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in the Babylonian Talmud
By Yaron Yadan
Posted November 18, 2004
Chazal's cures according to modern research
Medicine and Halacha in Our Times
- Healing snake bites
- Dropping snake venom into drinks and food
Persians considered those who healed illnesses through prayer alone as the most
effective physicians...this, then, was the cultural background upon which
Rabbinical law was founded; in this environment of witchcraft and superstition
the medical concepts of the Jewish nation and its leaders were first
Jacobovitch (5626) Medicine and Judaism.
Mosad HaRav Kook: Jerusalem (p. 56)
essay will examine the medical knowledge of the Babylonian Sages in the third
through fifth centuries CE, from the period of Rav and Samuel until the
Babylonian Talmud was closed for editing. The Babylonian Talmud has been the
main and most important book for the Jewish nation through the generations. The
formal Halacha of Jewish law is derived from it, as well as the general
permission to heal the sick and not to merely leave them to a Divine cure.
Ideas about medicine are scattered around the Talmud, incorporated into
Halachic debates, and one who wants to know the Babylonian Sages' methods of
healing must read all the books of the Talmud and scout out the medical
concepts, like searching for a needle in the haystack of Halacha presented in
the Talmud. Beyond the theoretical desire to examine the knowledge of the Sages
about medicine, there is a great practical need to investigate Chazal's
knowledge in this area, for some rabbis, even in our times, determine practical
Halacha from the Talmud, including in the area of pathology.
understand Chazal's medicine in depth, we should expand somewhat on the
background of the ancient world's medical notions. Though the Babylonians lived
under Persian Sassanid rule, whose medical methods relied on magic, we should
discuss what we know of medical history. Just as all scientific fields
underwent a significant revolution in the 16th and 17th centuries, a revolution
expressed through the study of nature as it is, of itself, without lending it
significance or powers beyond it, so did the field of medicine and all the
foundations of medicine. If, until the scientific revolution, the leading
physicians still thought illnesses had influences or causes outside the body,
like the stars,
demons, evil spirits, or the theological claim of "Divine
punishment," research will now investigate the reason for an illness
within the illness itself. Even so, study of the history of medicine shows that
even in ancient Egypt there were doctors who specialized in particular
diseases, as well as eye doctors and dentists,
which reflects a certain method.
the Greek and Roman periods there was a methodical attempt to heal the ill via
a general approach based on observation and investigation. There are those who
that Hippocrates (462-377 BCE) was the founder of modern medical science and
that he was, to a certain extent, free of the belief that illness is caused by
supernatural forces -- the gods of Greece, demons, or evil spirits, and that he
began the search for a cause within the body.
and Roman physicians wrote many books on medicine,
books whose goal was the healing of disease through plants and proper nutrition
or guidance in the detection of illness. In contrast, Jewish physicians did not
write books or essays devoted to medicine. The first [Jewish] medical texts we
know of are by Asaf the physician, who lived in the seventh century and
translated Hippocrates' work, and "The Book of Remedies" by Shabbetai
Donnolo (10th century), which is also a translation of Hippocrates' work with
some additional commentary. The Babylonian Sages did not write medical texts;
our knowledge of medical methods amongst the Sages of Babylon is found in the
Talmud as incidental remarks in the clarification of Halachic matters. The
Talmud is a religious body of work, mainly Halachic rulings and ethics, whose
goal is to lead to the fear of Heaven and the worship of God. Sometimes
medicine is brought as a consequence of a Halacha, and sometimes to teach a
lesson and a moral teaching. There is no special chapter teaching how to heal
the sick; all the methods of healing are scattered throughout the sea of Talmud
by the editor and compiler of the Talmud, cited in the name of people who lived
in various eras, and sometimes by those who were not eyewitnesses to the
physician's doings. This means that the Talmud incorporates various and sundry
medical approaches, from magical healing to folk medicine to
"scientific" healing (scientific in quotations because it is not
meant the way we now mean science to be taken). The multiple methods of healing
stem from the approaches of the various Sages (like Samuel and Rav) and from the influence of the Hellenists,
the Persians, and the common folk. Another thing to be noted is that the Talmud
totally ignores the existence of the physicians Galen and Hippocrates and the
other writers of medical texts. The only things to be found in the Talmud are
specific medical ideas by gentiles, with no mention of the physician's name --
(a gentile woman) or "the ass-driver" (a passing Ishmaelite).
is possible that there was a reason for this, like strengthening the belief in
Sages amongst the masses, as is common in closed communities which do not allow
the common people the developments of science found in the outside world
or which simply did not know of them. On the other hand, the Mishnah and Gemara
mention Tudus, a Jewish physician who lived in Rome.
opposed to the Talmud, which ignored the Greek and Roman physicians, a
significant change in the attitude of the rabbis to gentile sages' developments
in science and philosophy occurred in the period after the Talmud was sealed,
including in the attitude towards medical advances. Asaf the physician, in the
7th century, translated Hippocrates' work. Maimonides, in his medical text
Pirkei Moshe, completely ignored the cures found in the Talmud and dealt only
with Hippocrates and Galen and the other gentile physicians: "These are
the chapters I have gathered, not that I have written them, but I have chosen
them, from the works of Galen, from all his books. This is to say that his words,
which I cite, are a commentary on the words of Hippocrates."
Abraham, son of Maimonides
explicitly wrote that one should not accept Chazal's medical teachings without
investigation and verification. "Know that you must know: All who wish to
uphold the accepted opinion without investigation and understanding whether the
issue is true or not follows a bad point of view which is forbidden by the path
of Torah and of common sense...Since we find them [Chazal] saying things on
matters of medicine in the Gemara which are not verified nor upheld, such as
Chazal's anti-abortificant stone,
whose [efficacy] has not been verified." By the Middle Ages rabbis like
Maimonides and his son Abraham could make a clear distinction between Halacha
and science. Halacha as determined in the Talmud obligates the religious Jew
who has accepted Halacha upon himself, but medical matters, which are physical
issues and do not touch upon Halacha, may be debated and do not have to be
accepted, just as we do with issues of income, physical labor, and economics,
none of which are learned from Chazal. Maimonides explicitly made this
distinction and noted that though the Sages erred in discerning illnesses and
defects which can lead to an animal's death, we must fulfill the halachot of treifot
as determined in the Talmud: "We do not add to these treifot at all, for all
incidents which happen to animals or livestock or fowl beyond those which the
early sages listed and agreed upon in the Jewish courts may yet be survived,
even if according to medical knowledge it cannot live. Also, those listed and
said to be treifah,
though we see through current medical knowledge that not all will die and they
may survive, we have naught but what our Sages listed, for it is said,
'according to the teachings they teach you'."
Sages of the Talmud, believers in portents, saw every natural phenomenon as a
message from supernatural forces (God), punishment or payment, a lesson to be
learned, etc. More than that, the natural world, the heavenly bodies and man,
had a purpose and a Divine goal. "No man lifts a finger Below but it is
dictated about him Above,"
and no blade of grass is without its star in the Heaven which strikes it and
tells it "Grow."
Heavenly decrees are the prime reason for the acts of man and natural
phenomena. Similarly, pollution and bruises to man are caused by his sins.
"There is no suffering without sin."
Property damage and monetary damages are also the result of man's actions and
are not coincidence.
The forces which act are evil spirits and witchcraft,
and therefore the way to healing is removing the evil spirit, witchcraft,
or through the repentance of sins. Rabbi Judah HaNasi, editor of the Mishnah,
was ill for six years with fever or urinary tract problems
and was ill with scurvy for seven years. Rabbi's illnesses came because he had
sinned against an animal. There was a lamb designated for the slaughter, but
fearing his fate, he hid beneath Rabbi's cloak and cried. Rabbi told him: 'Go
to the slaughter; it is for that which you were created.' The Heavens decreed
that since he did not pity the lamb he would be punished with 13 years of
illness. His cure came about when he did a good deed. When his maid cleaned the
house, she found some gophers and wanted to get rid of them. The rabbi took
pity on them and told her to let them be, for "His mercy is upon all His
creatures" (even gophers). The Heavens decreed that since he took pity on
them, his suffering would end.
next aggadah will show how seriously Chazal took their view that the reasons
for natural phenomena are sins or, alternatively, the commandments: "In
one place there was a specific sort of snake which would pester the people.
