Health, Nutrition & Torah: Shemot

| January 6, 2010

Courtesy Alexander Smolianitski (http://flickr.com/photos/smolianitski/)

Courtesy Alexander Smolianitski (http://flickr.com/photos/smolianitski/)

The Torah, also known as the Tanakh and the Five Books of Moses, is the wellspring of Jewish social justice activism.  Its passages engage advocates in the critical process of tikkun olam (healing the world) by raising provocative questions that address their role as participants in a global society.

Each book is divided into sections – in Hebrew, parasha (singular) or parashot (plural).  They offer vital instruction on the ways in which Jews can – and, indeed, are commanded to – contribute to the health and well-being of people from every faith and background all around the world.

This is the first in a weekly series utilizing traditional parashot as a springboard to discuss modern issues of health, nutrition & hunger. It opens Shemot, known in English as the Book of Exodus. The series is a wonderful parting gift from former MAZON marketing manager Heather Wolfson.

The Text:
2:5-9 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe in the Nile, while her maidens walked along the Nile.  She spied the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to fetch it.  When she opened it, she saw that it was a child, a boy crying.  She took pity on it and said, “This must be a Hebrew child.”  Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I got and get you a Hebrew nurse to suckle the child for you?”  And Pharaoh’s daughter answered, “Yes.”  So the girl went and called the child’s mother.  And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will pay your wages.”  So the woman took the child and nursed it.

The Context:
The book of Exodus begins setting the scene.  The people of Israel having moved to Egypt fleeing famine have settled and prospered.  The relationship outlined between the descendants of Joseph and Pharaoh continues to benefit the people until a new Pharaoh is appointed who did not know Joseph.  This Pharaoh sees the multitudes of Israelites as a potential threat to his reign and enslaves the people.

As an attempt at population control, Pharaoh instructs the midwives serving the Israelite community to drown any male baby in the Nile River.  Yocheved, an Israelite woman gives birth to a baby boy.  She instructs her daughter to place the child in a basket on the river in order to save his life.

Discussion Questions:
When you were a baby, did your mother breast-feed? If you are able to, talk to your mom! Why did she decide to breast-feed or not to breast-feed? If you have siblings, was this decision consistent? Do you know the benefits of breast-feeding?

What does Jewish tradition say about breastfeeding? Does your synagogue or Jewish Community Center offer space for mothers to breastfeed?

There are some that think that it is immodest to breast feed in public. Thirty-nine states have enacted legislation regarding breastfeeding. Find out what the laws are in your state. Is it permitted to breastfeed in public? Could a mother breastfeed if called to jury duty?

In your work place, are there any accommodations available to nursing mothers? If so, do all of the employees know about them? If not, how might you go about changing the practices? For more information about helping to make meaningful change, visit La Leche League USA or the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Post a comment below & keep the discussion going!

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