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Is it proper to shun traditional fried foods on Chanukah (latkes, sufganiyot) because of health concerns (not due to any specific existing condition)?

 

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We live in interesting times. Years ago we ate many foods with nary a worry about health implications, and we survived. Today we overstress even regarding those foods that are seemingly harmless. Yet we do consume rice and rice ingredient products, lettuce, kale mustard and turnips, all foods that contain some level of arsenic. Now what could be worse than arsenic?

Still, it seems that current medical science does caution care in the amount of fried foods one consumes, and surely for people with certain medical conditions.

First of all, be aware that no one will receive malkos (lashes) if they don’t eat sufganiyot or latkes on Chanukah. Yet we have a rule (Beitzah 4b) that we are to take care not to belittle the customs of our fathers.

Rabbi Yehuda Dov Singer (Sefer Ziv Haminhagim, p. 262) offers that the reason for this particular minhag is due to the miracle of the one cruse of tahor – ritually pure (undefiled) oil that burned for the eight days of the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash. Thus we (who are meticulous as to the kashrus and taharah of that which we put into our mouths) eat these foods on Chanukah.

Rabbi Tuviah Freund (Sefer Moadim L’Simcha, p. 289, citing the Rema, Orach Chayyim 670:2, who cites both Kol Bo and Ran; see also Aruch HaShulchan, 670:sk8) notes a minhag that has more firm sources, the custom to eat dairy foods on Chanukah. This is attributed to the actions of a very brave and noble woman, Yehudis, who gave the weary general of the enemy armies, who laid siege to Judea, milk to drink and he drank himself into a stupor. Subsequently, she beheaded him and upon seeing their leader’s head paraded around, his troops scattered and retreated.

Here too, many people are either lactose intolerant or just very much in tune with current vegan trends.

The Torah (Deuteronomy 4:15) warns us: “V’nishmartem me’od l’nafshoseichem – Take great heed of your souls.” The Rambam (Hilchos De’os, 4:1) warns of the fragility of the body and that one must take extra care as regards one’s health. Obviously, with what we know today excessive amounts of any of these foods could be injurious to one’s health.

But please be consistent. Don’t make Chanukah the korban – the scapegoat – while you indulge other times. Indeed, a minhag Yisrael is nothing to make light of.

– Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America.

 

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Rabbi Asher Baruch Wegbreit

It’s a great question, pitting two important Torah considerations against each other. On the one hand, these sugary/oily foods are bad news for our health, so resisting them would be a fulfillment of “Nishmartem,” which includes making our best efforts to stay healthy (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, chapter 32) and thus seemingly the way to go.

On the other hand, eating these health-challenging foods opens up spiritual opportunities. If we accompany the oily, cheesy foods with genuine reflection on, and gratitude for, the neis of pach shemen and Yehudit’s use of milk as the first strike in the incredible military defeat of the Yavanim, eating these foods will enhance devekut to Hashem, and bring eternal reward.

So what is the right way to go? Can we have our sufganiyot and eat it too? What would Matisyahu do?

The greatness of the Chashmonaim was their willingness to risk their lives for avodas Hashem (Bach, Orach Chaim 670). If we want to emulate the heroism of the Chashmonaim, we should take a few bites of these zecher l’nes foods each night, and reflect on the miracles of the time. Perhaps then, when we put down the donut, we can celebrate our own victory of the Strong into the Hands of the Weak. “Strong” is the yetzer hara who is described as a great king and “Weak” is our yetzer tov. (Based on Koheles 9:14 with commentary of Homat Anach).

To maximize these culinary opportunities have in mind the following mitzvos: (1) the mitzvah of ahavas Hashem by reflecting on Hashem’s wondrous deeds (Rambam quoted in Sefer Chareidim); (2) the mitzvah to reflect on Hashem’s gadlus (R Yonah 3:17, Sefer Chareidim 9:23); and (3) the mitzvah to remember Hashem’s kindnesses (ibid.).

Chanukah same’ach!

– Rabbi Asher Baruch Wegbreit is the author of four seforim and Founder of the Kavanah L’Mitzvos Foundation (kavanahlmitzvos.com), an initiative offering tools for deepening our connection to Hashem. He can be reached at RabbiWegbreit@gmail.com.

 

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Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

Two points should be made at the outset. First, anyone with particular health issues should discuss them with a healthcare professional before eating any food that might be problematic. Second, eating must be done in moderation. Anything in excess has the potential to be harmful. By the same token, abstaining completely from the occasional pleasurable food might, for some people, significantly impair their enjoyment of life.

Many Jews, in particular, struggle with healthy eating. We sit down to at least two major (Thanksgiving style) meals per week, that is, every Shabbat. And those meals are often supplemented by a sumptuous Shabbat kiddush, not to mention the many s’machot to which we are frequently invited at which, in effect, several meals can be served in one sitting. “V’nishmartem me’od l’nafshoteichem” is both a halachic mandate and a major concern. And there are specific times of the year in which the foods that symbolize the holidays and evoke important ideas can pose health concerns.

The best, and to me the most reasonable, approach is to strike the right balance. Abstention can lead to frustration and even overeating when our willpower weakens. But pure indulgence and a blithe disregard for good eating habits is deleterious in both short term and long term. That “G-d watches over the simple” (Tehillim 116:6) is true but small comfort when repetitive risky behavior – in defiance of Torah norms – has its inevitable consequence.

For most people, eating one latke or sufganya is tolerable, will not jeopardize their health, and will add to their enjoyment of Chanukah. Wolfing down mass quantities is inadvisable and is gluttony masquerading as some sort of religious fulfillment. We must learn to exercise self-control in all aspects of life, especially eating.

– Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is Israel Region Vice-President for the Coalition for Jewish Values and author of Repentance for Life (Kodesh Press).

 

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Rabbi Goldin

Any discussion of Festival observance should make a clear distinction between halacha and minhag on the one hand – and popular practice on the other. We are required to adhere to halacha and minhag. Popular practice remains discretionary.

The eating of fried foods on Chanuka falls directly under the rubric of popular practice. Although a variety of explanations have been proposed for this practice, and although many of us approach this practice with great alacrity and enjoyment, it is, by no means, obligatory.

Simply put, an individual is under no obligation to eat fried foods on Chanuka.

– Rabbi Shmuel Goldin is author of Unlocking the Torah Text book series and past president of the RCA.

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