They came and informed Rabbi Chanina the son of Dosa. He told them, "Show
me its hole!" They showed him its hole, and he closed it with his heel.
The snake emerged and bit him, and the snake died. They carried him to the
study hall. He told them: See, my son, the snake does not kill [man], sin
kills. [Rabbi Chanina, who was without sin, did not die, though he was bitten
by the snake.]"
The view of nature and the world as having significance and a specified goal
led the ancient researcher to see facts of nature as expressions of some sort
of ethics, and that effect was magnified for religious people who did not plan
to nor even wish to investigate nature on its own; all they were interested in
was how nature exemplifies their religious faith. It is obvious that this faith
causes man to investigate and seek reasons for illnesses in the area of the
spirit and religion rather than in nature itself. Therefore the modern reader
who encounters Chazal's healing methods immediately feels an intellectual
discomfort, extending even to oddity and ridicule. You must recall that the
cognitive and experiential background of people of religion and faith in
ancient times was utterly different. Nature, faith, and wisdom were mixed
together and were learned each from the other.
examples which will be brought in this chapter are just the tip of the iceberg,
but reflect the spirit and relationship of Chazal to illness and healing in
snake, in the Scriptural period, was considered an evil and inciting creature.
The snake, a symbol of temptation and enticement, successfully caused a change
in Creation; he caused man to sin and led to the punishment of death. The
snake, in the Scriptures, was sent as a punishment for the sins of the people
of Israel: "The Lord sent the fiery serpents against the people. They bit
the people and many of the Israelites died."
The healing proffered for snake bites in the Scriptures is through magic:
"Moses made a copper serpent and mounted in on a standard; and when anyone
was bitten by a serpent, he would look at the copper serpent and recover."
In the Talmudic period these two beliefs continued to exist, with a real
significance which served as the solution for a theological problem: Why do
righteous people who did not sin die? The answer was that it is due to Adam's
sin, incited by the serpent, or as Chazal put it, "the snake's bite."
In Talmudic times the snake punishes those who violate the words of the Sages:
"One who breaches the fence [erected by the Sages]
will be bitten by a snake."
The bite of a snake has religious significance beyond the health risk, and
therefore any specific remedy will not help every person. One who breeches the
rulings of the Sages will not be healed from the consequences.
suggestions for healing which are brought in the Talmud are varied and
accompanied by stories:
bitten by a snake should take the fetus of a white donkey, cut it and rest in
on bite, as long as the donkey is not found to be terifah.
After suggesting a cure for snake venom the Talmud brings the tale of a Jew who
was appointed tax collector for the Persian king and who was bitten by a snake.
He had 13 white donkeys which were all found to be terifah. There was one white
donkey, not terifah,
on the edge of Pumbedita, but by the time they reached it, it had been eaten by
a lion. Abaye said to them: Perhaps the reason a white donkey was not found is
because he transgressed the words of the Sages, and all who transgress the
words of the Sages will be bitten by a snake, without cure, as is written,
"One who breeches the fence will be bitten by a snake."
Talmudic section begins with the suggestion of a cure and ends with a story. It
is very difficult to assess the opinion of those who wrote this story. Did they
really and truly come to teach medicine, or did they make up the story of a
snake bite cure to teach a lesson and morality through fear mongering,
as is often the case with tales of the Sages' deeds,
most of which are aggadah and not historical reality? The demand that the
donkey be white and not a terifah shows that Chazal believed in powers
beyond the rational. Even if we consider that they thought the donkey fetus had
some special matter which would overcome snake venom, why specifically a white
donkey, and what is the advantage to a donkey which is not a terifah?
One could explain the demand that it not be a terifah by saying that it is
a demand which strengthens the laws of the Sages, who had ruled that a terifah
may not be eaten, and therefore it is also not capable of effecting a cure for
one bitten by a snake. But the demand for a specific color still remains
puzzling; one possible conclusion is that Chazal accepted the faith of the
masses, who made up their own cures and actions, as they saw fit.
method of cure is recorded in the Tosefta
brought in the Talmud
as determined Halacha. A snake bite is a danger to life and the saving of life
overrules the Sabbath, so "for one bitten by a snake [on the Sabbath, one
is permitted to violate the Sabbath for him] a doctor should be called from one
place to another [despite the prohibition of violating Sabbath boundaries] and
a chicken is slaughtered for him
and leeks are cut for him [though this violates the law of tearing on the
Sabbath]." The Talmud does not detail exactly what should be done with the
slaughtered chicken and the leek; it is possible this cure was known to the
public. But it seems to me that the lack of detail in this cure for snake bite
is the point of the Talmud. The Talmud is a book of law and not a medical text;
the Tosefta brought in the Talmud in tractate Yoma is meant to clarify a
Halachic point and
not a medical one. Therefore the Gemara does not discuss the efficacy of a
slaughtered chicken nor does it ask why the Tosefta does not mention the donkey
only does the snake bite, harm, and kill, it also desires sex with women, and
therefore the Talmud says:
a woman saw a snake and does not know if the snake desires her, she should take
off her clothing and throw them before him. If he curls up in her clothes he
desires her. How can she save herself from the snake's desire for intercourse?
She should have sex with her husband in front of the snake; this will disgust
the snake. There are those who say, though, that if she has sex in front of the
snake it will increase the snake's desire for her, and that therefore she must
take some of her hair and fingernails and throw them at the snake, saying,
"I am a niddah."
solution suggested by Chazal for banishing a snake via the throwing of hair and
nails, which is a disgusting and disgraceful act, is apparently influenced by
what is written in the Scripture, "If you see among the captives a
beautiful woman and you desire her and would take her to wife, you shall bring
her into your house and she shall trim her hair and pare her nails."
This command of trimming the hair and doing
the nails was dictated so the captive would not find favor in his eyes and he
would return her to her father's home.
instruction that a woman should tell the snake she is menstruating is
additional disgrace and disgust
to keep him from desiring sex with her. The way Chazal suggest she deal with a
"desirous" snake is the mystical path of talking to the snake. In
many places Chazal suggest talking to animals
or even with a river to ward off bodily illnesses.
is the suggestion for one who suffers from Quotidana Malaria which strikes
daily throughout the course of the disease: Let him sit at the crossroads and
when he sees a large ant carrying something, he should take it and throw it
into a brass tube closed with lead, and seal it with sixty seals. He should
shake it, lift it, and say to it: "Your burden upon me, and my burden [the
illness] upon you." If this does not help, let him take a new pitcher, go
to the river and say: "River, River, lend me a pitcher of water for the
visitor [the malaria] which has come to me. Let him turn it above his head
seven times, pour it behind himself, and say: "River, River, take the
water that you gave me and this visitor who came to me one day and left that
same day." Other
illnesses which come from demons may be removed by statements. Chazal warned
against drinking river or lake water by night, and if a person does so, he
takes his life in his own hands due to the danger of the demon named Shabriri.
If a person drank of that water and wants to be saved from the demon, he must
tell his friend "so and so, I drank water." If there is no one near
him, he should knock with the lid on the jug and say to himself: "So and
so, son of such and such a mother, your mother warned you to guard yourself
against Shavriri, vriri, riri, iri, ri, I drank water."
supposed that snakes dropped their venom into various drinks and into fruits
venom in food or drink presents as much of a danger as a snake bite and
therefore one must exercise extreme caution not to leave drinks uncovered and
not to eat fruits and vegetables which look like they have been bitten
lest a snake have eaten from them and left his venom behind.
in the times of the Mishnah, written in Eretz Israel, they supposed that the
snake drops venom into water, wine, and milk, and that one who drinks of these
liquids, which it is feared the snake has dropped venom into if, for instance,
they have been left without cover, endangers his life.
