Food, Body Image and Eating Disorders in the Jewish Community

Conference for Professionals, Educators, Rabbis and Students

Keynote speakers at the event will be Esther Altmann, PhD., a Manhattan psychologist and eating disorders specialist and Senior Consultant, Orthodox Jewish Eating Disorders Program, Renfrew Center; and Rabbi Abraham Twerski, MD, Founder and Medical Director Emeritus of Gateway Rehabilitation Center, psychiatrist, and prolific author.

Sunday, June 7th, 2009
Ramaz Middle School
New York, NY

Full details and registration at

There are many theories as to why there has been a rise of eating disorders in the Jewish community. Some say it’s because of the pressures for the need to control; some attribute it to the influence of the media and its emphasis on slimness; and still others have other reasons. Whatever the cause, the fact remains that eating disorders are a real and malevolent presence in our community today. Therefore, the Orthodox Union, in conjunction with the Renfrew Center Foundation, is sponsoring a seminar on “Food, Body Image, and Eating Disorders in the Jewish Community,” on Sunday, June 7, from 9:00 am-5:00 pm. It will take place at Ramaz Middle School, 114 East 85th Street, New York City.

Here are some of the program highlights:


Eating Disorders: The Healing Power of the Jewish Community
Esther Altmann, PhD

So many Jewish girls live on the edge of an eating disorder – hovering, but not crossing over the line to a full blown syndrome. Their preoccupation and angst about food and body drain precious emotional and intellectual resources that could be directed toward more productive endeavors. Eating disorders can be life-threatening, debilitating, chronic conditions. Early detection and treatment can help prevent the anguish and suffering of young Jewish women and their families. Over the years there have been repeated efforts in the Jewish community to address the problem of eating disorders, yet the illness persists. Are there cultural stressors that may contribute to the problem? How might Jewish values mitigate eating disorders and their consequences? Dr. Altmann will address these issues and share clips from the documentary film “Hungry To Be Heard.”

Esther Altmann, PhD is an eating disorders specialist and Senior Consultant to the Orthodox Jewish Eating Disorders Program at The Renfrew Center in New York. Dr. Altmann is currently on the teaching faculty at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and the Drisha Institute. Dr. Altmann is a psychologist in private practice in Manhattan.


Spirituality, Self-Esteem and Recovery
Rabbi Abraham Twerski, MD

Eating becomes disordered when food serves some purpose other than nutrition. Food can be used as a tranquilizer, temporarily relieving the distress of anxiety, or as a means for demonstrating control. It is necessary to address the sources of anxiety and the circumstances that cause unmanageable feelings. Failure to do so leaves a void, which may be experienced as anxiety. Self-fulfillment requires using all the traits that distinguish a person from other living things. The totality of these traits can be described as the human spirit. Exercising the traits that comprise the spirit constitutes spirituality. A person can attain optimum self-esteem only by becoming or striving to become everything one can be. Hence, self-esteem requires the self-fulfillment of spirituality.

Abraham J. Twerski, MD is the Founder/Medical Director Emeritus of the nationally acclaimed Gateway Rehabilitation Center. An ordained Rabbi, practicing psychiatrist, and prolific author of more than 50 books, Dr. Twerski is recognized as an international authority in the field of chemical dependency. He has been Clinical Director, Department of Psychiatry at St. Francis Hospital in Pittsburgh, Founder of the first Pennsylvania program for nurses with addiction problems, and Chairman of the Pennsylvania Medical Society Committee on the Impaired Physician. The recipient of honorary degrees from St. Vincent’s College, Duquesne University and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Twerski has received numerous awards including the Nelson J. Bradley Life Time Achievement Award from the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers.

11 comments on “Food, Body Image and Eating Disorders in the Jewish Community

  1. Maybe we would have fewer eating disorders if our schools taught more about exercise and nutrition?

  2. Nathan said “We must eliminate the Yom Tov Sheni Shel Galuyot that we add to every Yom Tov outside of Eretz Yisrael.”

    The only way to do this properly is to merit the Geulah. Meanwhile, we can use diet management and anger management to good effect.

  3. I wonder if eating disorders are really rising. I wouldnt be surprised if they are falling or the same in our community and there is just more awareness.

  4. Nathan, for the 2nd day: one 6oz package of turkey salami plus a challah roll plus salad with zero calorie dressing plus a glass of wine equals about 500 calories. Then bentch and go learn.

  5. Bob,

    I don’t think eating disorders are specifically Jewish issues. However, there may be unique aspects of our culture and tradition that contribute to them; and like many other health problems, there could be uniquely Jewish ways to deal with them.

  6. Right, Nathan, those 5 additional days of eating bring all the tzuris. If not for that, oh how skinny we’d all be.

  7. How could there NOT be eating disorders when the infamous Three Day Yom Tov forces us to stuff our faces with food for three consecutive days with no significant physical activity? Taking a walk is not enough!

    We must eliminate the Yom Tov Sheni Shel Galuyot that we add to every Yom Tov outside of Eretz Yisrael.

  8. In my personal situation, I found that one problem was not enough emphasis on oneg shabbos; I wanted my cake 7 days a week. I increased my indulgence on shabbos, and my kavod shabbos in general, and the rest took care of itself. (ok, exercise and diet colas also helped.)

  9. Is the problem that the weird eating behavior (too much or too little eating) of the general society has affected us, too, or is there some specifically Jewish aspect here?

  10. There is a lot of pressure to eat and eat some more in our community. In many cultures, including ours, the offering and acceptance of food is equated with sharing of love.

    I heard an intersting application of this thought, not in the context of eating disorders, but in the context of challenges faced by Baalei Teshuvah. In a shiur last summer, Rabbi Yitzhak Shurin of Darche Noam (Shappel’s) mentioned that B.T.’s often confront offers from friends and relatives of food that is not prepared in accordance with our standards of kashrut. My understanding of Rabbi Shurin’s words was that the B.T. should try to get across that our non-acceptance of food is not indicative of a lack of love for our friends and family.

Comments are closed.