Jewish tradition has never been known for shying away from embarrassing topics. In fact, religious Jews recite a blessing thanking God for creating humans with orifices and cavities. A sacred life, after all, requires healthy internal plumbing.
But that’s only the beginning of Jewish bathroom talk. The sages also examined which foods were harmful and beneficial to digestion. For instance, they cautioned that consuming “coarse bread, new beer and vegetables” would not only “increase feces” but would also remove “one five-hundredth of a man’s vision.” And while garlic fought off “parasites in the bowels,” “woe” awaited the stomach of the frequent consumer of turnips. But on the upside, eating dates may well banish “evil thoughts.”
Not all rabbis have been as comfortable with the nitty-gritty of bodily functions. In the modern era, Satmar Rebbe Joel Moshe Teitelbaum’s hygiene rituals, like the inordinate amount of time he reportedly spent in the bathroom in the attempt to realize a state of total purity, were arguably more aligned with a Gnostic worldview than it was to Jewish tradition (if not signs of OCD). Nonetheless, Judaism remains a tradition open to engaging matters scatological and eschatological alike.
November 6, 2013