They even gave an amount of time it was permissible to leave the liquid
exposed: "Three liquids are forbidden if exposed: water, wine, and milk.
All other liquids are permitted. How much time must they be exposed? Long enough
for a snake to come from nearby and drink".
a discussion amongst the Tannaic sages about what types of liquids the snake is
accustomed to drinking and dropping venom into, what is interesting about the
discussion is that R' Shimon tells of an incident he witnessed in which a snake
drank of grease. The Sages reacted and said that this was a unique occurrence
and not typical: "Grease, vinegar, brine, oil, and honey are permitted
even if exposed, and R' Shimon forbade them. R' Shimon said: I saw one drink
grease in Sidon. They told him that the unique is no proof".
This discussion implies that the Sages often saw snakes drinking wine, water,
and milk, which is quite puzzling, for snakes do not tend to drink those.
general, Chazal did not conduct observations and experiments; even when they
saw phenomena which contradicted their understanding, they settled the
contradiction through textual analysis. Thus, for example, Chazal's basic
assumption was that drinking exposed, uncovered liquids is life-threatening
because there might be snake venom in it, yet they knew that many people, like
gentiles, drank such liquids without harm. To settle this phenomenon they
stated that these people are used to eating eat slightly venomous reptiles and
therefore had built up an immunity to even snake venom.
example: Chazal supposed that a cat is not harmed by snake venom, because they
saw that cats trap snakes and eat them. Therefore they allowed moving
exposed water from place to place on the Sabbath -- though they understood it
might contain venom and is not suitable for drinking -- because the cat would
drink it and not be harmed.
Talmud brings methods of nullifying the snake venom in exposed water which is
suspected of containing snake venom:
method of nullifying the snake venom in various liquids is learned directly
from the ways of healing snakebite, something which in itself is puzzling
unless they meant the reader to understand that one who drinks water in which
there is venom is like a snake.
five roses with five cups of liquor until the mixture yields 86 cc of liquid,
then drinking it.
mother of Rav Achdayoi, the son of Rav Ami, cooked one rose in one cup of
liquor and gave it [to one who drank exposed waters]. Afterwards she lit a fire
in the grate, gathered the coals, placed a brick on them, and sat the person on
the brick until he excreted a leaf-green liquid, which was the snake venom.
86 cc of white goat milk.
a hole in an etrog, filling it with honey, heating it over coals, and
then eating it.
170 cc of urine which has sat for 40 days.
The multiplicity of methods for cures shows that Chazal themselves were
uncertain about the efficacy of the methods. They are really suggestions for
cures which are non-obligatory; for example, the suggestion of cooking a rose
in liquor was given in the name of Rabbi Achdayoi's mother, and it appears this
was a folk remedy. Eating pinkhead smartweed is mentioned in the Mishnah, and
the other medical suggestions are from the Babylonian Sages. Apart from the
demand that the goat be white -- a demand which sounds mystical -- the other
demands are simply natural remedies.
is an illness caused by a lack of Vitamin C (ascorbic acid). The first sign of
the disease is bleeding from the gums. Without treatment, there will be
bleeding under the skin, in the joints, and in the muscles. Until 1753 there
was no cure for scurvy, nor did they know what caused the disease. James Lind,
a Scottish Naval surgeon, performed the first significant experiments. He took
12 people, all suffering from scurvy, and tried six remedies on pairs of
seamen. The only pair which showed significant improvement was the pair which
received oranges and a lemon.
to Chazal the
illness is caused by eating cold food made of wheat, eating hot barley, or
leftovers ("which have been left overnight")
of fish fried in its own oil with flour.
mei se'or [a sour dough meant to
sour and swell the dough], olive oil, and salt.
- Taking goose fat which drips off the
roast and rubbing it on the gum with a goose quill.
an olive which is not yet ripe (a third of its growth). Burn a new iron (from a
hoe) to white-hot and place the olive upon it. Afterwards, place the olive
between the rows of one's teeth.
The Talmud writes about
the cause of scurvy as a simple statement. It does not explain how it knows
this or how it reached the conclusion that eating hot barley causes scurvy. The
Talmud's first two suggested remedies were brought as a gentile woman's
effective cure for scurvy. The Talmud notes that the gentile woman made Rabbi
Yochanan (who had developed scurvy) promise not to reveal her wonder cure, yet
after he was cured [and believed in the cure's efficacy] Rabbi Yochanan taught
the cure to the public in his Sabbath speech. It was considered a quite
effective cure. The third suggestion was brought in the name of Abaye (an
Amora), who also developed scurvy, and tried the first two cures with no
relief. He asked an Arab and was told to take an olive...This teaches that these
sages did not involve themselves in research; they asked people who it seems
were known as healers, tried their remedies on themselves as scurvy sufferers.
Rabbi Yochanan, who was cured, understood that this was an effective cure and
publicized it. Abaye, who was not cured, asked other people until he was cured
through the suggestion of an Arab passer-by, and then he publicized the cure.
This is another example showing how the Talmudic sages were involved in folk
This illness is expressed
as an elevation of uric acid in the blood...Gout's main manifestations are
arthritic-type joint pains, characterized by attacks of sharp pain followed by
swelling and joint deformity ...The first precise descriptions of gout were
written by Hippocrates.
Galen was the first to describe tophi (the chalk stones which cause serious
inflammatory reactions and tissue degeneration).
One of the important components
of treating this disease is colchicines, derived from Colchicum tunicatum. Even
in ancient times the importance of this plant and its efficacy as a treatment
for podagra. This
cure is mentioned in the Ebers papyrus from the 16th century BCE. Use of the
plant was through tying chains of bulbs and roots on the affected limbs.
The term shigadon (gout or podara) as such does not
appear in the Talmud, and its identification is disputed. In the Mishnah
it is written that one may go into the public domain on the Sabbath with a coin
on one's leg, for this serves as a gout remedy and is not considered carrying.
In the Babylonian Talmud
they define the term as tzinit,
and Rashi says it is a "wound beneath the foot on which a coin is tied as
The Palestinian Talmud
identified the term as gout: "Go out with a coin above the tzinit -- this is podagra."
Asa's leg disease, noted
in I Kings:
"All the other events of Asa's reign...are recorded in the Annals of the
Kings of Judah. However, in his old age he suffered from a foot ailment."
The Babylonian Talmud
identifies this ailment as podagra which causes needle-like pains in living
flesh. Rashi explains "This is an illness which afflicts the legs and
which is called podagra," which is, according to all, gout.
supposed that the two talmuds discussed the same illness: "Tzinit is an illness which is called
According to Adin
Steinsaltz, a contemporary Talmudic commentator
they are two separate illnesses: "It would seem that tzinit is a swelling or callus which is
infected, and which is found on the foot...while the Palestinian Talmud specifies
that its tzinit is podagra
(gout), a painful illness which affects the legs and particularly the
The remedy for gout is
brought in the Mishnah: placing a coin on the leg. The Gemara discusses which
coin is needed. Since this is an important Talmudic discussion, for it shows
how many times Chazal learn of cures for illnesses from verses and not from
experimentation and investigation, we will cite the whole passage:
What is tzinit? A growth caused by [pressure from]
the soil. And why particularly the coin known as sela'? Shall we say that anything hard is beneficial
thereto? Then let a shard be prepared for it. Again, if it is on account of the
corrosion [of the metal, which softens the callus] let a metal foil be used. But if it is on account of the
figure [on the face of the coin, which may protect the growth] let him use any
circular plate [which has the same shape and figure as a coin, but cannot be
used as tender]. Said Abaye: This proves that all [these things] are
beneficial for it [the
hardness, corrosion, and the figure, and only a coin possesses all three].
It is the way of the
Amoraim not to doubt the words of the Mishnah, even if some medical issue which
is not clear to them is written there, including if some natural remedy which
common sense cannot accept is included.
