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Judaism Under the Microscope

October 23, 2009 – 9:34 am14 Comments

Adapted from VisualParadox.com

Adapted from VisualParadox.com

By Liz Paratz

The medical world today is very proud of its shiny fabulous new tool, called ‘evidence-based medicine’. EBM, as it is known in short, is basically the simple-sounding idea that you don’t do anything without having data to show that it works.

For example, 500 years ago, it was pretty cutting-edge to hand your crippled arthritis patient a bottle of snake oil and tell them that this being the Year of the Snake, it would do the trick. But now, prior to prescribing you must know that the snake oil was tested on 5000 arthritic patients with incredible results.

The developer of EBM is usually said to be Professor Archie Cochrane, a Scottish epidemiologist of the 1970s. But I believe the Jewish community already had a strong tendency towards this sceptical, evidence-based approach long before Cochrane gathered his first set of data. One of the best examples of the Jewish scientific approach is the question asked when any issue, personality, or indeed arthritis therapy is mentioned, ‘Yes, paracetamol indeed, but is it good for the Jews?’ And surely Professor Cochrane would agree; after all, what use is in vitro effectiveness if you can’t prove clinical efficacy in a given population?

Now there’s even a website – GoodfortheJews.com – that seems to have crunched almost every newsworthy issue. Recent headlines include Are Jewish Celebrities Good For The Jews?  Is Twitter Good For The Jews? Is Paul McCartney Good For The Jews? and Are Holocaust Movies Good For The Jews?’ with detailed analyses in the attached articles. This 6000-year-old tradition of scientific in-depth debate and paranoid over-analysis is surely the clear intellectual ancestor of today’s evidence-based wunderkind.

But, while obviously the world is a much better place thanks to our frantic examination of whether all those externalities are good for us, we should also remember to sweat the small stuff. Luckily, micro-analysing our Jewish lives has been preoccupying (mainly Jewish) doctors and scientists for decades now. And amazingly, such ethno-specific EBM research has made it into some of the most prestigious medical journals.

I’m talking about articles on the medical benefits and side effects of chicken soup, tefillin, gefilte fish, Shabbat, sheitels, milchig versus fleishig, using bobby pins to secure your yarmulke, brit milah and more. It’s all out there in the scientific literature; sometimes analysed in excruciating detail, and sometimes just a case study description. Every aspect of Jewish life has been teased apart and investigated to see just what we’re doing to ourselves every time we so much as daven next to a rigid-backed chair (very dangerous, it turns out…)

This week’s article kicks off a series which will broadly investigate 3 main areas of Jewish life – Jewish food, religion and chagim – and release the findings on what is good for the Jews, and what isn’t working so well. So, let’s stop debating the Jewish relevance of iSnack 2.0, Obama, and Ahmadinejad’s alleged Jewish heritage, and turn to the medical academia in order to start this literature review on the ultimate question of them all, ‘Being Jewish ; is it good for the Jews?’

Part 1. Jewish Food ; good for the Jews?

1A. Chicken Soup

Any discussion of Jewish food surely starts with ‘Jewish penicillin’ – chicken soup. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many researchers have dedicated themselves to investigating the hypothesis that chicken soup is, in fact, ‘good for the Jews’ (and everybody else).

Back in the 1970s, the first articles started appearing; one that deserves a particular mention is the ground-breaking Effects of drinking hot water, cold water and chicken soup on nasal mucus velocity and nasal airflow resistance. In other words, these valiant researchers gave their subjects either hot water, cold water or chicken soup; and then measured how fast they were able to blow out their shnot. Drinking chicken soup seemed to confer a clear performance advantage, allowing you to blow your nose at a sprinting 9.2mm per minute. Obviously, a discovery of such importance got everyone in the scientific world pretty excited, and the journal articles started flowing thick and fast (maybe even approaching 9.2mm/min).

The more serious Therapeutic Efficacy Of Chicken Soup came out in 1980, and reviewed the nasal mucus velocity findings along with Maimonides’ original advertising copy for chicken soup (‘an excellent food, as well as a medication for the beginning of leprosy, and fattens the body substance…’) It concluded approvingly, ‘The judicious use of chicken soup as an important element of the therapeutic approach to upper and lower respiratory tract infections seems to be fully justified’.

