Burning the bush at both ends

By Simon Round, June 10, 2013

There have been many health hazards associated with being an observant Jew over the centuries. Of these, my perception is that lighting Shabbat candles comes relatively low down. Aberystwyth University thinks differently. It has ruled that it is too risky to have Orthodox Jews stay in accommodation on campus unless they agree not to light candles there.

It might well be that, through the millennia, there have been serious fires caused by Shabbat candles but I would estimate that only a tiny number of Jews have perished in this manner. Of course, the kindling of a naked flame on a Friday night carries with it a small risk but this would be negligible when compared to, say (to take a random example), having thousands of undergraduates inhabiting the same accommodation during term time.

We Jews do not have the reputation of indulging in risky behaviour en masse. I recently watched a documentary about Brits on holiday on the Costa Del Sol in which the hotel manager needed to patrol outside to stop beer-crazed holidaymakers attempting to jump from balcony to balcony. I'm guessing that they do not have the same problems in Wales with Jewish visitors after a night on the Palwins.

Still, maybe someone should do a proper risk assessment. What might there be about being Jewish that really is bad for your health? I'm guessing health and safety officers don't often get to shul. If they did, they would surely be tempted to ban shockelling with its risk of lower back damage and headaches. And those who lift the Torah may be flirting with serious spinal problems from using incorrect posture.

There are also dangers lurking in the kitchen - not sharp blades or hot ovens but from the spectacular amount of saturated fat lurking in chopped liver and cholent, and the diabetes-inducing amounts of sugar and stodge in lokshen pudding.

There are also dangers lurking in the kitchen

And Orthodox men and women who carefully cover arms and legs at all times might well be at risk of vitamin D deficiency, particularly those living in the largely sun-deprived UK. (Although, on the other hand, this does limit the risk of severe sunburn.)

Other Jewish-specific forms of behaviour could have disastrous consequences. Those who rush to the back of the plane to daven may be undermining the aerodynamic balance of the airliner. Opening the door for Elijah on Seder night could be the cue for armed robbers to take all your possessions and kidnap your grandma. And driving while holding a mobile phone in one hand and gesticulating with the other might be more-or-less compulsory in Israel but could be detrimental to the health of road-users.

But lighting candles on Friday night? It may be considered reckless in parts of Wales, but the very same people who ban candles would probably sanction the playing of rugby on a Saturday afternoon. So what is more dangerous? A: scrumming down against the Pontypool front row Or B: making kiddush. Answers on a postcard to Aberystwyth University health and safety department.

Last updated: 9:45am, June 10 2013