They will scrupulously debate and draw linguistic conclusions while utterly
ignoring any investigation into the efficacy of the remedy presented in the
Mishnah. The demand that the coin have a figure upon it was concluded by the
Amora Abaye from the language of the mishnah, in which it was written "a sela on the tzinit" and not "ceramic" or
"metal," showing that the coin must be of metal and bearing a figure.
He did not conclude so based on an investigation of the use of a coin on the
is a disturbance in brain function which is characterized by sudden and
has been a topic of discussion from ancient times. Hippocrates wrote that the
illness is natural and based in the brain, contradicting the common view of his
day, which held epilepsy to be a supernatural illness. Galen suggested treating
epilepsy by drinking a pan of burnt bones.
also wrote: "Epilepsy
in young persons is most frequently removed by changes in age, of country, and
of modes of life."
brings different causes for epilepsy:
who has sexual relations immediately
upon coming from a privy, his children will be epileptics, for the demon
of the privy accompanies him.
who stands naked before the candle will be epileptic.
who has sexual relations by candlelight will have children who are epileptics.
one has sexual relations on a bed in which an infant up to the age of one year
sleeps, the infant will be epileptic.
is difficult to determine whether Chazal meant to frighten the people into
modest behavior or whether they honestly thought that these were the causes of
epilepsy. Having sexual relations immediately upon leaving the bathroom is not
considered becoming sexual behavior, so it would seem that they truly believed
that the accompanying demon can cause a child to become epileptic. On the other
hand, Chazal treated epilepsy as a hereditary disease,
which shows they thought there is some physiological change in a epileptic.
remedy for epilepsy is the writing of an amulet or hanging herb roots.
A magic method which the Talmud treats as a panacea, the amulet is considered
an "expert" amulet after it has proven itself by healing at least
three times. Chazal treated amulets as true medicine whose efficacy experience
yellowing of the skin and the sclera of the eye points to an excess of
bilirubin (the orange-yellow color of bile) in the blood. There are three types
of jaundice: 1. Obstruction jaundice, in which bile produced by the liver does
not reach the intestines because of a blockage in the bile ducts (for example,
by gall stones) or cholestasis. The urine is dark, feces light in color, and the
patient may itch. 2. Hepatocellular jaundice, which follows disease in the
liver cells, such as hepatitis. The liver cannot process the bilirubin in the
blood. Urine is dark, but feces do not change color. 3. Hemolytic jaundice, a
result of red blood cells breaking down at an accelerated rate.
Hippocrates understood that jaundice is connected to liver function:
"In jaundice liver sclerosis is bad."
In the book Pirkei Moshe,
Maimonides brings the words of Galen, who wrote that a jaundiced person may be
helped by looking at yellow colors, "for this suppresses the red"
and "Many people with jaundice have been cured by diarrhetics alone."
According to Chazal jaundice is caused when a man holds back his urine
in the middle of urination. "Keeping back urine brings on jaundice."
Similarly, holding back when faced with the urge to urinate leads to jaundice
and sterility. By
way of reproach Chazal suppose that baseless hatred between people leads to
jaundice: "A sign of baseless hatred is jaundice."
Remedies suggested by
a handful of cumin, a handful of saffron, and a handful of fenugreek boiled in
wine, but there is a risk he will become sterile from this mixture.
From what we see from the
few examples we have gathered of the Babylonian sages as reflected in the
Talmud, there was no consistency in investigating medicine. Sometimes they
found a remedy for an illness by looking in the text of the Tanaaim's words,
without critique or examination, and sometimes they asked passers-by or adopted
the accepted folk remedies. A wonderful example of adopting folk remedies is by
the Amora Abaye. Abaye was one of the Amoras most often cited in the Talmud. He
was raised by a nanny and learned folk medicine from her. Her words are brought
in many places in the Talmud, for example, after the Talmud explains that one
is allowed to go out in the public domain on the Sabbath with Rubia tenuifolia,
a climbing plant which is knotted and hung around the neck as a remedy. Abaye
expands on this and details the benefits of knotting the rubia: "My nanny
told me that three knots stabilizes the patient so his situation does not
worsen, five knots heals the illness, and seven knots works even against
suggested for a cow which has calved but does not want to nurse the calf:
"Bring a block of salt and put it inside [the cow's] womb so she will
recall her travail, take pity on the calf, and nurse it."
Abaye recommended that one who has heart problems should take the right thigh
of a buck and the excrement of cattle, cast in Nisan. If he cannot find that,
he should bring chips of willow and roast the meat over them. He should eat the
meat and then drink blended wine.
The famous saying "Don't give an opening to Satan" is brought in the
Talmud in Abaye's name: "Abaye said...A man should never speak in such a way as to give an opening to Satan."
folk and natural medicines, as well as various amulets and charms, was thought
to be medicine, plain and simple. Chazal did not distinguish between remedies
using natural materials such as herbs and remedies via amulets or other ways
which reason cannot agree with. All were permitted for healing, even if taking
the remedy involved violating a Torah prohibition. Chazal permitted carrying a
chicken egg to heal the thigh, the tooth of a fox to be rid of sleep
disturbances, and a nail in the form of a cross if one suffered from an
Chazal thought that the spit of an eldest son has the power to heal
ophthalmologic diseases, and accordingly determined the laws of the Torah. The
Talmud discusses the veracity of a father who states that the eldest son is his
(and not merely the mother's) in connection to inheritances. One of the
testimonies mentioned in the Talmud is that the father customarily tells his
friends or neighbors "Go to my son. He is the eldest, his spit heals the
eyes." In this case, the Talmud concludes, he is the eldest son of his
father and not just his mother, using the claim, "There is a tradition, passed down from
our fathers, that
the spittle of the firstborn of a father is healing, but that of the firstborn
of a mother is not healing."
Chazal believed as scientific fact that the spittle of a man's firstborn
heals, while that of only a woman does not.
Only in the Middle Ages and in the modern era, in the period after the
Talmud, do we hear criticism by rabbis: "And even the natural remedies
mentioned by our rabbis OBM in the Shas in several places are far from common
sense and deduction."
This criticism caused rabbis to distinguish between natural medicine and
"charm based medicine," between medicine accepted by common sense and
medicine which the mind cannot accept, as we will explain below.
modern Hebrew the term segulah
also serves as an expression of a special and hidden quality a person or thing
has. Thus it can now be said that "This grass has a segulah," meaning that the grass
heals in a way which is not understood and whose efficacy modern scientific
research cannot establish. In other words, anything which is validated by
current medical knowledge is called a medicine, and anything which is not
validated scientifically yet people use as a remedy can be called a segulah, charm-based.
sages of Babylon drew no distinction between natural remedies and charm-based
remedies. Whatever they saw as healing, be it through magic, witchcraft,
incantation, statement, ingestion, drink, salve, etc., was considered a remedy.
According to Chazal, all activities are based in the Heavens and on God and
there is no difference between the possibility that a plant or specific
substance can heal or that a statement or the writing of an amulet can heal;
both are through Divine supervision and intervention. The distinction was drawn
after the Talmudic period, in the Middle Ages, influenced by philosophical
scientific research and rational criticism. But the rabbis of the Middle Ages
attributed this distinction to the sages of the Talmud, by accident or on
purpose, to save the honor of the Babylonian sages.
understand this issue, we will first clarify, linguistically, the term segulah and how it has changed,
transformed, and had meanings added. In the Scriptures the word segulah means treasured and nice:
"You will be My segulah among
all the peoples"
Onkeles translated: "treasured,"
and Rashi wrote, "segulah:
"Besides, out of my solicitude for the House of my God, I gave over my segulah [hoard] of gold and silver to the
House of my God."