From this point, it seems that the floodgates had completely crashed open, chicken soup was the new aspirin, and whoever had invented it was surely entitled to a Nobel Prize – if only they could untangle the competing claims of all the bubbas. Researchers from the Chaim Sheba Medical Centre in Tel Aviv (including the Head of the Department of Neurorehabilitation, no less) rushed in to begin the real campaign ; it was time that chicken soup was recognised as not just a drug, but as an ESSENTIAL DRUG.

To clarify, the World Health Organisation has several ‘essential drugs’ – their benefits have to be evidence-based, efficient, flexible, forward-looking and ‘as relevant today as 20 years ago’. The chicken soup researchers – who seem to be entirely serious despite sounding more ridiculous than I do here – begin with the point that chicken soup is of course as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago.

They go on to contend that it does indeed meet all the other criteria. The lack of any randomized clinical trial is breezily explained away by the fact that you just couldn’t possibly have randomization, with a blind group who received no chicken soup, because to deny anyone chicken soup would be unethical. Furthermore, they ask, how could you even pick a target population (ie cancer patients, arthritis patients) in which to test it, when chicken soup is well-known to cure everything?

Although chicken soup hasn’t yet become a WHO-classified drug, it has accrued a few more articles in its support. It’s now also recognized as inhibiting neutrophil chemotaxis (movement of the inflammatory white blood cells), since a breakthrough study tested multiple components of the pot, with samples including the ultra-scientific, ‘near the chicken’, ‘top of pot near onions’, ‘top of pot near carrots’, ‘around the matzoh ball’, and of course the much-dreaded ‘upper lipid phase’ (in other words, the gross schmaltz on top).

And despite the obvious dangers of telling your mum she’s not making her chicken soup quite right, the authors of Chicken soup revisited: Calcium content of soup increases with duration of cooking are clearly fearless, suggesting you should update your fortieth-generation family recipe by chucking in a bone. Allowing the bone to cook in the mix for as long as possible allows the bone to break down a little, releasing calcium ions into the soup. This increases your calcium intake, theoretically helping to lower your risk of osteoporosis.

But of course, as with any person or soup that becomes too popular for its own good, there are always the haters. Some mean-spirited doctors out there have fuelled debate with their articles claiming that chicken soup can cause hypernatremia (too much salt in the blood), anaphylaxis, as well as the obvious risk of choking to death on that calcium-rich bone.

So, good for the Jews or not so much? At this point, it seems bubbacillin is a winner, especially for readers in the early stages of leprosy or with really slow nasal mucus. And even for the rest of us (hopefully the majority), there’s nothing like a warm bowl of the chickeny stuff to chase away the neutrophils. Just take the bone out first.


Liz is a 5th-year med student, obsessed with coffee and finding juicy veins on everyone’s arms. Between coffees and cannulations, she mimics the famous room full of monkeys bashing away on typewriters, hopefully producing meaning at some point.

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  • Pedantic gourmet says:

    I know that this is not the main point of the article, but how on earth do you make chicken soup without chucking in a bone, or many bones? Chicken soup is nothing but the broth from boiling bones (and some other stuff, but mostly bones). I know that some people (specifically, my mother-in-law) use stock cubes and chicken breasts, but that is gross. Can somebody please tell me whether she is alone in such a strange take on making chicken soup?

  • frosh says:

    Pedantic Gourmet,

    In our home, the preferred (and only) way of making chicken soup is not only with stock, but with parve chicken stock.

    No bones in our soup. While this might seem an impediment to calcium absorption (as per the above article), by eating a parve meal, this allows for a calcium-rich milchig dessert ;-)

  • Henry Herzog says:

    The Rambam wrote a bit on the health benefits of chicken soup, so to get the right recipe maybe his works should be consulted.

  • Henry Herzog says:

    And while on the topic of who is good for the Jews, one thing is for sure, there are many Jews who aren’t.

  • ym says:

    Very interesting. I must try some of this chicken soup someday.

    p.s. Congratulations!

  • Leo Braun says:

    “Any discussion of Jewish food surely starts with ‘Jewish penicillin’ – chicken soup! Perhaps unsurprisingly, many researchers have dedicated themselves to investigating the hypothesis that chicken soup is, in fact, ‘good for the Jews’ (and everybody else) [Liz Paratz].

