In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers 3:21), the sages declare that without flour, there can be no Torah. In Jewish texts, “flour,” meaning bread, often refers to material sustenance. However, the sages were also aware of the importance of vegetables: “Rabbi Huna said: No scholar should dwell in a town where vegetables are unobtainable” (Eiruvin 55b).
Did the sages recognize the nutritional value of vegetables? This is a difficult question to answer, as even rabbis had different opinions regarding the “importance” of vegetables as a food item. The Talmud in Niddah 53b states: “There are things that require a benediction before them and not after them. [What was the last clause, “and not after them,” intended] to include?– to include vegetables. But according to Rabbi Isaac, who did say a benediction after the eating of vegetables…[the phrase is meant] to include water.” The implication is that food that does not require an after-blessing is of lesser importance.
Of the many different types of vegetables discussed by the Talmud, garlic seems to have been particularly favored: “Our Rabbis taught: Five things were said of garlic: It satiates, it keeps the body warm, it brightens up the face, it increases semen, and it kills parasites in the bowels. Some say that it fosters love and removes jealousy” (Baba Kama 82a).
The above description of garlic’s medicinal use demonstrates the general view of the sages regarding different vegetables. Other than discussing the appropriate vegetables for maror at Passover, the sages viewed most produce with the same perspective as Ben-Sira, who said: “God caused drugs to spring forth from the earth [vegetables]; with them the physician heals wounds and the apothecary compounds medicinal preparations” (Midrash Rabbah Genesis 10:6). For instance, “if radish appears, a life-giving drug has appeared” (Eiruvin 56a).
Today, June 17, is “Eat Your Vegetables” Day.
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