In loving memory of our dear Rosh-Yeshiva of Yeshiva-college, South Africa, Moreinu haRav Avraham Tanzer of blessed memory, and as we daven for a Refuah Shleima for ALL those ill with COVID-19 and other diseases
At the bottom of the previous daf, Rav Huna rules that a Talmid Chacham is prohibited from living in a city where vegetables are not available.
Rashi explains that this is because in places where vegetables are easily available, they are generally a cheap form of healthy food, which enables him to sustain himself easily and have more time to learn – (“טוב למאכל ונלקח בזול ויכול לעסוק בתורה”)
In our world of global trade, such a thing might seem hard for the Westerner to imagine, and we indeed daven that global supply of produce will continue uninterrupted despite the current pandemic, but in days prior to modern transport, storage and technology, this was simply not to be taken for granted- If a certain perishable species did not grow locally, it was usually simply not available .
Given that both Eretz Yisrael and Bavel were generally arid regions, making the availability of vegetables a requirement for one’s place of abode was no simple thing ,even in the “fertile crescent” region which can hardly be called lush by temperate and tropical standards.
Even if we could regard Rav Huna’s statement as non-authoritative halachically but more as a form of advice coded in the strong language of halacha, it certainly is a very strong statement about the importance of a healthy diet.
Although Rashi seems to understand that vegetables are not the ONLY healthy foods, and that the reason for Rav Huna’s ruling is that they are a cheap form of healthy food which will allow the scholar to maximize his learning time without having to work too hard to be able to afford it, the basic assumption that eating healthy food is an obligation remains.
The Gemara questions this ruling, not because of any doubt regarding the importance of having access to healthy food, but because of Tannaic statements that say that vegetables can actually be harmful.
It upholds Rav Huna’s ruling by distinguishing between different types of vegetables, different parts of vegetables, and different seasons (see similar discussions in Brachos 44b ), and whereas the correct approach of a Ben-Torah to specific health advice of Chazal requires its own post, the basic idea that Chazal required us to eat healthily is not open to debate.
The Rambam (Deos 4 ) codifies this idea, going a step further and claiming that the main source of illness is an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise, a claim which has stood the test of time and is largely borne-out by modern medical studies that list poor diet, lack of exercise, and other unhealthy lifestyles (such as smoking) as primary risk factors in most most serious diseases.
Those who attended Yeshiva College in Johannesburg can never forget the words of the school anthem “Rosh-Yeshiva we are for you, both in sports and back at school.”
Rav Tanzer זצ”ל always drummed it into us that we were always his representatives wherever we were and needed to try our best to make a Kiddush Hashem on the sports field as much as in the classroom.
He viewed sports and exercise as an essential part of life in order to maintain physical, emotional, and social health, and strengthen us so we could better carry out our spiritual duties, something that cannot be taken for granted amongst all Teachers of Torah.
As Chazal say (Kesubos 30a)- “הכל בידי שמים חוץ מצינין ופחים”- “everything is in the hands of heaven, except for colds and fever”- Rashi explains that these can sometimes come upon a person through negligence, presumably by not looking after one’s health properly.
Particularly during this time of lockdown and pandemic, it goes without saying that we all need to make an extra effort to look after our health, both by eating healthily and exercising as well as possible under the circumstances, and avoiding contracting or spreading the disease chalila.
With the right effort on our side, we can than daven with all our strength that Hashem keeps us all healthy, heals the ill, and brings a ישועה very soon!
These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.