I can still feel in my chest the feeling of inhaling newfound liberation. I can still sense at my back the whoosh of an old, confining reality crumbling and being washed away like Pharaoh’s army. I can still hear the thought that popped into my sixteen-year-old head that day in a parking lot with my mother: “On the other side of the wall, there is no wall.”
It was the day of my very own exodus. It was the day I stopped dieting.
Every Pesach, at the seder table, we take upon ourselves the obligation of reliving as our own the story of being stuck in Narrowness and then freed to wander and to worship You. Every Pesach since that day, I have known that this story is absolutely true. I know it because I lived it. I still live it every day.
As with the slaves in Egypt -- who suffer silently for hundreds of years before they begin the crying-out that will lead to their liberation -- it’s hard to say exactly what made that day the day to give up dieting and to stop being complicit in our culture’s hatred of fat bodies. But somehow enough was simply enough.
And in some ways I have been writing fat torah since that very day: binding my own ongoing (ongoing!) practice of loving my fat body exactly as it is with the wisdom and stories and songs of Jewish tradition. And seeking meaning in fat activism that speaks and sings in the language of the sacred. So, here’s my working definition of fat torah, here’s the journey on which I’m inviting you to join me: fat torah is a path of confronting weight stigma —especially where it intertwines with Judaism and Jewish spirituality—and deploying sacred texts as sources of body liberation.
So, what’s next as we set out together?
Fat torah wants to be a book when it grows up (and also a community and also a movement). So, think of this blog as a womb incubating that book, provisionally titled Fat Torah: smashing the idolatry of weight stigma and leading ourselves from narrowness to freedom. The work is divided into three parts and here’s what you can expect in the posts to come.
I’ll start with a bit more about my own history of how I started dieting and how I stopped. Then we dive right into the meat of the matter of Part I: exploring the idolatry inherent in the question “but what about your health?” After that, we’ll look at different types of fatphobia and I’ll propose a fat Jewish theology of liberation and human worth.
Part II deals with fatphobia in Jewish communal practice. First we’ll look at how weight stigma shows up in Jewish community: accessibility issues, damaging messages from clergy, and the “casual” fatphobia we encounter in informal communal settings. Next we'll unpack the intertwining of weight stigma with Jewish religious and spiritual practices (for example, people using the High Holy Days as an opportunity to bring the most fatphobic elements of dieting and diet culture into the synagogue).
Finally, in Part III, we’ll explore the possibilities of fat activism in Jewish community and I’ll offer some of my favorite examples of how our sacred texts can be sources of body liberation for people of all sizes.
How long is this going to take?
I’m aiming to share a new post once a week. The anticipated gestation period for the whole book is longer than that of most humans but shorter than that of a walrus.
Along the way, I’ll also be offering workshops, online courses, and other opportunities to dive more deeply into this material together. I want to hear your stories and your wrestling and I want to really think together about how best to bring fat torah to its fullest expression in our own lives and in the lives of our communities.
You can start by leaving a comment or question here. And please do help spread the word: share fat torah posts on your favorite social media and invite friends and colleagues to join us here on the blog.
Who am I?
I’m Rabbi Minna Bromberg, PhD and I’m passionate about bringing my three decades of experience in fat activism to writing and teaching at the nexus
of Judaism and body liberation. I received my doctorate in sociology from Northwestern Universi
ty in 2005, with a dissertation on identity formation in interfaith couples, and I was ordained at Hebrew College in 2010. Since then I led a 250-family Conservative congregation in Reading, PA, I released my fifth album of original music, I made aliyah, and I ran the Year-in-Israel program for Hebrew College rabbinical students. When I'm not working on fat torah, I’m a voice teacher who specializes in helping people use their voices in leading prayer (which, actually, I also see as connected with fat torah, but that's another story). I live in Jerusalem with my husband, Rabbi Alan Abrams, and our two children.
And you? What's your story?
[Note: This post contains a few elements that are reworked from what could be counted as my first ever published piece of fat torah. It appeared in the Jewish Exponent in 2013. You can read the original here.]