Rabbi Ruth Zlotnick’s contribution to “The Sacred Table” is about eating disorders.
This is not the first time she has written on the subject. In the late 1990s, when she was an intern in the Reform movement’s department of Jewish Family Concerns, “eating disorders were quite prevalent in our congregations and I was asked to contribute to a manual about them.”
Called “Litapayach Tikvah: Nourishing Hope,” it is subtitled “Eating Disorders: Perceptions and Perspectives in Jewish Life Today” and was disseminated to Reform congregations and used at workshops at synagogues and the movement’s biennial conference. It is still available online at rjyouthworker.urg.org also see EatingDisorders.)
The religious leader of Temple Beth Or in Washington Township, she told The Jewish Standard that she has no personal experience with eating disorders, “but I have known people who have had serious eating disorders and certainly within my congregations.” (Before coming to the 400-plus family Beth Or in 2008, she served as associate rabbi at Central Synagogue in New York.)
“Jewish women,” she told the Standard, “often fit the profile of women who are battling with the disorders.” Also, she said, “an increasing number of Jewish men have eating disorders, and teen girls are particularly vulnerable to them because of the self-image and self-esteem issues that emerge” in the teens. (See related excerpts, Returning food to its rightful place.)
She stressed that eating disorders are found in other streams of Judaism, “across the observance spectrum,” and in the population at large.
Zlotnick also stressed that an eating disorder “can become a cycle of self-destruction” and should not be ignored. “You want to look out for warning signs that are different for the different disorders,” she said, such as “changes in eating, weight, a change in secrecy levels in terms of food consumption.”
“There’s some shame attached to eating disorders,” she noted, and recommended that a parent or other concerned person “approach the subject in a careful way. Don’t force the issue of food regarding dieting, weight, etc.,” but rather “with sensitivity and concern and acceptance and love.”
Someone with an eating disorder may benefit from professional help as well.
“We are obligated to take care of and enjoy our bodies,” she said, “because they house the spark of the Divine within us.”