Brian Sullivan

“Confidence in the healing powers of God through prayer and contrition is encouraged, provided that the patient uses prayer alongside traditional scientific medicine, not as a substitute for it” stated Dr Fred Rosner, Professor of Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine in 1999.

“In Jewish tradition, physicians are obligated to heal the sick and patients are obligated to seek healing from physicians. Judaism also sanctions certain complementary therapies such as prayers, faith healing, and amulets, when used as supplements to traditional medical therapy” said Rosner in his article Complementary Therapies and Traditional Judaism.

The following material is a summary of this article:

In Jewish tradition, a physician is given specific divine license to practice medicine. According to
MosesMaimonides (1138–1204) and other codifiers of Jewish law, the physician is obligated to use
hismedical skills to heal the sick. Not only is the physician permitted and even obligated to minister
to the sick, but the patients are also obligated to care for their health and life.
“Men and women do not have title over their lives or bodies, since they are charged with preserving, dignifying and
hallowing these” writes Dr Rosner.

Healthcare givers are obligated to heal the sick and prolong life. Physicians are not only given divine license to practice medicine, but are also mandated to use their skills to heal the sick. And a patient has a co-responsibility to maintain health.

Human life is of supreme value and religious observance, such as the Sabbath, can be suspended to preserve it.
“Nor may a person turn to treatments known to be ineffective, since this would, by inference, be shortening life” wrote Dr Rosner.

What about Alternative medicines?
Although the concepts of “science” or “scientific” as we know them today first emerged in the nineteenth century, Moses Maimonides, seven hundred years earlier, clearly distinguished between “therapies which heal by nature and whose efficacy is proven by
clinical trials” and “therapies of unproven efficacy” (M. Maimonides’ Mishnah Commentary on
Tractate Yoma 8:6).

In talmudic times (2nd – 6th centuries, CE), healing arts were taught primarily through apprenticeships and from medical books, some of which were written by famous Greek and Persian physicians. None of these precluded a search for other healing modalities.

On the one hand, the bible reports instances of health being restored following prayer (Genesis 20:17, 2 Samuel 12:16, 2 Kings 4:33, 2Chronicles 32:24, Numbers 12:13), yet Jewish law does not encourage praying and just expecting a miracle.
“...while every encouragement was given for the sick to exploit their adversity for moral and religious ends and to strengthen their faith in recovery by prayer, confidence in the healing powers of God was never allowed to usurp the essential functions of the physician and of medical science. ”

“According to most rabbinic authorities, there is little or no objection in Jewish religious
law to the use of amulets for healing purposes” writes Rosner.

Rabbinic literature lists amulets to ward off the “evil eye,” to avert demons, to prevent abortion, and to cure a variety of diseases such as epilepsy, lunacy, fever, poisoning, hysteria, jaundice, and colic .

Even Maimonides, who seriously questioned the efficacy of amulets, allowed them to be worn and/or carried, even on the Sabbath, because of
their possible psychological and placebo effects on the patient’s illness (Code of Maimonides, Laws of the Sabbath 19:13–14).

In Judaism there seems to be conflicting voices over astrology.
Rabbi Solomon ben Abraham Adret, known as Rashba, writes that people used to engrave the image of a tongueless lion on a plate of silver or gold to cure pains in the loins or in the kidneys (Response Rashba 1:167).

Yet Moses Maimonides branded it as a superstition akin to idolatry and denounced it as a fallacy and delusion , absurd . an irrational illusion of fools who mistake vanity for wisdom, and superstition for knowledge

Yet “traces of the belief are found in words and phrases such as mazal tov
(meaning a good star or planet), still used by Jews today”.

Medical Charms and Incantations
An incantation is a recitation over a patient, designed to neutralize harm or illness, and intended to induce healing.
Classic Jewish writers never doubt the effectiveness of incantations, even allowing their use to heal scorpion bite on the Sabbath.

Nevertheless, “The Codes of Jewish Law of Maimonides and of Joseph Karo (1488–1575) point out that such incantations are absolutely
useless, but are permitted because of the patient’s dangerous condition, so that he should not become distraught.”

However, Jewish law does prohibit using ‘forbidden heathen practice” (Leviticus 18:3).

“Some talmudic sages declared that if one whispers a spell over a bodily illness, one is deprived of everlasting bliss” writes Rosner. “On the other hand, the Talmud clearly states that whatever is used for healing purposes is not forbidden.”

Diseases listed as curable by incantations include eye diseases, headache, infertility and epilepsy

Another procedure, that we today would put down to the placebo effect, is “ transference, whereby an illness can be transferred to an animal or a plant by a certain procedure with or without the recitation of an Incantation”. This type of remedy is called a segulah or nostrum.

For example, patients with jaundice were told to put live fish under their soles to transfer the jaundice to the fish.

“The current popular belief among some Jews of the therapeutic efficacy of pigeons in the treatment of jaundice is based on the concept of organic disease transference from the patient to a non-human living animal; it has its parallel in the transference of sins from humans to animals in certain religious rituals” writes Rosner.

Rabbis are divided as to their efficacy or scriptural correctness while others suggest they do no harm.

Quacks and Quackery
Quackery is not condoned in Judaism, even when it is practiced by physicians.
Jewish law requires a physician to be skilled, well educated and ethical. The “faithful physician” is praised and held in high esteem.
Quacks are those who lie and deceive by pretending to have knowledge and skills and falsely claim to be “the best of healers is destined for Gehinnom” (Tractate Kiddushin, Chapter 4:14).
“Physicians are among a group of communal servants who have heavy public responsibilities and are warned against the danger of negligence or error. The talmudic epigram with its curse is limited to physicians who are overly confident in their craft, who are guilty of commercializing their profession, who lie and deceive as do quacks, who fail to acknowledge God as as the true Healer of the sick, who fail to consult with colleagues or medical texts when appropriate, who perform surgery without heeding proper advice from diagnosticians, who fail to heal the poor and thus indirectly cause their death, who fail to try hard enough to heal their patients, or who otherwise fail to conduct themselves in an ethical and professional manner” writes Rosner.

On the other hand, Judaism seems to sanction certain complementary or alternative therapies such as prayers, faith healing, amulets, incantations and the like, when used as a supplement to traditional medical therapy. However, the substitution of prayer for rational
healing is condemned. Quackery, superstition, sorcery and witchcraft are abhorrent practices in Judaism. However, confidence in the healing powers of God through prayer and contrition is encouraged and has a place alongside traditional scientific medicine.

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