Ezra explained, "It is a treasured thing whose like is not to be found
the Talmudic period, aside from its Scriptural meaning -- treasured and nice --
it had the additional meaning of wealth or a deposit. Thus we explain the
Talmudic issue of one who harms a minor child. It is impossible to pay him the
damages, for he is a minor, so the damages are kept for him by the purchase of
property, redeemed when he grows up.
the Talmud it
is written: "Make a segulah
[deposit] for him...What is a segulah?
Rav Chasda said [buy a] Torah scroll [for him], Rabbah the son of Rav Huna said
plant a palm tree from which he will eat the dates when he grows as payment for
the Middle Ages the word segulah
was given an additional meaning, expressed and interpreted as a spiritual charm
which acts with no rational explanation or understanding. Nachmanides, in his
commentary on the Scriptures, explains what was special about the mandrake
which Reuben brought Leah: "And the root [of the mandrake] is what people
say aids conception. If this is true, it is a segulah of the plant, not part of its
nature. But I have not seen this in any of the well-known medical texts."
Joseph Elbo discusses the reason for people's laughter: "Researchers have
said that people laugh through segulah,
that there is no known reason for laughter."
is interesting that in the Kuzari
R' Judah HaLevi explains the Scriptural phrase am
segulah using the later meaning of a special, wonderful trait, and
attributed to the Jewish nation a unnatural charm special only to them, not
found amongst all other nations in the world. In the language of the Kuzari this is "the Divine
interest" or "the Divine power," and led to far-reaching racist
conclusions: "I will explain to you the greatness of the [Jewish] nation...God
chose them as a nation and a people, from all other nations in the world...This
Divine interest clung to them from their forefathers, through the sons.
And Abraham in the past was segulah...and the children of Jacob were all segulah, all worthy
of the Divine interest."
what is written above, it is clear that the use of the term segulah in its later meaning as a
spiritual power does not appear in the Talmud. There will be no division
between natural medicine and charm-based healing. Chazal made no distinction, ranking,
or classification of medical methods based on their value or effectiveness in
healing the sick; all you will find in Chazal is religious distinctions.
Healing through witchcraft and incantations is discussed in the Talmud in terms
of whether it is permitted or forbidden, following the Torah prohibition of
"in their ways do not go," forbidding following gentile practices.
Chazal called these "Emorite ways," a subset of witchcraft and
conjuring. But there was no doubt in their minds that the "Emorite
ways" of witchcraft
and conjuring were effective and a panacea.
discussion of whether healing through conjuring, in the "Emorite
ways," is permitted is found in the Mishnah:
"One goes out
[on the Sabbath] with the egg of a chicken and the tooth of a fox and the nail
of a cross because they are medicine. Rabbi Meir said that the Sages forbid
this even on a weekday, for these are Emorite ways." In the Gemara they
ruled that religiously one is permitted to be healed through conjuring.
Abaye and Rabbah both
agree: "Anything which is a medicine is not considered to be Emorite
What is being discussed
is not whether the tooth of a fox helps sleep problems or not; what is being
discussed is whether one may use this method of treatment, though it is like
the Emorite ways. The Halacha decides that it is permitted. Thus is it
explained in the Sefer HaChinuch.
After explaining that witchery is a mixture of supernatural powers which have
been banned because they may cause harm and evil he writes, "Anything
which has something of medicine about it is not considered Emorite ways; it is
not forbidden because of its witchery nature, since it has use [as remedy for
the sick]...This is not forbidden, for [witchcraft] was forbidden only for the
damage it can do." There is no doubt that the Talmudic sages treated the
efficacy of witchcraft as they treated the laws of nature. Phenomena and
incidents in nature are guided and work according to the supervision of God,
and thus must we handle treatment through incantations and witchcraft; all is
from God, who activates and causes everything's power to exist. To strengthen
our words we will cite the Rashba: "I see in the Gemara many
things to be feared; they
permitted snakes and incantations and witchcraft...without number...and in truth,
there is none of all this which helps...unless his heart be turned to Heaven and
he knows that the true remedy is His...not like those who turn to the ministering
Maimonides, the greatest
of Halachic arbiters and
philosophers who has ever arisen in Judaism, drew a distinction between natural
medicine and charm-based medicine which works through incantations and
witchcraft. We should cite his words.
First let us say that
Maimonides used two approaches to the issue:
Maimonides, as a
rationalist (and opposing what was explicitly written in the Talmud)
thinks that witchery has nothing real about it and it does not work, despite
what many people think: "Anyone who believes in these things and their
like and considers in his heart
that they are true and matters of wisdom, but the Torah has forbidden them, is
a fool and lacking in sense, like women and children, whose knowledge is
lacking. Wise and innocent people clearly know that the things which the Torah
has forbidden are not wisdom, they are chaos and nonsense to which those
without sense are drawn, abandoning the ways of truth for them. Therefore the
Torah spoke and warned against this nonsense, for you shall walk innocently
with your God."
According to Maimonides true sense rejects acts of witchcraft, and they should
not be treated as anything but the nonsense of the ignorant and of the masses.
Maimonides testifies that
it is proper to explain the Scriptures in rational ways and the Scriptures
should be brought into line with reason, even if it is the complete opposite of
the plain meaning of the text, as long as it makes sense. In other words,
reason is not handmaiden to the Scriptures, it is the Scriptures which is
handmaiden to reason: "Know that we do not reject the eternity of the
universe, because certain passages in Scripture confirm the creation; for such
passages are not more numerous than those in which God is represented as a
corporeal being; nor is it impossible or difficult to find for them a suitable
interpretation. We might have explained them in the same manner as we did in
respect to the incorporeality of God. We should perhaps have had an easier task
in showing that the Scriptural passages referred to are in harmony with the
theory of the eternity of the universe if we accepted the latter, than we had
in explaining the anthropomorphisms in the Bible when we rejected the idea that
God is corporeal." According to Maimonides the
interpretation of the Scriptures must match reason, even at the expense of
distorting and altering the plain meaning of the text.
In light of these two
approaches it will be easier to understand Maimonides, who deviated from the
plain and clear meaning of the Talmud and who attributed things to the Talmud
which were not said there.
In the Mishnah, in the discussion on healing rabies, a serious
infectious disease wherein the nervous system is attacked by a virus,
there is a disagreement amongst the Sages on whether a rabies patient may eat
the liver of the dog who bit him, though it is a food forbidden by Halacha.
Matiya the son of Charish permits it, as it is a remedy, and the saving of a
life permits the eating of forbidden foods. The Sages forbade it, as it does
"One who was bitten by a wild dog is not fed the dog's liver, and Rabbi
Matiya the son of Cheresh permits it."
Maimonides, in his
commentary on the Mishnah
explained that according to the Sages who forbid eating the flesh of the dog
because it has not been proven as effective against rabies, "the Halacha
is not as Rabbi Matiya the son of Cheresh, who permits feeding a person the
liver of the dog who bit him, for this works only through some charm. The Sages suppose that one does not
violate the laws unless it is for a real cure, for natural remedies, the real
thing, extracted through wisdom and experience, which are close to truth. But
healing with those which heal through their charms is forbidden, for their weak
power is not from reason and experience; it is a weak claim by the mistaken.
This is the main thing for you to know and remember, for it is a great
principle." In his book Guide to the Perplexed
Maimonides added that charm-based medicine has nothing real about it and that
it is unproven by experience. Therefore it is forbidden from a religious
standpoint as witchcraft and Emorite ways: "In order that we may keep far
from all kinds of witchcraft...everything that the idolaters, according to their
doctrine, and contrary to reason, consider as
being useful and acting in the manner of certain mysterious
forces...Our Sages say distinctly,
'whatever is used as medicine' does not come under the law of 'the ways of the
Emorite': they hold that only such cures as are recommended by reason are
permitted, and other cures are prohibited...It is not inconsistent that a nail of
the gallows and
the tooth of a fox
have been permitted
to be used as cures: for these things have been considered
in those days as facts established by experiment. They served as cures...the Law
permits as medicine everything that has been verified by experiment, although
it cannot be explained by analogy."
