Jeff Levin on Judaism and Health
Date: December 29th, 2013

Judaism is certainly good for the soul, but can it also be good for what else ails ya?  Dr. Jeff Levin, the University Professor of Epidemiology & Population Health at Baylor University and a Distinguished Senior Scholar at the Institute for Studies of Religion, brings his recent edited volume on Judaism and health to life in this interesting interview.

We begin with how Dr. Levin fell into the world of religion & health and his more specific interest in what is going on in the world of Judaism.  He relates a rather fortuitous story of seeing an advertisement for a panel on Judiasm and healing at Hebrew Union College.  Although he had been writing on religion and health for awhile, this event prompted him to begin exploring what had been happening in the Jewish community with respect to health.  This journey took him back into the Torah and Midrash, taking notes on anything he saw written about health, as well as an examination of the contemporary Jewish scene.

We then cover a variety of topics that bridge the link Judaism and health starting with bioethics.  Jeff connects this to historical interpretations (the responsa literature) of Jewish law (halakhah).  Tony observes that we seem to be on the cusp of a new set of bioethical debates that were unimaginable just a few decades ago including genetic engineering.  Jeff then talks about how the rabbinical community is addressing these issues within the tradition of Jewish law.  A brief detour is taken to address the Jewish response to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was not surprisingly varied within the Jewish community.  Another aspect of Jewish health we examine is the growing institutionalization of pastoral care, including Jewish hospices and the creating of organizations designed to aging-related issues given that the US Jewish demographic is aging faster than most other demographics.  Tony wonders if this specific emphasis on building formal institutions is related to the “new diaspora” to suburbs and how this might threaten Jewish solidarity.  Jeff responds to this query and it leads us to an interesting discussion of the Jewish community in Waco where we learn that Jews were instrumental in the settlement of central Texas.  We finish off with Jeff’s empirical work on Judiaism and health, noting how active observance in the Jewish faith actually has positive health outcomes (i.e, a protective factor) for individuals.  Recorded: December 12, 2013.



Jeff Levin’s bio at Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion.

Judaism & Health: A Handbook of Practical, Professional, and Scholarly Resources, edited by Jeff Levin.

Divine Love: Perspectives from the World’s Religious Traditions, edited by Jeff Levin and Stephen Post.

National Center for Jewish Healing.


Jeff Levin on Religion & Health.

Rodney Stark on How Religion Benefits Everyone, Even Atheists.

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