Talmud and Human Lactation: Cultural Basis for Increased Frequency and Duration of Breastfeeding Among Orthodox Jewish Women
ARTHUR I. EIDELMAN
Breastfeeding Medicine Mar 2006, Vol. 1, No. 1: 36-40.
Background: The relationship of cultural factors to the breastfeeding patterns has been documented. Given previous reports of the increased frequency and duration of breastfeeding in Orthodox Jewish women, an analysis of the religious and cultural basis of this phenomenon was performed.
Methodology: The published medical literature relating to the religious and sociodemographic variables in Jewish women was summarized. A review of the Talmudic references to the qualities of breast milk, patterns of breastfeeding, and status of the breastfeeding mother were presented.
Results: The Talmudic references confirm a strong endorsement of the superior qualities of breast milk, the recommendation for a prolonged period of breastfeeding (2 to 4 years) and the unique economic and social rights of the breastfeeding mother.
Conclusion: Because the Talmud—the 2000-year-old document that serves as the basis for the current Jewish religious legal code (Halacha)—explicitly focuses on the positive values of both breast milk and breastfeeding, it is understandable that Orthodox Jewish women have a deep religious cultural commitment to breastfeeding that is an integral part of their religious lifestyle. This positive religious dimension of breastfeeding is independent of any of acknowledged medical benefits per se.