We will stay with
Maimonides' explanation, "'whatever is used as medicine' does not come
under the law of 'the ways of the
Emorite': they hold that only such cures as are recommended by reason are
permitted, and other cures are prohibited." Maimonides explains the intent
of Chazal in the term "ways of the Emorite" as ways which the study
of nature does not demand. This is in contrast to the simple meaning of the phrase,
which is any action whose goal is healing, even if it is "ways of the
Emorite," is not forbidden due to witchcraft and sorcery, but if the goal
is not healing and it looks like "the ways of the Emorite" it is
Another proof is that later on in the Gemara, after they determined the rule
"whatever is used as medicine' does not come under the law of the ways of
the Emorite," it is said "A tanna recited the chapter of Emorite
practices before R. Hiyya the son of Abin. Said he to him: All these are
forbidden as Emorite practices, save the following: If one has a bone in his
throat, he may bring of that kind [of animal], place it on his head, and say
thus: 'One by one go down, swallow, go down one by one': this is not considered
the ways of the Emorite. For a fish bone he should say thus: 'You are stuck in
like a pin, you are locked up as [within] a cuirass; go down, go down.'"
It is clear that these two incantations do not meet the criteria of consideration
and reason which Maimonides set, and even so they are permitted, for according
to Chazal incantations and natural medicines have the same rules and are
permitted, even according to religious views.
on, answers the contradiction to his words which he finds in the Mishnah, where
it is stated that one is permitted to use incantations and amulets, even if
consideration does not demand them: "It is not inconsistent that a nail of
the gallows and
the tooth of a fox
have been permitted
to be used as cures: for these things had been considered
in those days as facts established by experiment. They served as cures...the Law
permits as medicine everything that has been verified by experiment, although
it cannot be explained by analogy."
With this answer
Maimonides threw his own method away. If the determining condition is
experience and not necessarily consideration and reason, then he permitted all
incantations and witchcraft which "experience" has proven. The most
puzzling thing in Maimonides' words is that he brings as an example of something
which consideration does not demand and yet which experience has proven the
tying of grasses on the neck as helpful to an epileptic, and dog feces as
helpful for pus in the throat. With this he threw his lot in with "those
who believe chaos and nonsense," for what is the difference between tying
grasses on the neck of an epileptic and putting a chicken on the head to remove
a bone stuck in one's throat?
saw that Maimonides' words held an internal contradiction: If the suggested
remedies, be they "natural" or witchcraft and incantations, are not
effective and experience disproves them, then they are nonsense, but if
experience bears them out and we see that sick people are healed, though we
have no satisfactory explanation for the phenomenon, it is medicine for all
intents and purposes. "And I ask, as one who doubts the words of
[Maimonides] what he would consider demanded by natural consideration. Is it
whatever is demanded by the consideration of scholars who wrote nature books,
like Aristotle and Galen and their colleagues who wrote books about the nature
of the drugs and fortifications which are effective, in their eyes, and
whatever they did not see is to be considered forbidden as 'ways of the
Emorite'...This truly cannot be accepted by the mind...and yet even the wisest of
scholars on the natural world is still a man [limited, and he cannot understand
all phenomena in nature]. Just like the magnet, upon which iron jumps...can be
understood through the consideration of none of these natural scholars. So all the charms based in nature act as drugs and
fortifications [healing drugs and healing herbs] and are not to be
considered 'ways of the Emorite,' just as the effective and known remedies by
these scholars are not so considered...If this is so, why should we forbid what
they say based on charmed nature? Perhaps the consideration of one scholar OBM
will demand it, but not the consideration of another natural scholar?"
The fact that the
greatest physicians, like Hippocrates and Galen, could not explain natural phenomena
is not reason to turn these medical approaches into "ways of the
Emorite," for perhaps some scholar in the future will be able to explain
these natural phenomena to us. Chazal testified in the Talmud that witchcraft,
incantations, and amulets are proven by experience; they "saw"
patients being healed from their illnesses and therefore these methods were to
be considered medicine, even if it did come through incantations which
reasoning and logic reject.
The Sages of
Babylon, as reflected in their opinions in the Talmud, did not note a
distinction between forms of medicine. They did not deal in methodical medical
research, and their words look like a pick and choose anthology of remedies.
Their knowledge of medicine, scattered throughout the sea of the Talmud, is a
random anthology of what they had heard from their nannies or passers-by, from
experts in the writing of amulets and sorcerers expert in incantations, from
physicians skilled in healing herbs, and from legends of the Sages' acts. In
their opinion, anything which has some potential to heal the sick is not charm,
magic, or sorcery. Chazal did not make a distinction between natural remedies
and healing through incantations and witchcraft in the scientific realm, only
in the religious realm. A historiographer dealing with the history of medicine
will not find mention in the Talmud of "Jewish medicine" as he will
find mention of local medicine in the writings of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. He
will find no school of research, no medical texts, and no details of healing as
he will find in the medical texts of Greece and Rome (such as those by
Hippocrates and Galen).
This section does not pretend to review the opinion of all Jewish
researchers on the issue of Chazal's "cures," it means only to arouse
criticism of some of the Jewish researchers who favor Chazal and whose research
is dogmatic and biased. I would not be taking a risk to say that they try to
use their intellectual gifts to glorify the knowledge of Chazal, the sages of
the Jewish nation, and so idealize the historic past of our sages and so
glorify the Jewish people. They attribute to Chazal medical knowledge which
they never stated nor intended, and medical breakthroughs which only modern
medicine truly understood.
Below are a number of examples of this idealization of our sages, the
part exemplifying the whole:
Dr. David Margalit wrote many books about medicine and Chazal,
including: "The Sages of Israel as Physicians," "The Sages of
Israel in Medicine," and "Language and Healing in the
Scriptures." One of the
conclusions Margalit drew, which serves him as a motif in his books, is that
Chazal knew no less medicine than gentile scholars: "The words of Chazal
in the Mishnah and the Gemara, surprisingly, give time and again instructions
on using complex instruments, on performing complicated operations with
anesthetic, for using abortificants, etc. The conclusion to be drawn is that
there was a well-developed, steady school of learning and research into the
development of humans and animals, experiments, and the development of surgical
skills. There are also hints to a cosmetology school...Again: most things were
not listed on their own, but incidentally during a discussion of Halacha...and
our Sages who dealt with all of these experiments and research as incidental
are no less than the professional researchers whose job that was -- in all lands and all periods and times,
those whose guiding light was the uncovering of the mysteries of nature."
After the above, Margalit brings an example from the Talmud to support
beza turmita? -- Samuel said: The slave who can prepare one is worth a thousand denarii. For it must be placed a thousand times in hot water
and a thousand times in cold, until small enough to be swallowed whole. If one
is ulcerated, it attracts the matter to itself, and when it passes out the
doctor knows what medicine is required and how to treat him. Samuel used to
examine himself with a Kulha,
[which weakened him so] that his household tore their hair [in despair].
And his conclusion: "These examinations are the most wonderful we
find in the Talmud...the ambition to research, to know, to answer all troubling
questions -- is not just the province of the modern scientific man, even Samuel
and his generation wanted this, and that is their greatness: their pioneering
Margalit admits that Chazal's words about medicine are generally
written incidentally, to explain Halacha, and not systematically: "and our
Sages dealt with all of these experiments and research as incidental." He
also admits that this internal examination is, in practice, ineffective:
"It is not the efficacy of the examination which is important -- the
attempt is important in and of itself."
The only thing Margalit learned from Samuel's words is Samuel's attempt
at examining himself internally using an egg or a Kulha [tube].
Analyzing the issue in the Gemara shows that even Samuel's attempt at
an examination was not original to him; he heard about it from another source.
I will also show that Samuel could not show that this examination was
efficient, and that there is no research method here.
