“There is always room for sweet things.” Although this quote comes straight from the Talmud (Megillah 7b), it is a common sentiment among many cultures. In the lifetime of Abaye, the sage quoted above, sweet things referred to treats made with honey, dates or other natural ingredients. Sugar, the primary sweetener of the modern era, was then unknown. (Although populations in India were already cultivating sugar cane, the refining process that creates sugar crystals is thought to have been developed in the 5th century.) The crusaders brought sugar to Europe in the 12th century, but the mass production (and the mass consumption) of sugar did not actually begin until it was discovered that the new world (Caribbean) was an excellent climate for sugar cane cultivation.

When Abaye noted that there is always room for sweets, he meant that one always has a desire for sweets, not that one should always indulge in that desire. In fact, the need to control one’s desire for sweetness was noted by King Solomon, who wrote in the Book of Proverbs: “Have you found honey? Eat as much as is satisfying, lest you become full and vomit” (25:16). He also wrote, “It is not good to eat much honey” (25:27).

Aside from adhering to the rules of kashruth, the Torah does not give any specific guidelines for how one eats. Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides, also knows as the Rambam), who was both a rabbi and a physician, wrote: “When a person eats [or] drinks…he should not focus his heart on doing such things in order to enjoy himself alone. If he does, he would not eat and drink only sweet things…rather he will eat things which are beneficial to him…and will not eat unhealthy foods, even if they taste good…” (Laws of Knowledge 3:2).

The month of November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and November 14th is World Diabetes Day. Type II Diabetes has been linked to the levels of sugar and the regularity of over-indulgence in the modern diet.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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