Health Issues, Part II
Chapter 4, Laws 9-17
As I stated in the introduction to this chapter, the Rambam's fourth
chapter is devoted almost entirely to health issues. As we saw earlier,
the Ramban views maintaining one's health as a religious obligation;
accordingly, he devoted a chapter of his work to medical advice. Although
a fair measure of his advice is archaic, I decided for completeness' sake
to translate this chapter in its entirety, offering virtually no comments
of my own.
 There are foods which are particularly unhealthful, which one should
never eat -- such as large, old, salted fish, old salted cheese,
mushrooms, old salted meat, grape juice (lit., "wine from its vat"), and a
cooked dish which was left out so long it emits its odor. The same is true
of any food which is foul smelling or exceedingly bitter. Such are as
poison (lit., "a drug of death") to the body.
There are other foods which are harmful but not as bad as the first ones.
Therefore, a person should eat them only in small quantities and on rare
intervals (lit., "after many days"). He should [also] not accustom himself
to making his meal of them or regularly eating them together with his
meal. [These are foods] such as large fish, cheese, milk 24 hours after it
was milked, meat of large oxen and large he-goats, beans ("pul"),
lentils, "safir" (Jastrow: a species of bean), barley bread, matzah,
cabbage, leek, onions, garlic, mustard, and radishes. All these foods are
harmful. It is not appropriate for one to eat them except in very small
amounts during the rainy season. But not during the rainy season one
should not eat them at all. Beans and lentils alone one should eat neither
in summer nor in the rainy season. Gourds / pumpkins ("delu'in") one
should eat a little of in the summer.
 There are [other] foods which are harmful but not as much as the
[above]. They are: waterfowl, small doves, dates, bread roasted in or
kneaded with oil, flour sifted so finely it does not even have a hint
(lit., "scent") of bran,
fish brine, and pickled fish-hash ("moris"). One should not eat such foods
excessively. A person who is wise, who subdues his evil inclination, and
who is not drawn after his desires, and who [as a result] does not eat any
of the aforementioned foods at all (except for medical reasons) is
 One should refrain from [eating] tree fruits. He should not eat too
many of them, even dried and certainly fresh. Before they ripen entirely
they are as swords to the body. So too, carobs are always harmful. All
sour fruit are harmful. One should eat only a bit of them in the summer
and in hot climates. Figs, grapes and almonds are always beneficial, both
fresh and dry. One may eat of them as much as he wants (lit., "all his
need"). Nevertheless, one should not eat them constantly even though they
are the best of all tree fruits.
 Honey and wine are bad for children and good for the elderly,
certainly in the rainy season.
One should eat in the summer two thirds of what he eats during the rainy
 One should always attempt to have his bowels loose, a little bit
close to diarrhea. An important principle in medicine is that whenever a
person does not have a bowel movement or does so only with difficulty,
many sicknesses result.
How should one loosen his stomach if it has become a little tight? If he
is young, he should eat every morning salted, spiced, boiled vegetables
with oil, fish brine and salt and without bread. Alternatively, he should
drink the broth of cooked beets or cabbage together with oil, salt and
fish brine. An older person should drink honey mixed with warm water in
the morning. He should then wait about four hours and eat his meal. He
should do this day after day for three or four days if needed until his
 Another principle is stated regarding the body's health. Whenever a
person works and exerts himself greatly when he is not full and his
stomach is loose (i.e., not constipated), he will not get sick and his
strength will increase -- even if he [previously] ate unhealthy foods.
 [Conversely], anyone who relaxes (lit., "who sits securely") and does
not exert himself or someone who delays going to the bathroom or who is
constipated, even if he eats healthy food and takes care of his health,
all his days will be with aches and his strength will diminish.
Excessive overeating (lit., "heavy eating") is as poison to a person's
entire body. This is a basic principle regarding all illnesses.
Most illnesses which afflict people are only the result of unhealthy food
or because a person fills his stomach and excessively overeats -- even
healthy foods. This is as Solomon said in his wisdom, "[One who] guards
his mouth and tongue saves his soul from affliction" (Proverbs 21:23).
Namely, [this refers to] one who guards his mouth from eating unhealthy
foods or from [over-]satiation, and his tongue from speaking [matters]
other than his needs.
 The way to bathe is that a person enter the bathhouse every seven
days. He should not enter shortly after eating nor when he is hungry but
rather when his food begins to be digested. He should wash his entire body
with hot water [but] not so hot that it burns the body. He should wash his
head alone with water which does burn the body. Afterwards, he should wash
his body with warm water, then with [progressively] cooler water until he
washes with cold water. On his head, he should not use warm or cool water
One should not wash in cold water in the rainy season. He should not wash
until he sweats and wears out (lit., "crushes") his entire body. One
should not spend too long in the bathhouse, rather after he sweats and
wears out his body, he should rinse off and leave.
One should check if he needs the bathroom both before entering the
bathhouse and after leaving it. He should likewise check himself regularly
both before and after eating. Likewise both before and after having
relations, before and after exerting oneself, and before and after going
to sleep -- in total ten times.
 When a person leaves the bathhouse he should dress and cover his head
in the outer room so that he won't be affected by cold air (lit., "the
cold wind will not prevail over him"). Even in the summer one must be
careful [in this regard].
One should wait after leaving until his soul is restored, his body is
rested, and the heat has left him. He should then eat. If he sleeps a
little upon exiting the bathhouse before eating it is exceptionally good.
One should not drink cold water upon exiting the bathhouse, and it goes
without saying that he shouldn't drink in the bathhouse. If one is thirsty
when he departs and cannot wait (lit., "cannot restrain himself"), he
should mix water with wine or honey and drink.
If one anoints [himself] with oil in the bathhouse during the rainy season
after rinsing himself off it is good.
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and Torah.org