Photo Credit: Michael Kaufman
Michael Kaufman at the gym

Title: Am I My Body’s Keeper? Torah, Science, Diet, and Fitness – for Life
Author: By Michael Kaufman
Publisher: Urim Publications

 

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Am I My Body’s Keeper is octogenarian Michael Kaufman’s ninth book. Kaufman writes prolifically on Jewish thought and this book is no different because keeping fit and healthy is a Jewish precept.

Venishmartem Meod Lenafshoteichem (Devarim 4:15).

Am I My Body’s Keeper? The answer is yes. But I still recommend you read the book.

Health, weight loss and fitness books are among the best sellers, yet we find it really difficult to apply their advice. The reason is because we focus on the end result and not the motivating factors. Michael Kaufman’s emphasis is on the mitzvah of being healthy so that we can live longer with a better quality life and therefore be able serve Hashem better and longer. Life is the most valuable gift we have been given, and so the mitzvah of maintaining our health is paramount in fulfilling our mission on earth.

“The laws regarding health and fitness are elemental components of the Torah; they are religious practices because they make it possible to live as a Jew.” P. 93

Every sage and scholar from the Rishonim to the Rambam to the Chofetz Chaim have emphasized the need for a healthy life, including good food, exercise, plenty of sleep and fresh air and eschewing those things – like smoking, alcohol and a sedentary life – that harm us. Kaufman emphasizes the lethal perils of the chair, our greatest enemy to longevity. He himself spends most of his waking hours walking, standing or moving.

It took me a while to get through the book because of the author’s repeated exhortation to get up and move. It’s hard to read a book and get up and move simultaneously. But this book, more than any other, did get me to get up and move.

Good health encompasses many aspects – diet, exercise, hygiene, intellectual and social stimulation, exercise, positive thinking and… exercise. Eating healthily and being physically active is not a lifestyle choice, it’s a Torah imperative, a mitzvah like any other, and this mitzvah, which is too often ignored, is not only a prerequisite for serving Hashem, it’s a prerequisite for life. The Jews survived many plagues and much disease because of their focus on cleanliness of both body and soul.

Kaufman sprinkles a compendium of little-known historical facts. For example, did you know that one of the ways Conversos were recognized as practicing Jews during the Inquisition was because of their hygiene, as opposed to their Christian counterparts, who valued denigrating the body as holy.

The advice in the book is practical and in many ways self-evident but most of us do not implement it. Am I My body’s Keeper is motivating and inspiring because it is a heartfelt call for action. Quite literally.

Unlike other authors, Kaufman gives a range of tools and alternative strategies for dieting, exercise and mindset to achieve health and fitness goals that are realistic and far-reaching, and he encourages even minor changes in lifestyle that can have a major affect. It’s not an all or nothing proposition and there are many factors involved. He also avers that it’s never too late to reverse aging and ill health.

Over and over again Kaufman extols the virtue of being physically active. And the 85-year-old scholar and fitness enthusiast walks his talk. He walks 12,000-18,000 steps a day (around 7-10 km), works out at the gym, stands instead of sits, and is in perpetual motion.

Jews, as a people know how to be healthy and happy. They have the prescription in the Torah. But sometimes they forget and need reminding.

“I wrote the book to stimulate people (especially “our” people) to get up and move. If it succeeds in getting only one person to change his or her lifestyle and thereby live longer – and healthier – I will be amply rewarded,” says Kaufman.

So I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to fulfill the blessing to live until-120! So get moving and buy his book.

Am Yisrael Chai!

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