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Thread: Jewish perspective on breastfeeding...

  1. #1

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    Default Jewish perspective on breastfeeding...

    Hi everyone,

    Came across this on a Jewish forum, thought it was interesting (feel free to skip over if it doesn't interest you!)



    The Talmudic (about 2000 years old) recommended duration for breastfeeding is 24 months, although some authorities, such as Rabbi Yehoshua, extend this period up to 4 to 5 years. If the infant is weaned before 2 years there is concern that this will lead to an undue risk to the infant’s health.

    I managed to find it in the Rambam, Hilchos Ishus, Chapter 12; halacho 13:

    (Even) If she made a vow not to nurse her son, she is forced to do so until he is 24 months old, whether male or female.

    It does appear in the gemorra (2000 years old approx.) and the Shulcan Aruch (around 500 years old) too, but I can't find it. It appears with the connection of a woman's obligations to her husband. (While I was searching I also discovered the interesting fact that a woman with twins is only obligated to nurse one of them and her husband has to hire a wet-nurse for the other!)

    Today many rabbi's hold that the situation is different because of the existence of formula etc. But I feel that we should certainly understand it as what the Torah thinks is the best, even if other options are allowed. We are doing the ultimate chessed ~ charity (well, i can't think of a good english translation for the word... charity isn't quite right, more a good thing you can do to help others) for our child every time we nurse, because it is chessed that no-one else can do for him.

    You could actually look at it the other way around, that those who didn't nurse in the time of the Torah/ talmud - at least their child usually nursed from another woman with the corresponding benefits, whereas today they are weaned onto formula and lose so many of the health benefits.

    Here are some more sources:

    • The Mishna (Ketubot 59b) instructs us that breastfeeding her baby is a woman’s obligation toward her husband, *so much so that other household functions take lower priority during this time.

    • According to the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 81:7) a child may nurse, if healthy, until four years old; a sickly or weak child, until five years old.

    • Most sources point towards 24 months as the accepted minimum length of the breastfeeding relationship. Even the most lenient of authorities points to the age when a baby has six to eight teeth. This is estimated to be between the ages of ten and sixteen months.

    • The Talmud (Yerushalmi, Brochot 68a) states that a Jew should be involved in Torah every hour of the day just as a baby nurses every hour of the day. Also, a baby should be allowed to nurse as often as he desires. “Even if he nurses all day long it will not harm him” (Tosefta, Sotah 4:1).

    Just thought it was interesting as the recommendations are similar to the WHO, and they were written around 2000 years ago!

    Yael

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    Its Sunni in Islam to feed for 2 yrs as well Yael There are a lot of similarities when you look for them.

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    Yeah, i've since a few things on Islam that are similar to Judaism... see, and people just try to find the differences!

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    Very interesting! I think it's fascinating that the further we go from the laws in the - well, the holy books of the Abrahamic religions, for lack of a better word (as many of the laws are the same in all the holy books), the worse society becomes... who cares how old the rules are, they're here for our benefit and they work!

    Just a quick question -
    Today many rabbi's hold that the situation is different because of the existence of formula etc.
    Does this mean that many rabbis think that it's OK to eat any sort of meat, because it can be refrigerated now? As I understand it, many of the food laws were to prevent nasty illnesses because of rotting food. Not to mean any disrespect, just that do we throw out laws just because of new technologies and things? (I know I really shouldn't ask that question, coming from an Anglican background and knowing the rubbish some of our leaders come out with.)

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    very interesting - a message from long ago applies today - is it in the bible ?
    thanks for sharing and I wonder if they had twins did they hire wet nurses or not?

  6. #6

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    There isn't anything I could find in the Bible about BFing - it's just assumed it is done and women seem to have lighter responsibilities whilst BFing, but there are very few mentions of anything like that.

    The Old Testament finishes about 2500 years ago - before the writings Yael mentioned - and the New Testament is not so much about laws. I'll check more tonight, but nothing really springs to mind - the only thing I could think of was in Samuel, where Hannah was going to wean her son before dedicating him to the Lord, but no mention of how long that took.

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    thanks Ryn -I wondered about that - Hannah was my inspiration for naming my Samuel
    Last edited by Baby~amore`; December 13th, 2006 at 08:23 AM.

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    Wow -that's interesting! I love this bit
    so much so that other household functions take lower priority during this time.
    Woohoo! 4-5 years off housework! yay! LOL.

    I agree that laws shouldn't change just coz of modern day technologies or even modern day thinking. It's obviously not working - look around!

    It's sad that something as natural as breastfeeding is something we read about in old books and history I want to b/f until about 2 - not sure I'm comfy with doing it longer than that, but I'm worried that ttc'ing #2 might cut it short Maybe I should wait, so that Tallon gets a good 2 yrs of b/fing. *sigh* so much to think about. heh.