    • Indeed most unequivocally, nutritious chicken soup found to be therapeutic. Particularly after recovery from childhood illnesses (as a rule contributing to the natural immunisation process). Convalescence from which, always started with the chicken bouillon in our home in Poland. Where in my recollection live chickens were bought at the local market. Unless home delivered by the farmers who didn’t use chemical fertilisers or pesticides.

    Luckily organic, free range variety, didn’t ingest growth promoting hormones at the time, artificial yolk-colouring or antibiotics. Which makes kids to mature earlier, often ridden with allergies and resistant to the common antibiotics. While the eating raw eggs popularity, may pose a health risk these days. Hence the vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, the sick, babies and pregnant women — should consume only eggs that have been cooked until the white and yolks are solid.

    Many people believe that chicken, especially its white meat (breast of the chicken) is healthier to eat than dark meat. Consumption of which, risen dramatically over the last several decades, as more and more people made the switch. Yet birds raised for meat are often a product of the insatiable genetic manipulation. Which has drastically increased the most popular parts, poultry breast and thigh. Produced in a very rapid growth rate, that outstriped the development of their legs and organs.

  • Anonymous says:

    Lets not forget the non-nutritional benefits of chicken soup.

    Chicken soup brings one in close proximity with family members during meal times, and that’s a good thing, at least in the long term.

    Also, chicken soup allows for lengthy conversations comparing grandmothers and mothers, and develops the amusing hyperchodria of eostrogen-hating, chicken-soup loving Jews.

    Social benefits aside, key ingedient: Salt.

  • Leo Braun says:

    “Luckily, micro-analysing our Jewish lives has been preoccupying (mainly Jewish) doctors and scientists for decades now. And amazingly, such ethno-specific EBM research has made it into some of the most prestigious medical journals. I’m talking about articles on the medical benefits and side effects of chicken soup”….”It’s all out there in the scientific literature; sometimes analysed in excruciating detail, and sometimes just a case study description”! [Liz Paratz]

    Harry Ostrer: “To the public and the geneticist alike, the Jewish people are something more than an ethnic group that has maintained its social and genetic cohesiveness over 2,500 years despite geographic dispersion to all regions of the globe. A century ago, popular wisdom held that Jews were a race with a distinctive build and physiognomy”!

    In the way, discovering the genes linked with disease will dramatically help the search for better treatment. “It’s very hard to develop treatments without actually having a clue what’s causing disease”, Altshuler said. “One of the most effective ways to determine that is to focus on groups of people with genetic similarities. Even though the percentage of the genome that varies from person to person is mere 0.1%, that still leaves 2 to 3 million nucleotides for researchers to sift through. The vast majority of those will be totally irrelevant to the disease in question.

    So geneticists often study families, comparing family members who do have a disease, like cancer, with those who do not. Because family members share more genes than strangers do, some of the background noise is reduced, allowing scientists to narrow their search on the variations that might actually matter (it’s a lot easier to find one blue marble in a jar of red marbles than it is to find it in a jar of red, green and yellow marbles).

    The result is that ethnic groups are useful to geneticists for two reasons. The first is that some diseases have become more concentrated in certain ethnic groups, making it easier to study sometimes rare diseases. Second, like studying families, studying ethnic groups minimizes the background genetic variation, allowing researchers to more easily identify genetic mutations relevant to disease.

  • Ivan B says:

    Moses took annotation of several fowl soups and its putative health benefits, but chicken soups existed for a long time, and in several parts of the world; it is nutritive, inexpensive (chicken are fed with anything) and easily transported.
    Most of upper airways infeccions (by rinoviruses) are controlled after few days by a nourished person, chicken soup or not. And you can’t assume that a recovered person wouldn’t do so (or would take less time) without the chicken soup.
    I’ve made an extensive analysis of the cited  scientific paper (Chicken Soup Inhibits Neutrophil Chemotaxis In Vitro), and it has many flaws, from methodology to conclusions (and yes, I am a scientist). It has no evidences that if you eat chicken soup, your neutrophils will have its migration inhibited; it shows only that if you mix the soup DIRECTLY with neutrophils, they will be scrambled (which don’t happens actually, since the soup never enter in direct contact with your neutrophils).
    To date, no evidence was gathered to support the view that chicken soup has medicinal properties (or at least more than the average balanced food).
    We can keep eating chicken soup, but can’t expect it to be a substitute for medicine (and do not abuse it,  since it has a high content of salt and calcium, indeed).

