How to Survive the Jewish Food Culture

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"Smoked meat on rye bread, served with dill pickles. Natural light. Foreground in focus."

This article is being written after Shabbat, Parshat Bereishit, although you may be reading this a few weeks later. Today in shuls all over the world, there were kiddushes to celebrate the Chosson Torah and Chosson Bereshit after Simchat Torah.

Deli Sandwich and pickles

Food as celebration is nothing new to the Jewish people. After all, it is a mitzvah (commandment) to eat three meals on Shabbat, to include meat on Yom Tov (the holidays), to make kiddush, a blessing, on wine and to wash and eat challah (bread) at a seudat mitzvah (festive meal). There is no simcha (happiness) without meat and wine, say Chazal (our sages), and there are special foods for every holiday.

But we have lost our way. Eating food as part of any celebration is just fine, but once again today, I sat at a kiddush where the menu consisted of cakes, cookies, Yerushalmi kugel, potato kugel (extra oil, no charge), cholent (even more extra oil) and sugary drinks (not a bottle of water to be found). And then you know what? After we hear the divrei Torah (words of Torah), we go home and eat a whole meal. Another one.

Something has gone wrong. As wonderful as any celebratory kiddush or seudah is, these foods, especially when consumed in mass quantities, will make us sick over the long term.

This overconsumption of food is no small problem in a culture such as ours. In any given week we may attend multiple simchas. We could attend a few weddings, bar mitzvahs (religious initiation ceremony of a Jewish boy who has reached the age of 13), brises (ceremonies of circumcision), engagements, pidyon habens (redemption of the firstborn) and siyums (celebration of the completion of some portion of Torah). As there is seasonality to this, many times of the year we may be occupied with these events all week long.

We can use these occasions as convenient excuses to eat excessively, but as they occur so often, it pays to find ways to deal with them so they don’t negatively affect our health.

We often fool ourselves into thinking that because there is a mitzvah involved, we can eat anything and everything in any amount. False. You are in charge of your health and you are in control of making healthful choices in any situation.

Go to your friend’s kiddush, survey the situation and make smart choices. Make sure to drink only water or seltzer. If you must have a small piece of cake or a couple of cookies to fulfill kiddush b’makom seuda (in the place where you’re eating your meal), try avoid the kugels or chulent (you have that waiting for you at home, you know) and hopefully there will be vegetables or fruits available.

I personally bring my own whole wheat crackers to the shul kiddush on Simchat Torah. You can do that too. Put an apple in your pocket to take with you.

Even if you are in a situation where there are no good choices, you can either choose not to eat there or take the minimum amount of food. Another suggestion: If you know you are going to a lavish kiddush on Shabbat, take two whole-grain challah rolls with you, and after you hear kiddush, wash and make it into your seudah. This way, you don’t end up eating twice.

All-or-nothing thinking is one of the “distorted thoughts” cited by behavioral psychologists Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis. Does going to a simcha and enjoying ourselves need to fall into the “all-or-nothing” category? Is it possible to partake in a kiddush or wedding or other simcha and enjoy the occasion without causing harm to ourselves? Most definitely!

Here are a few suggestions for your weekday simchas from Lose It! nutritionist Elisheva Rosenberg:

Before the Simcha

At the Simcha

At the Meal

As a society, we have made a lot of progress in discouraging smoking cigarettes. We still have a long way to go in that area, but more and more of us never start or have quit. We understand the harm done by smoking and no shortage of poskim (a legal scholar who decides Jewish law) have stated unequivocally that it is prohibited.

Yet, the second most preventable cause of death today is the combination of overeating, poor diet and sedentary lifestyle. This is real. The ramifications to our health by overeating aren’t a secret. Being overweight can cause type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, higher risk for cancer and high cholesterol. The extra weight can cause damage to our musculoskeletal system and can result in sore knees, lower back pain and overall discomfort from lugging around more than our bodies can handle.

Whether you are at a kiddush, a seudah, or just your everyday eating, there is no mitzvah to overeat—ever!


Get tips from a certified nutritionist on how to keep your Shabbat eating under control.


Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a BEHAVIORAL CHANGE and WELLNESS COACH with over 19 years of professional experience. Alan is the creator and director of the “10 Weeks to Health” program for weight loss. He is available for private coaching sessions, consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs both in his office and by telephone and skype. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at Check out the his web site – US Line: 516-568-5027.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.