequent alcohol-free days and always remember there is no guaranteed safe level of drinking alcohol.

About 40% of cancers diagnosed in the UK each year – over 130,000 in total – are caused by avoidable life choices including smoking, drinking alcohol and eating the wrong things, according to a study that was published in the British Journal of Cancer in December 2011.

Tobacco is the biggest culprit, causing 23% of cancer cases in men and 15.6% in women. In total about 100,000 (34%) of all cancers are linked to smoking, diet, alcohol and excess weight.

For men, the best advice appears to be: stop smoking; eat more fruit and vegetables; and become more like Muslims who do not drink alcohol because for men, 4.6% (7,300) of all cancer cases were linked to alcohol.

Thank God, Allah has long had a diet that is good for humans both physically and spiritually. That diet is found in the Torah and in the Qur’an. Over many centuries the various legal schools have developed God’s diet somewhat differently within each religion and between the three religions, but the basic principle has always been retained. The Bible states: “Humans should not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3 and Matthew 4:4) and the Qur’an states: “Eat of that over which the name of Allah has been mentioned, if you are believers in His (three) revelations.” (Qur’an 6:118)

All animals must eat to live. This is a law of nature. Most animals only eat plants or other animals. Only a minority of living creatures are omnivores. And of all omnivores only one animal voluntarily restricts its diet because of a commitment to follow God’s Divine Diet: human beings.

I am a faithful Jew submitting to the will of God, because I am a Reform Rabbi. As a Rabbi I am faithful to the covenant that God made with Abraham – the first Hebrew (Genesis 14:13) Jew, and I submit to the commandments of the covenant that God made with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai.

As a Reform Rabbi I believe that Jewish spiritual leaders should modify Jewish law and tradition as social and historical circumstances change and develop. I also believe we should not make religion difficult for people to practice by adding an increasing number of restrictions to the commandments we received at Mount Sinai.

During the six centuries between the birth of Jesus and the arrival of Prophet Muhammad in Yathrib (Medina), almost all Jews became Orthodox Jews. Orthodox Rabbis added many extra prohibitions to Jewish law and most Jews became increasingly strict in the observance of the laws of Kashrut (dietary laws).

Orthodox Rabbis did not follow the principle of Prophet Muhammad as narrated by his wife ‘Aisha: “Whenever Allah’s Apostle was given the choice of one of two matters, he would choose the easier of the two, as long as it was not sinful to do so, but if it was  sinful to do so, he would not approach it.” ‘Aisha also said: “Whenever Allah’s Apostle ordered the Muslims to do something, he used to order them to do deeds which were easy for them to do”.

These are lessons Prophet Muhammad taught 12 centuries before the rise of Reform Judaism in the early 19th century. Although most Jews today are no longer Orthodox Jews, if the Jews of Muhammad’s time had followed these teachings of Prophet Muhammad, Reform Judaism would have started 1,400 years ago. (In the U.K. Reform Jews are called Liberal Jews. Reform Jews in the U.K.are what we in North America call Conservative Jews.)

Like all diets, a Kosher Diet and a Halal Diet must be followed daily, to be effective. Like all diets, and all forms of exercise, the more frequently you fail to keep your Kosher-Halal Holy Diet, the less you will benefit from it.

Food and drink are the most important single element of animal life. But unlike all other animals  humans do not live by bread alone. Our act of eating is invested with psychological and spiritual meanings. Muslims will recognize in the following paragraphs the many ways both Islam and  Judaism share ini the philosophy of Allah’s Divine Diet.

The Torah asserts that we should  “EAT! BECOME SATIATED/SATISFIED! AND BLESS THE LORD!” (Deuteronomy 8:10) This is how I, as a Reform Rabbi and a Muslim Jew interpret these words.

EAT! Humans, like all animals, need to eat in order to live, but unlike all other animals some humans will not eat certain foods that other humans will gladly eat. This universal human trait proves that “humans do not live by bread alone, but humans may live on anything that God decrees.” (Deuteronomy 8:3) Thus by periodically not eating at all (fasting) Jews, Muslims and Christians live by God’s words. Torah and Qur’an command a moderate path between on one hand simply killing and eating anything you want, and excessive fasting and/or rejecting broad categories of food such as vegetarians and vegans do.

BECOME SATIATED/SATISFIED! If we only eat foods that we enjoy, we end up with a physically unhealthy diet. Obesity accounted for over 30,000 deaths in the year 2,010 and it gets worse each year. Our natural tastes do not lead us to good health. Maximizing enjoyment in the short run leads to disaster in the long run. Self-discipline leads to longer life. Religious self-discipline leads to a higher spiritual life. If you eat your fill you will become satiated. If you eat according to God’s decrees you will become satisfied.

BLESS: The Rabbis rule that we should say a blessing even if we eat only a small piece of bread the size of an olive. If that is all you have, be grateful you have that. One person can be satiated and not be satisfied, while another can be satisfied yet not satiated. “Who is wealthy? Those who are satisfied with what they have.” (Avot)  The blessing after the meal is a Mitsvah (a Jewish religious duty) from the Torah.

The Rabbis also ruled that we should say a special blessing before we eat. This blessing ends “who brings forth bread from the earth.” This phrase, from Prophet David’s Zabur (Psalm 104:14) is preceded by “who makes the grass spring up for cattle” to remind us every time we eat that we are part of the animal world and need to be considerate of their needs too. Thus it is a Torah Mitzvah (duty) not to eat until one’s domestic animals have been fed. (Deuteronomy 11:15)

THE LORD: We should also thank the cook, the baker, the miller, the farmer and everyone else involved in producing our food. But the four fundamental elements for producing food are sun, rain, earth and seed; and none of these four elements do humans create. Usually we are so caught up in using the end products that we forget our dependence on the fundamentals that are created by Allah. That is why we so blithely harm our environment. This blessing before eating helps us remember what life is really based on, and why we should be both grateful and reverent to God.

The dietary rules in Islam and Judaism serve as spiritual exercises to strengthen a person’s religious soul. Doing them will help make you a more spiritual and healthy person. If you do follow your own religion’s diet with the intention of submitting your will to God’s will, it will help you become a better Jew or Muslim.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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