  • Leo Braun says:

    “The cost of being a religious Jew is not cheap, and is made more difficult in a culture of finding new stringencies. There is the Pesach food, one or two large family meals every week, the lulav (which can cost several hundred dollars), and then there are the separate milk and meat dishes. And there are more that I have not mentioned, but I would like to focus on 2 examples. There is a new drive to build ‘kosher kitchens’. Yet there is no such thing as building a kosher kitchen! Any kitchen in the world can be made kosher or not. I personally have only one sink, one oven and a kitchen that if I turn around I hit my nose on the opposite wall, and yet I have a 100% kosher kitchen with both milk and meat”.

    Sadly, “that is not enough today (even though my grandparents would have seen this kitchen as a lap of luxury). We need separate sinks for milk and meat, then one for parve. And then separate ovens. Then separate microwaves. Then separate kitchens. But this is nothing compared to the extortion racket that is running in the community under the guise of kosher meat. If you compare kosher chicken in Coles to normal chicken we are paying almost 3 times the price. We are even paying about double what you would pay for free range! I understand that we have to pay for specialist slaughterers and the kosher authority — but triple the price”?

    “If I were inclined towards conspiracies I would suggest the various kosher authorities didn’t want Jews to eat kosher any more. Judaism has become a religion for the rich, with some poorer members — and there seems to be the mentality in the community that its such ‘poor’ people’s bad planning and foolishness — that they don’t make the money they should have”! [Yaron Gottlieb]

    • Well, in case someone wondered as to the definition of the parallel universes, go no further than to fathom Rabbi Gottlieb exposed absurdity. Persevering out-of-sight out-of-mind of the shunted wider community. Manifestly, there are none so blind as those who refuse to see the reality. Pertaining to those who know not what they are unable to know, yet incessantly toying at collecting items of the ignorant intellect. Ever expanding the darkness of their cave!

    No wonder for a dismal failure to notice struggling Aussie families, striving to afford the nutritious feed. Ideally, free of preservatives, pesticides, insecticides and herbicides residue. If not for the creed-of-greed mania gripped evildoers, hell-bent to profiteer whatever it takes as non-kosher meats are injected, pumped up with hormones and antibiotics to plump up the livestock. Just as genetically modified grains, fruit and veggies displaced wholesome varieties — people longed after their texture and taste.

    No surprise, consumed over the years govt condoned toxic residues, ultimately resulted in numerous health problems. Clearly, there virtually is no part or process in our body that is not influenced in one way or another by the food we eat and physical activity. Often we are told: “change your lifestyle, your eating habits, what you eat, and exercise your body — made up of the vital organs — for the body systems to produce healthier tissue cells”!

    This means that the glands that produce the hormones which direct and control everything that goes on in your body, stay healthier and stronger. The result is a more youthful appearance, more strength, energy, and a super strong immune system that will keep you healthy by protecting organism against diseases, even serious illnesses such as cancer!

  • Leo Braun says:

    We are what we eat“, hits close to home!

    Remarkably, as per Japanese convention, blood type is purportedly the indicator of one’s personality. They believe that blood type of a person can reveal many secretes of a person’s traits and mindset. Hence, as per Japanese convention, people having O negative blood type are born leaders! They are independent, self confident, competent and competitive. They are also said to be passionate, loyal and actually trend setters.

    At times peculiarly though, RH factor wasn’t considered while deciding personality types. So people with O negative blood type could get by with O positive blood type diet. However, according to Dr D’Adamo, it is very important to eat right for your blood type, involving RH factor. Thus less complications and more benefits as far as individual health is concerned.

    Nonetheless in general terms my research concluded that people with blood type O are likely to fall for health conditions such as thinning of blood; insufficient iodine levels, leading to the hypothyroidism. Symptoms included muscle loss, fatigue and fluids retention — causing in turn bloating and weight gain. Foods contributing to the weight gain interfered with insulin, thus slowing metabolism.

    Even though this theory is not supported by the “scientific evidence”, right died for your blood type can really be a great option, if one think logically. Just like the prevalent in particular ethnic group diseases, treated with the specific remedies, cannot be applied across-the-board for everyone in the wider community — likewise, one cannot stay fit and healthy by following wrong diet.