Gemara clarifies what the beza
turmita in question is. Samuel answered that it is an egg placed a
thousand times in hot water and a thousand times in cold, until small enough to
be swallowed whole for purposes of internal examination, to find the reason for
But Samuel himself
did not use this egg, he used a Kulha [what this Kulha is isn't entirely clear],
meaning that Samuel wasn't expert in the making of the egg. On himself he used
a Kulha and not the egg, as the Ran writes: "Since he was not expert in
making the egg, Samuel examined himself using a Kulha." So the knowledge
of internal examinations must have come from a different source and not Samuel,
and it is reasonable to suppose that the source of this examination was not his
fellow students (the sages of Nahardea). Otherwise he would have asked them how
to make the diagnostic egg. Also, cooking an egg a thousand times in boiling
water and plunging it into cool water a thousand times is a great deal of work,
something which not many people did, so this wasn't a very effective
examination to use. Also, it is explained that when Samuel swallowed the Kulha
he was in a great deal of pain, to the extent that his household pulled their
hair out from worry. That means they did not do this examination, so even they
could not say how effective the examination was. In addition, why didn't Samuel
write the different signs which show the various illnesses or potential cures
after the Kulha or egg is removed so that we would know not only how to conduct
the examination, but also what to do with it, following the method of authors
of medical texts such as Hippocrates and Galen?
From all the above
I can conclude one thing -- Samuel examined himself to discover the location
and cause of his stomach pain, using a Kulha -- no more than this. There is no
research here, no pioneering or innovation, only an attempted examination
already known of from a different source. Moreover, all nations and tribes have
always tried to heal their pain and their ill, so what's the big deal about
trying to eat an egg in order to find the cause of the pain? A situation in
which people try to find remedy for their illnesses is not what is discussed
here, nor does it represent any innovation. What Margalit must prove is the method of research; did Chazal, or in this case Samuel, have a method of
research, or some establish and developed school of thought as Margalit
attributes to them? The mere fact that there was an attempt to find a remedy
for an illness does not teach about any method of research.
He continued this
dogmatic way in his book "The Jewish Way in Medicine." Not only did
he not learn the Talmudic issue in depth, he even quotes it erroneously and
misleadingly. First we will bring his words and then the critique.
In the section
"The heart and its function in the circulation of blood according to the
Ancients" Margalit writes: "Today we can only agree with Rav's
supposition [which contradicts Samuel's opinion] that not only is blood found
in the aorta, it is in all arteries, as the Gemara concludes: 'There are three
large arteries: one leads toward the heart, one to the lungs, and one toward
the liver.' As Rashi there explains, 'After the pipe enters the chest it splits
into three.' This is a very realistic picture of the large arteries and the
movement of all the blood (incidentally, this paragraph is taken from Galen).
It is interesting that Lampornati erred in the meaning of the Rashi and claimed
in Pachad Yitzchak that Rashi had not checked it out, for he thought that Rashi
meant the trachea, and how would it be possible for that to divide off to the
heart and the liver? But according to all signs Rashi speaks of the aorta, and
of course Rashi is correct" (pp. 101-102).
Critique: Margalit's conclusion that the Talmudic discussion and Rashi
referred to the aorta and not the trachea are based on the claim "how
would it be possible for that to divide off to the heart and the liver?"
Margalit assumes that which he wishes to prove. He assumes that Rashi and the
Talmud could not err and think that the trachea splits off to the liver and the
heart, and therefore he concluded that Rashi meant the arteries, which do
split. We will bring proof that the Talmud does indeed refer to the windpipe
and states that it splits into three, one to the lungs, one to the heart, and
one to the liver; this is an error.
Margalit's citation from the Talmud, "three arteries," is
incorrect. The precise citation from the Talmud is "There are three
pipes." I find it very puzzling that an academic would not be especially
careful and at least correctly cite the source, especially when the linguistic
meaning of the original is just the opposite of his claim. The word
"pipe" serves as a placeholder for "windpipe": "The
esophagus or the windpipe. Rav Ada the son of Ahava said, the esophagus and not
The blood vessels are called veins: "R' Judah says: with birds, until they
are slaughtered, the esophagus and the veins! For the esophagus is close to the
Marglit relates the debate between Samuel and Rav to all arteries in
the body, while the Talmud shows that the disagreement between Rav and Samuel
was on the "heart pipe" and not that which leads to the liver or the
lung. According to Margalit's interpretation, the debate is about the artery
leading to the heart and not that leading to the liver or lung: "Heart
pipe: Rav said partially and Samuel mostly...[the rule about a puncture in the
pipe] of the lung as the lung, [the pipe] of the liver as the liver, [the pipe]
of the heart -- they were divided [Rav and Samuel disagree]."
So Chazal did not treat the arteries [according to Margalit, who states they
spoke of arteries] equally; this does not match Margalit's words.
The issue of a needle found in a liver which appears in the Talmud
(Chulin 48b) proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the pipe spoken of here is
the windpipe and not arteries as Margalit supposes. The Talmud deals with a
needle which is found in the internal organs of a cow, such as the lung, the
liver, and the digestive system. There are two reasonable possibilities about
how the needle got to the lung or the liver. One is through the esophagus;
while eating straw or grass the cow swallowed the needle, or through the
windpipe; while eating, she breathed in the needle. Rashi writes (Chulin 48b)
that on the one hand it is more reasonable to assume that she swallowed the
needle through the esophagus, "Punctured: through the esophagus it [the
needle] came in, for through the windpipe it is not customary to swallow,"
but on the other hand, since the needle is found in the lung, there is room to
suppose that she breathed in the needle and it reached the lung, sooner than
believe she swallowed it through the esophagus and it reached the lung: Through
the windpipe it came to the small bronchial tubes, and from the small bronchial
tubes to the flesh [the lung]...though it is not customary for the windpipe to
swallow, since we are dealing with the lung, and we see it has no puncture in
it, it is reasonable to suppose that the needle got in through the windpipe and
not through the esophagus, puncturing the membrane of the lung." This is
also the rule when a needle is found in the liver and when the pit of a date is
found in the gallbladder. The Gemara concludes that it came in through the
windpipe, for if it had come through the esophagus (Chulin 49a) it would have
had to cause a puncture, so it is more logical that it came through the
windpipe and the small bronchial tubes. Rashi explains: "It must have come
through the small bronchial tubes, having originated in the windpipe, for [the
date pit] is large and cannot puncture the esophagus to exit it."
From all the above, it is clear that the pipe spoken of here is the
windpipe, for a needle certainly cannot reach the arteries without puncturing
them. Margalit's conclusion is misleading simply because of his base
assumption, that Chazal could not make a gross error and think that the
windpipe splits off to the lungs, the heart, and the liver.
There are those amongst today's researchers who act like religious
people and bring proofs from the holy writ for their post facto veracity. There
is no way to learn anything from the text, but after the event and the
phenomenon religious people try to squeeze hints foretelling the event from the
Scripture. Similarly, today's researchers in medicine, after obtaining medical
knowledge through modern research, try to squeeze it out of the Scriptures or
the Talmud, and it is clear that without their earlier knowledge they never
would have ascribed to the Talmudic text what they did ascribe to it.
We will bring an example of this from an article written by N. Kass,
"Determination of Sex in Medicine and in the Talmud."
"It is said that the Sages knew of the existence of sperm cells
and that they have heads, as noted in Niddah 55b and Kallah Rabbati 2. In
medicine, their existence was discovered in 1677 by Leeuwenhoek."
A stunning discovery in the history of medicine. The first to know that
sperm cells have heads were the Talmudic sages, long before it was discovered
by modern medicine.
