In the Talmud, bad breath is a major no-no
SUMMARY: Oral health experts at Tel Aviv University have said that the Talmud considers halitosis a "major disability." This Jewish text records the discussions of ancient rabbis concerning social interactions, ethics and Jewish customs, as well as later discussions about those discussions. Evidently, they expelled plenty of breath decrying bad breath.
Posted: February 2, 2011
Oral health experts at Tel Aviv University have said that the Talmud considers halitosis a "major disability." This Jewish text records the discussions of ancient rabbis concerning social interactions, ethics and Jewish customs, as well as later discussions about those discussions. Evidently, they expelled plenty of breath decrying bad breath.
In the Jewish prenuptial agreement called a ketubah, bad breath is considered grounds for a divorce. The same document forbids priests with halitosis from marrying people, a rule which many couples today might wish they could take advantage of.
Talmudic scholars even went so far as to debate whether nasal odor caused by, say, post-nasal drip or sinusitis should be considered the same as oral odor, the Tel Aviv team stated. Hundreds of years later, the famous polymath and Talmud authority Maimonides finally decided the issue. Both are considered the same evil, he said.
Now, scientists recognize that nasal illness is a major cause of bad breath. The researchers wrote that other conditions like periodontal disease and scurvy may have been more prevalent centuries ago, which could have added to the negativity surrounding halitosis in the Talmud.
The book also contains a lengthy discussion of the causes of oral odor. Some are still quite common. Others have since collapsed under scrutiny. For instance, the study's authors said that consuming too little water was considered a prime cause of bad breath in the Talmud. Currently, most periodontists agree that dry mouth can easily cause bad breath, since a lack of saliva allows oral bacteria to flourish.
Eating raw peas or lentils also appears in the text as an agent of halitosis. It is well known that savory or strong-smelling foods can leave an odor in the mouth. Talmudic scholars added that any food that fell on the floor might cause oral odor. Working with flax or depleting one's reproductive fluids might do it too, they added.
The Talmud's solutions to this problem are numerous. Some of the more eyebrow-raising cures include chewing a pepper or a plant resin called mastic, walking at least four steps after a meal or putting tar on the teeth. Several of these appear in the Bible too, according to an article in the Indian Journal of Dental Sciences.
While some of these treatments could end in disaster, by brushing thoroughly and rinsing with a specialty breath freshener you may be able to eliminate halitosis.