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Asking the clergy: What is the purpose of religious dietary restrictions?

Panna Shah

Panna Shah Credit: Long Island Multi-Faith Forum

To promote general health and spiritual wellness, a number of faiths ask their followers to abstain from eating certain foods, or drinking certain beverages. This week’s clergy discuss sustenance andone’s eternal soul.

Dr. Panna Shah

Member, Long Island Multi-Faith Forum

The Jain tradition emphasizes the philosophy of ecological harmony and nonviolence as its central theme. About 100,000 people practice Jainism in the United States. Jainism’s messages, which include reverence for life in all its forms, commitment to the progress of human civilization and the preservation of the natural environment, have a profound effect today. Nonviolence is the supreme religion for Jains, and live and let live is another hallmark of Jain doctrine. The vow of nonviolence toward all living beings reflects unconditional compassion and reverence for all life-forms. Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara, who gave Jainism its present form, stated, “One should not injure, subjugate, enslave, torture or kill any animal, living being, organism or sentient being. This doctrine of non-violence is immaculate, immutable and eternal” (Acharanga Sutra, Ch. 4).

The scrupulous and thorough way of applying nonviolence to everyday activities, and especially to food, shapes Jain followers’ entire life. Strict Jains do not eat meat, poultry, fish or eggs, and sometimes don’t drink milk. They may avoid root vegetables such as potatoes, onion, carrots and others, as the whole plant is killed when the root is dug up. During rainy season, some Jains avoid leafy green vegetables to avoid killing insects. Honey and foods with a large number of seeds are prohibited. Food consumed should not enhance a violent nature, anger or hatred. Alcohol and drugs and even very spicy food are forbidden. Diet assists us in achieving our objectives by enhancing self control, reducing negative passions, and helping us lead a happy, healthy life.

Rabbi Tuvia Teldon

Director, Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island

Much has been written through the ages about how the kosher laws help us develop self-discipline. In addition, you are what you eat, so animals that are carnivorous, or fish that are scavengers, are not exactly the type that we want to put in our body. But I find most intriguing the explanation given more than 200 years ago by the first Chabad Rebbe, Shneur Zalman of Liadi. He asked these questions — “Why is it that we have to eat in the first place? Why wasn’t man, the crown of creation, equipped with photosynthesis so that we can get our energy from the sun just like plant life does?” His answer may shock you. Mankind’s purpose is to “elevate” all of God’s creation, so we eat not just for our physical sake, but also to elevate the food chain that he created.

The inanimate is absorbed by plants and trees, which are in turn eaten by animals and all of them are elevated by us as they become part of our flesh and blood in serving a higher purpose in life. That way when we eat we are, in fact, making this food part of our purpose, elevating it to a level it could never attain on its own. With this in mind, the reason for the restrictions in our diet is because God, chief designer of the universe, simply informed us which foods cannot be elevated and are not part of this food chain. They have another purpose.

Barrett L. Richards

President, Plainview New York Stake, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are often associated with a healthy lifestyle, including dietary practices. A health code, referred to as “the Word of Wisdom,” was first written down in 1833 by President Joseph Smith and presented as a revelation from God. The health code includes provisions for what one should consume (“wholesome herbs” and fruits and grains, and eat meat “sparingly”) and abstain from (alcoholic drinks, smoking, misuse of drugs and “hot drinks” — believed specifically to mean tea and coffee). Members of the church believe that by living this code, they show respect for the body, which is a gift from God. Additionally, they remain free from damaging addictions and have control over their lives. With this not only comes a healthy physical body, but also a more acute sensitivity to spiritual guidance. The late Boyd K. Packer, H>a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught: “Our physical body is the instrument of our spirit. In that marvelous revelation, the Word of Wisdom, we are told how to keep our bodies free from impurities which might dull, even destroy, those delicate physical senses which have to do with spiritual communication. The Word of Wisdom is a key to individual revelation.” I personally benefit from living the Word of Wisdom and invite anyone to do the same and reap the physical and spiritual blessings that follow.


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