  9. #9
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    Very interesting,

    It really makes you wonder when they had it right over 2000 years ago and we cant manage it today. I wonder if you can find anything in the bible about it, maybe I'll have a look. The Catholic/Orthodox bible has an extra five books in the Old Testament that the others dont use, maybe there is something in one of them, I doubt there would be anything in the New Testament. There are bound to be similarities between Judaism, Islam and Christianity, they are the three monotheistic religions (one God) and share the same History. They all follow the God of Abraham.

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    Breastfeeding probably went without saying back then. Be it the natural mother or a wetnurse. I wonder why there were even laws?

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    All of Judaism is dictated my Jewish Law, called Halacha.

    Everything from dietry laws, the sabbath etc.,(even if it all seems obvious, it is still there to prevent any confusion and to spell out what you do in slightly different circumstances (twins etc, mother sick etc), it is all written down in either the five books of the Torah (Genesis - Deuteronomy), and the oral Torah, which used the be trasnmitted orally throughout the generation (this is normally the explanation on the 613 laws found in the Torah, rather than just the sentance), but was written down in a later stage to become to Talmud and Gemorrah (which i quoted above).

    I do have to point out that i don't know how this applies today - i have never asked my Rabbi if we still hold that the law remains as such nowadays. I just thought it was interesting that traditionally this is what was practised.

    But like you says Lix, it went without saying - first mother, and then wet nurse (which i think is the order today from the WHO & ABA?)

    Pholmes - i don't know about what is written in the Christian bible, i don't study it, but maybe google it and see. The only difference is that Judaism (and i think Islam, correct me if i''m wrong), actually have a let of religious laws which spell out what to do, whereas Christianity doesn't, so it might not be written down as such. I don't think you actually find this law as one of the 613 in the 5 books of the bible, it will probably have been extrapolated from one and then expanded upon in the oral laws, so if you actually went reading through the bible, i wouldn't expect to see it there (i could be wrong, would need to go and read up myself!)

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    My understanding is that the Christian bible states the Mosaic Law, but this law was superceded when Jesus arrived. But the Jews don't believe Jesus is the Messiah, so are still under the Mosaic Law? Is this the same thing?

    That's true about the 'obvious' being stated in law. Like the disposal of excrement outside the camp - we know it as obvious today, but back then, they probably didn't appreciate the health benefits that we understand now with modern science etc.

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    Liz - yes, we follow Mosaic Law as such, we call it Torah Law, of which there are 613 in the bible. On top of that there are also Rabbinic Laws, which are explained in the Oral Law (not sure how many exta there are).

    You can't have one without the other, you must keep both Torah and Rabbinic laws. But for example, one of the 613 is "keep the sabbath" but if you look in the oral law (now written down), there are pages and pages of discussions about what this means, and various other laws. For examples, there are 49 categories of 'work' i can't do on the sabbath, but within those 49 there are lots and lots of things that you don't do - so it ends up being a lot more than just the 613.

    Does that make sense? Its a bit confusing i guess at first.

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    Shannon, i'm not sure about that. I copied it off another forum, and that sentance didn't quite make grammatical sense.

    After work i will try and look up the original source and write down what it says about it.

    It might be because if possibly is found in the section about womens obligation to husbands etc (don't worry, there is a big long list of husbands responsibilities to their wives also... for example, in Jewish law you can divorce your husband if he isn't having relations with you etc.. its the womens choice when to have, not the mans (and that is still the law today!).

    But like i said, i'm not sure about that sentance, and will try and look it up.

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    Shannon, I would think it means obligation to her family through her husband. Like she is accountable to him and he is accountable to her for their duties to each other and the family unit as a whole. Roles were much more defined in those days and marriages were enetred into with strict guidelines of each spouses duties.

    Yael, yes another similarity. We do have a Law system where every aspect of life is represented. Like the 10 Commandments but much more in depth. This is based on the Quran as well as Hadith, which are stories and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad related down through the times by reputable sources. I make sure that I try to follow the laws of the Quran first, Hadith second. They say that Jesus' Miracles were his power to heal and Muhammads Miracle was the Quran. It 'completes' the religion.

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    Sorry Yael, I was writing mine when you posted

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    I think Natalie wrote it very well!

    I think we look at a lot of these things in a defensive femanist way, when they aren't meant to denigrade either party, just to define roles so there is peace in the home.

    Natalie - it sounds like Judaism & Islam are similar in the laws... People often ask me if i find it restrictive/oppresive etc, but i actually like it. I know clearly what to do and what is expected of me, i find it gives my life more structure than leaving up to myself to define what is right & wrong.

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    Yael, I actually make my husband prove everything to me, lol. I think cultural traditions and religious law sometimes get mixed up unless you are very knowledgable. We are not very religious, but I would like to be because I think people with a lot of faith have an inner peace and calm to draw on. I often find myself at a loss and when I remember that everything is controlled by God I actually feel calm wash over me. It's like a relief to have the burden lifted.

    I agree completely that defining roles makes for a happier and less volatile marriage. I think the high divorce rate reflects this. Roles, whatever they are, should be clearly established before people get married. I suppose we are just lucky that our roles are defined for us. Though I must say, my DH and I can read a verse or a law and come away with totally different interpretations of it, lol.

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