    What does one mean by saying ‘eat right for your blood type’? Well, Dr James D’Adamo, a naturopathic doctor in his book “Eat Right 4 Your Type” has explained that lectins (sugar containing proteins) cause clotting of blood cells in an individual of the particular blood type which is incapable to mitigate the wrongly consumed unsuitable food. What besides the weight gain, may lead to kidney or liver problems.

    Furthermore Dr D’Adamo explains that increased urine indicant levels can be an aspect of the specific blood types, affected by the interaction of the ingested food with the bacteria in the intestine. What may result in diseases ranging from inflammatory bowel diseases, pancreatic insufficiency, diverticulitis, celiac disease, etc.

    The theory adds that the different blood levels affect the secretion of digestive juices. Therefore, following specific blood type diet is one of the easiest ways of keeping healthy. Obviously, right diet for specific blood type can only be determined, once a person ascertains one’s blood type and Rh factor.

  • Leo Braun says:

    Blood was, and still is, sacred to the God of Israel. When the Israelites were kept in the wilderness for forty years (a biblical generation), the imposed isolation meant to cleanse their blood. Because after many years of intermarriages with A+ and B+ blood types, their once ‘pure’ bloodline was becoming corrupt. So, once ‘clean breed‘ of people were instructed to marry only within the other Israelite tribes. Thus preventing contamination of their bloodline by producing only RH ‘O’ negative blood children.

    In return, Israelites ‘were promised’ a land, given eventually after their long quarantine endured in the wilderness, but only the younger generations were allowed to enter the promised land — those under the age of twenty who were born in the wilderness with both RH ‘O’ negative blood Israelite parents.

    Before young Israelites were set free to go down to the promise land, they were instructed not to marry outside their own tribes. But eventually scattered in all directions the Israelites married other than Israelite spouses. Thus RH positive factor in all types of blood soon took over. Some 85% of humans are RH positive these days as amid the worldwide populace remained 15% RH negative blood descendants of the earlier species.

    No wonder for birth complications and frequent child afflictions!

    Because, once coming in contact with the foetal/baby’s blood, pregnant mother’s organism of the RH negative blood will produce antibodies, geared up to eliminate her positive blooded baby in the womb by targeting red blood cells. Thus depriving baby of oxygen, since her body fights the Rhesus Factor as a foreign element. At the time when RH positive blood mother’s organism does not reject the (rhesus free) RH negative blood baby, she is carrying.

  • Leo Braun says:

    “The medical world today is very proud of its shiny fabulous new tool, called ‘evidence-based medicine’. EBM, as it is known in short, is basically the simple-sounding idea that you don’t do anything without having data to show that it works”! [Liz Paratz]

    • Yeah, if not for the fact that the explored data regarding “Rhesus factor disease”, no longer is made available by the “NHS Direct Online Health Encyclopaedia”. As a result the above nominated link within my attempt to share information about the “birth complications and frequent child afflictions”, proved to be futile. So much for the “evidence-based medicine”!

    Doesn’t it bother anyone, why such a vital info being kept away from the women? Why the powers that be — are reluctant to disclose our blood type? When a commonsense logic dictates that our medical file ought to be affixed with such a crucial marker. Replicated each time blood pathology results are made available to us. So in the emergency situations anyone would be able to recall such a basic info, our life and the wellbeing of our dear ones depended upon!

    What for biology lectures or sex education when such a fundamental essence being omitted?

    Otherwise rhesus factor disease is preventable, once rhesus-negative pregnant woman carrying rhesus positive baby is given postnatal anti-D immunoglobulin injection within 72 hours of giving birth (if there is a chance that her blood has come into contact with the rhesus positive baby’s blood). Thus preventing sensitisation happening by destroying the rhesus positive blood cells that have crossed over into mother’s blood stream — before her organism has a chance to produce antibodies.

    Should further tests during the subsequent pregnancy to show that woman has been sensitised already (thus producing antibodies to rhesus positive blood), reportedly modern medicine offered in such instances the antenatal anti-D immunoglobulin injections, usually at 28 and 34 weeks. Because if the disease isn’t treated, it can cause child learning difficulties, deafness or blindness. In severe cases antibodies reaction can lead to stillbirth (when a baby isn’t born alive).

  • Mariano Baffa says:

    Chicken soup is a good food, it is not only tasty but it is full of nutrients that is needed from recovering from flu. –

    Take a look at all of the most recent content at our webpage

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