Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Of Germs and Jews

Microbiomes are hot stuff, and I, too, am pyched about it. Bacteria keeps us functioning! Put down that antibiotic! Play in the dirt!
As most trends, it's starting to get a little too hysterical, cautions Ed Yong ("There Is No 'Healthy' Microbiome"), as some believe that the Western gut needs reinforcements from authentic hunter-gatherer tribes. 
This reasoning is faulty. It romanticizes our relationships with our microbes, painting them as happy partnerships that were better off in the good old days. It also invokes an increasingly common trope: that there is a “normal” or “healthy” microbiome that one should aim for. There is not. The microbiome is complex, varied, ever changing and context-dependent — qualities that are the enemies of easy categorization.
Yong argues that if one is healthy, one's microbiome doesn't require backup. It has simply adapted to that specific individual's ideal. Microbiomes don't remain static, even in the healthy; they change, even on a daily basis, maintaining the balance necessary for steady robustness. 
Whereas those hunter-gatherers have their own suitable microbiome, catered to their own environment. If a Westerner does not share their lifestyle, usurping their bacteria won't do him any good.  Maybe even harm.
The microbiome is the sum of our experiences throughout our lives: the genes we inherited, the drugs we took, the food we ate, the hands we shook. It is unlikely to yield one-size-fits-all solutions to modern maladies.
We cling to the desire for simple panaceas that will bestow good health with minimal effort. But biology is rarely that charitable. So we need to learn how tweaking our diets, lifestyles and environments can nudge and shape the ecosystems in our bodies. And we need ways of regularly monitoring a person’s microbiome to understand how its members flicker over time, and whether certain communities are more steadfast than others.
Our microbes are truly part of us, and just as we are vast in our variety, so, too, are they. We must embrace this complexity if we hope to benefit from it.
This concept is applicable in many other arenas. Even when it comes to Jewish hashkafa. 

We are all born into homes, each of which holds its own practices and perspectives. For a long while, we think this is the only way to live, and this is the only way that's right. 

Yet we grow, and meet different people who have their own practices and perspectives, also within the same Jewish realm. And yet, despite the fact that many have been raised FFB, a number launch across a vast divide and vehemently adopt another lifestyle. 

This article helps me to better express my perplexity with such a situation. 

Our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents evolved as Jews from their own experiences. They bent in certain areas in order not to break. They emerged frum, these practices and perspectives fused to their very DNA, organic, comfortable in their own truth. 

No Jewish frum lifestyle is "better" or "worse" than another. Scorning one's own heritage to don a borrowed culture says otherwise. Heightening stringency in halacha is not the same thing as defecting to another community. 

The transfer is rarely fluid. For a long time, perhaps forever, the newly transplanted never feel completely at home, totally accepted. Because this isn't where one is supposed to be.

We're all one. The Diaspora scattered us, and we return not quite the same, but no less valid. 

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