Jehoshua Bar-Nir is hoping to turn the Jewish world on its head, and he has started with himself.
Identifying with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement beginning in 1981, Bar-Nir has been an advocate for healthy living since growing up on a secular kibbutz in Israel. He eats a mostly vegan diet (he only has a “small piece of salmon on Shabbos”) and sticks to a strict regimen of exercise.
He will not publicly reveal his age, but instead simply declares: “I can do things that people 40 years younger than me are not doing.”
Things like getting up each day before the crack of dawn to stand on his head for 50 minutes. And eschewing a car in favor of using his feet to carry him just about anywhere he needs to go.
Bar-Nir, who came to Pittsburgh four years ago after living for some time in New York, has launched a “healthy program,” he said. Calling his enterprise JBN Organic, the business is now centered on the production and distribution of the fresh, organic carrot juice that Bar-Nir produces in the basement below his Squirrel Hill apartment.
By special request, Bar-Nir also can produce fresh apple and beet juice, he said.
Bar-Nir purchases 150 pounds of organic carrots each week from the Whole Foods in East Liberty, to which he travels from Squirrel Hill on foot, a 50-minute hike each way. It takes 15 pounds of carrots to make one gallon of juice, he said.
For his cadre of loyal customers, who mostly know of his juice through word of mouth, Bar-Nir personally delivers the juice to their homes, walking throughout Squirrel Hill, Greenfield and neighboring areas, with his juice packed in orange temperature-controlled coolers. For large deliveries, he places the coolers in a baby carriage for easier transport.
Because there are no preservatives in the juice, it must be consumed within three to four days, he said. That is why he is not marketing it to retailers.
“This is the freshest carrot juice that you can find,” said Pittsburgher Mendel Markel, a regular customer of Bar-Nir, who drinks a half gallon of the juice each week. “It’s fresh, cold-pressed and head and shoulders above the rest. It’s a whole new ballpark. The taste is far superior; you can really taste the difference. He delivers it every Thursday, so I’ll have it in time for Shabbos.”
Because the juice is made from organic carrots, it is free of the chemicals contained in nonorganic carrots that are then absorbed by the body, Bar-Nir said.
Physical health, he contends, is too often overlooked in the Orthodox world.
“The Orthodox are focusing all day long on spirituality and not focusing on their physical health,” he said. “They are asking Hashem for refua shlema (a full recovery from sickness), without changing their lifestyle. They have a healthy soul, but not a healthy body. They say they worship Hashem with joy, but how can a person be spiritually happy and worship Hashem if he’s not healthy?”
Bar-Nir hopes to one day garner enough financial support to move his juicing business from the basement of his apartment building to street level and open a juice bar, he said.
A former marathon runner, he has been eating a mostly vegan diet since he was 17 years old, following the example of his mother. He does not eat processed foods, and in addition to his morning headstands, he incorporates chin-ups and sit-ups into his exercise routine. He sleeps only about four hours a night.
“I don’t need so many hours of sleep because I’m healthy,” he said.
He attributes his good health to being mindful of what he puts into his body. His diet consists mostly of dates, figs, raisins, peanut butter, avocado, whole grain wheat, rice, quinoa and corn.
“I think before I’m eating,” he said. “Our body is not a trash can.”
Bar-Nir likens his eating habits with those of people in “ancient times,” who lived extraordinarily long lives.
“Scientists did research, and people can live up to 300 years,” he said. “I want to live as much as I can, but it’s not up to me. It’s up to Hashem.”
A vegan diet is being embraced more and more by Jews in the United States and elsewhere, including in the Orthodox community. Just last week, Jewish Veg, a nonprofit that encourages Jews to adopt a plant-based diet based on Jewish values, circulated a statement signed by 75 rabbis, representing a broad cross-section of the international Jewish community, urging other Jews to move away from eating animals and adopt a plant-based diet.
“Veganism, or a plant-based diet, is the new kashrut,” said Rabbi David Rosen, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Department of Interreligious Affairs, in a video accompanying the statement. “Any other form of kashrut is problematic, highly problematic.”
The rabbis state that in the Torah, God’s preference is for a plant-based diet for man, and that modern animal-agricultural practices violate the Torah mandate to prevent animal suffering.
Of the 75 rabbis who signed the statement, 14 are Orthodox, and at least two are part of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, according to Jeffrey Cohan, executive director of Jewish Veg.
While some members of the Jewish community believe that a Talmudic injunction mandates the consumption of meat on Shabbat and Yom Tov, Cohan contends that is misconstrued.
“The passage says to eat meat ‘only if it is pleasing to you,’” Cohan said. “But even if you do interpret it as a Talmudic mandate — and it’s not — that can’t supersede a Torah mandate. The Torah takes precedence.
“You can’t have a mitzvah if the animals are treated badly before slaughter,” he said. pjc
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.