Eating Disorders Surge Among Orthodox Jewish Teenage Girls

In a fascinating and deeply troubling article for the New York Times, Roni Carin Rabin chronicles a growing problem in the Orthodox Jewish community: anorexia and eating disorders among teenage girls.  Rabbis have started to raise concerns about the issue, saying that the trend is exacerbated by the deep stigma surrounding mental illness among Orthodox Jews.

Although data seems to be somewhat scarce, the studies that have been done among Orthodox Jewish teenagers shows that girls seem to be more susceptible to eating disorders like anorexia.  More and more treatment centers have started to accomodate Orthodox girls, providing kosher food; a clinic catering to young women from the United States recently opened in Jerusalem.

Part of the reason that eating disorders are so stigmatized is that young women, in particular, are expected to conform to a specific code of conduct.  Public knowledge of anorexia can damage women’s marriage prospects, despite the fact that both matchmakers and potential husbands seem to privilege slender brides.  This expectation that women will be thin creates a tension with the primacy of food in Jewish tradition.

“There are a lot of mixed messages,” said one woman.  “My grandmother would see me and say, ‘You look so good, you’re so skinny — come eat, eat.’”

Other women take the injunction to fast too far.  And many suffer from the pressures that make adolescence a time of great responsibility for young women, despite the fact that women say they don’t blame Jewish culture for their health problems, saying that in fact, they derived strength from their religious faith.  Still, the women said they struggled with “the enormous pressure they feel to marry young and immediately start families , and the challenges of balancing professional careers with the imperative to be consummate homemakers who prepare elaborate Sabbath meals.”

Rabbis seem to be at the center of the move to raise awareness about eating disorders within their community, and their counsel to devout young women seems to be one of the most powerful antidotes.  Although it’s crucial to have treatment facilities that accomodate Jewish women, the rabbis’ roles are also important, and it’s hopeful to see that they have identified this problem, and are committed to helping young women deal with it.  Religious leaders have tremendous influence in communities like these, and they can help women with these struggles, both by identifying and counseling women who seem to be suffering from eating disorders, and helping women deal with potential health and emotional problems before they emerge.


Photo from Wikimedia Commons.


jane richmond
jane richmond6 years ago

thanks. Shows how important it is to praise your child and make them feel comfortable in their own body.

Elena Arutiunova
Elena Arutiunova6 years ago

OMG... Thx for the info.

Norma V.
Norma Villarreal6 years ago

Thank you for the article.

Ameer T.
Ameer T6 years ago

Seems to me that this problem is not just limited to Jewish girls but all over the world. girls who may not even be considering marriage, may still be starving themselves. i feel the media and fashion mags are to blame for creating this image of thinness.

Anne-Marie V.
Anne-Marie Vogl6 years ago

Such concerns speak for most teenage girls -- be it Jewish, Catholic, Anglican, United Church, etcetera -- who tend to have immense exposure and influence from secular advertising that creates the perfect ever so thin female.

Rather than trying to over-clinicalize (if there is such a word as of yet) the matter, perhaps other options might prove to be just as fruitful... celebrate females (and males) of all shapes and sizes!!!

Not everyone looks good as a size 1/2/3... Big & Bold is also Beautiful.... (Sure hope Hollywood is convinced)...

Alicia Guevara
Alicia Guevara6 years ago


Geraldine H.
Gerri Hennessy6 years ago

Why do we women always put outselves down.... we women shld revell in our different shapes!!

Kate Florio
Kate F6 years ago

i gravitate towards fat animals, thin women and average men.
though i have friends of all sizes, i admire thin. i just think it looks proportional. i know people who like fat and want to be fatter. the underlying issue here is self-esteem. i believe queen latifah has a healthy self-esteem, as far as i can guess, and she is not stick thin. i admire her a lot!


i have a feeling, if we are able to do that just a little more often, it would greatly reduce the eating disorders that are rampaging the world, or at least the united states!!!

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Elisabeth M.
lis Gunn6 years ago

Why? Why do eating disorders seem so widespread in seemingly affluent and well educated societies? Is it because hunger and poverty is so prevalent elsewhere that eating disorders are unknown? Just a matter of perspective.