Inner Beauty, Outward Beauty, and Health

Judaism recognizes the primacy of an inner beauty, but we are nonetheless called upon to care for our bodies and not discouraged from tending to our appearance.

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Our Bodies Reflect the Divine

So doing good to one's self is not regarded as being "self-indulgent," but rather as being pious, for we are created in the Divine image. Almost paradoxically, Judaism asks us to accept and appreciate ourselves as creatures of the Creator and yet calls on us to strive to improve ourselves. Finding the correct balance is not always easy.

This is especially true when it comes to feelings about our bodies and our appearance. Nevertheless, the tradition is clear about the need to refrain from self-destructive activities. Judaism calls on us to alter habits, such as overeating or excess drinking, which may endanger our lives. For this reason, in recent halakhic literature a prohibition on cigarette smoking has been promulgated.

"By keeping the body in health and vigor one walks in the ways of God. Since it is impossible during sickness to have any understanding or knowledge of the Creator, it is therefore a person's duty to avoid whatever is injurious to the body and cultivate habits conducive to health and vigor." (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot De'ot 4:1)

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Rabbi Michael Strassfeld

Michael Strassfeld is the rabbi of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Manhattan, co-author of The First Jewish Catalog, The Second Jewish Catalog, A Night of Questions: A Passover Haggadah, and author of The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary.