Bread: The Staff of Life

The importance of diet in the preservation of health was recognized by the Rabbis, and the Talmud has many passages which deal with articles of food that are wholesome or otherwise. Bread seems to have been literally the staff of life.

Thirteen things are said concerning bread eaten in the morning.[1] Bread will:

  • protect you from the heat;
  • protect you from the cold;
  • protect you from injurious spirits;
  • protect you from demons;
  • make you wise if you are simple, and help you win a lawsuit;
  • help you learn and teach Torah;
  • cause your utterances to be listened to;
  • cause your learning to remain with you;
  • ensure that you breath does not exhale a bad odor;
  • ensure that you are attached to your wife and do not lust after other women;
  • destroy all tapeworms in your system;
  • drive forth envy; and
  • cause love to enter.
  • one more roll

    The intention is that if a man starts the day with a nourished stomach, he will be able to think more clearly and do his work efficiently; it will also put him into a cheerful frame of mind. The same thought is expressed in the remark: "Before a man eats and drinks he has two hearts: after he has eaten and drunk he has but one heart."[2] In the Hebrew system of psychology "heart" is the seat of intelligence; and the saying indicates that an empty stomach has a disturbing effect on the mind and interferes with concentration of thought.

    The bread should be made of fine wheat flour. "Barley flour is injurious by creating tapeworms."[3] It should also be eaten cold: "There is a saying in Babylon that hot bread has fever by its side."[4]

    Great stress is laid on the advice that to derive the fullest benefit from eating bread, salt must be added to it and water drunk after it. Salt and water are indispensable to life: "The world can exist without wine but not without water. Salt is cheap and pepper dear; the world can exist without pepper but not without salt."[5]

    The rule advocated is: "After every food eat salt, and after every beverage drink water, and you will not come to harm [through illness]. He who has partaken of any food without eating salt, or drunk any beverage without drinking water, will be troubled during the day with a bad odor in his mouth and at night with croup."[6] One Rabbi counseled: "He who makes his food float in water [by drinking a large quantity of water with his food) will not suffer from indigestion. Another stated: "There are eighty-three diseases connected with the bile which can be counteracted by eating bread with salt in the morning and drinking a jug of water."[7]

    Bread and salt constituted the ordinary meal of the poor, both morning and evening. Meat was regarded as a luxury and must have been seldom tasted by the poor classes. The bulk of the people lived mainly on a vegetarian diet, and several Talmudic discussion debate the wholesomeness of a diet whose staple food is vegetables. One passage declares: "Woe is the body through which vegetables keep constantly passing,"[8] meaning a body whose staple food is vegetables.

    Supporting one particular opinion that vegetables are harmful when eaten uncooked, another passage reads: "A disciple of the Sages is not allowed to reside in a city where no vegetables are to be had. From this is to be inferred that vegetables are wholesome, but there is another teaching: Three things increase feces, reduce stature and take away a five-hundredth part of the light of a man's eyes: bread made of coarse meal, freshly-made intoxicating liquor, and vegetables!"[9] In the parallel version,[10] the reading is "raw vegetables" and the text continues: "three things decrease feces, raise the stature and bring light to the eyes: bread made of well-sifted flour, fat meat and old wine."

    *        *        *

    So there you have it folks, the unbeatable Talmudic recipe for a healthy mind and body. Let's summarize:
    1. Be sure to eat bread every morning;
    2. Eat your bread with salt and a jug water.
    3. Make sure it's of fine, well-sifted wheaten flour (not barley);
    4. Eat your bread with well-cooked vegetables, and with fat meat... although, know, it really couldn't hurt to get a second opinion.

    [1] Baba Mezia 107b [back]
    [2] Baba Batra 12b [back]
    [3] Brakhot 36a [back]
    [4] p. Shabbat 4b [back]
    [5] p. Hor. 48c [back]
    [6] Berakhot 40a [back]
    [7] Baba Kama 92b [back]
    [8] Berakhot 44b [back]
    [9] Erubin 55b [back]
    [10] Pesahin 42a [back]
    From Everyman's Talmud: The Major Teachings of the Rabbinic Sages, by Abraham Cohen.
    © 1949 by E.P. Dutton, reprinted by Schocken Books, 1995. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher.



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