Critique: Kass brings no citation from the Talmud and makes do with the
note "Niddah 55b." I read the source twice and thrice and found
nothing there. It seems it would be difficult to fully understand Kass,
particularly given what he writes following: "The sex is determined by
sperm alone -- by the man. This is a medical fact -- and the same opinion is
expressed by the Torah. In Genesis 1:28 the Torah rules, 'Be fruitful and
multiply and fill the earth and conquer it.' Rashi explains that the word for
'and conquer it' is spelled defective, to teach that the man must conquer the
woman so that she not go out and about,' and the Or HaChayim rules 'and He will
bless them,' they will have the power to reproduce. The Gemara in Yevamot 65
says 'and conquer -- it is the man's way to conquer and it is not the woman's
way to conquer.' In other words: the Torah and the Talmud explain that the man
is the one who conquers the woman to continue the family and fulfill the
commandment of 'be fruitful and multiply.' The man has the power to
conquer...according to the commandment of 'be fruitful and multiply' -- so these
are the sperm -- the man's power acts as the power which determines the sex,
and not the woman's. The offspring's sex is, then, determined only by the
sperm, and is not dependent on the egg."
This is wonderful testimony how today's researchers who seek scientific
knowledge from the Talmud can warp, distort, add, and take away from the text,
all to find the tail end of some proof for Chazal's knowledge of science. How,
from a statement about a man's wooing of a woman, of the methods of reciprocation
between the sexes as a social phenomenon in which a man is the one who woos
(conquers) and not the woman does Kass conclude the true intent is that only
the male sperm cells determine the sex of the offspring? I wonder.
Another example emphasizes the researcher's desire to attribute medical
discoveries or knowledge to Chazal as a primary source.
Eli Turner, in the article "Talmudic sources for the history of
brings a Talmudic source -- he claims -- for knowledge about diabetes. The
Talmud discusses the laws of damages and injuries which one person causes the
next. It is ruled that he is required to pay recuperation costs. But in a case
where the injured party is negligent or remiss in treating the wound and the
wound becomes more severe, the one who caused the injury is exempt from paying
recuperation costs, because of the negligence:
"It may be replied
that what is meant by 'caused not by the wound' is as taught: 'If the injured
person disobeyed medical advice and ate honey for any other sort of sweet
things, though honey and any other sort of sweetness are harmful to a wound,
and the wound in consequence became gargutani
[scabby] [the injurer is exempt from paying for the treatment of the scabby
Turner writes: "Is the lack of wound healing solely a phenomenon
associated with diabetes? Perhaps not, but why not eat honey or other sweet
things? An ordinary person might be wounded (even large wounds) and continue to
eat normally, yet his wounds are healed! Only a diabetic patient might
experience this development. In this paragraph there are two other facts which
point to diabetes:
"The doctor ordered the wounded person not to eat sweets before
his wound became scabby. Why, then, did the doctor forbid him to eat honey and
other sweets? It is clear that the doctor knew that at least some people find
the eating of sugar detrimental to the healing of wounds; it is even possible
that he knew this person from a previous treatment and forbade him eating sugar
even before he was wounded, knowing his tendency to develop necrosis."
[His second proof is that the Talmud speaks of a wounded person who had already
been diagnosed as having a tendency towards scabbing when eating honey and
sweets. I did not copy it to save the reader bother]..."In any case, it is
clear [that the Talmud] is a proven and precise source, and that the earliest
of the sages describe the phenomena of diabetes." From Turner's words it
seems that the very fact that the Gemara mentions the eating of honey and
sugared things as causing difficulty for a wound is proof that Chazal
understood there to be a link between sweets and wounds, one of the symptoms of
Critique: Did we not now know through research that diabetes causes necrosis
following damage to the supply of blood, we would not draw this conclusion from
the Talmud. First, the Talmud's words relate to a wound which appears on any
person, not only a diabetic with a wound, for it is written "honey and any
other sort of sweetness are harmful to a wound." Turner made a supposition
that Chazal dealt, in their statement, with a diabetic and not with all people,
using the excuse "An ordinary person (not a diabetic)...continues to eat as
usual and his wounds heal!" Therefore Turner concluded that you must see
the Talmud speaks of a diabetic: "Only a diabetic could develop this
symptom." But it is this symptom which was known and clarified only thanks
to modern research; how is it possible to suppose what you want to prove? One
should not ask why Chazal said "honey and any other sort of sweetness are
harmful to a wound," for there are many and varied bits of medical
statements in the Talmud, short and unclear. We do not know why they supposed
that sweets and honey harm a wound, though it is clear to us that it is not
true. For exactly that same reason it is not clear to us why, according to
Chazal, rubbing honey on a wound helps heal it.
The Talmud overflows with healing advice which is unclear and incorrect. What
would Turner learn from:
"Eating fish is bad for the eyes"
"One must be careful not to eat meat and fish together, for they
are bad for the leper"
"Our rabbis said: spleen is good for the teeth and bad for the
intestines. Leek is bad for the teeth and good for the intestines."
Turner himself wrote that none of the Talmudic commentaries related
this Talmudic source to diabetes: "I want to bring a new-old source which
can shed some light on some of these issues. Thousands of Jews, even
Maimonides, have learned it, but despite this no one noticed or connected this
source to diabetes." It is clear; it is not possible to tie this statement
to the disease of diabetes if you do not first know that wounds are connected
to diabetes. One who comes to interpret the Talmud to understand and know
history must disconnect from his current knowledge and try to understand what
is written from within the text itself and the environment in which the author
of the text wrote.
It would be appropriate to end this section with the wonderful and
illustrative words of Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz OBM,
"The whole confrontation between science and faith and all the attempts to
verify the Torah through decisions of scientific research (natural sciences or
historical philological research), and particularly the ridiculous attempts to
'save' (as it were) the veracity of the Torah by placing the results of the use
of scientific method in doubt...are all absolute errors in understanding the
essence of science and serious errors from the standpoint of religious
There is no doubt that modern medicine since the scientific revolution
is not based on ancient medicine. Neither the letters of Hippocrates nor those
of Galen, nor those of any of the great men of medicine in ancient times or the
Middle Ages serve so, and certainly the medical methods scattered throughout
the Talmud do not. These remedies are learned in medical schools as history
alone. Though there are various remedies suggested by physicians of various
times which have been verified by modern medicine, it should be remembered that
we do not live according to them; we follow modern medicine and rely upon it,
whether it verifies or denies ancient remedies. Anyone who works in a modern
hospital can testify that he relies solely upon modern medicine.
Medical research and the treatment of patients is, like all other every
day tasks, a way to earn a living. Would anyone think of making a living
working at a job held by the sages of the Talmud? To be a farmer and water the
fields with buckets just because that is how they irrigated in Talmudic times?
To be a hewer of wood like Hillel the Elder? You see that there are things that
are simply everyday matters and not connected to religious faith. In everyday
matters the rabbis and religious arbiters do not reign supreme. After Halacha
a person must work and earn a living and not be dependent upon the mercies of
heaven, people learn professions from professionals and not from the Talmud.
Similarly, the manner of treating the sick is an everyday matter and
the physicians in each generation are the ones who determine how to treat
illness. Would anyone with scurvy
think of being healed by rubbing goose fat on his gums instead of taking
vitamin C? Would a patient with jaundice drink the urine of a donkey as the
Talmud suggests? It is clear that after it was ruled that one may work in
medicine and not merely rely on the Heavens to heal people
the method of healing is in the hands of the professional physicians and not
the Talmud. Contemporary religious people who have not yet drawn the
distinction between holy and secular and for whom the two terms serve as a sort
of stew are sitting on the fence. On the one hand they go to hospitals and
listen to current medical advice, but on the other hand there are contemporary
religious arbiters who try to draw medical definitions out of the text of the
Talmud. They treat the sages of the Talmud as a loftier and more trusty-worthy
source than modern medicine and have not yet internalized that Chazal's
medicine is simply a part of the
history of Jewish medicine. We will not bring examples of the confusion
and perplexity amongst today's religious arbiters when it comes to medical
One of the implications of modern medicine for Halachic decisions is in
the area of desecrating the Sabbath. The Halachic ruling of "saving a life
supercedes the Sabbath" determines that it is a great good deed to violate
the Sabbath when faced with a sick person whose life is in danger. Who
determines what illness is dangerous and demands the immediate loosening of the
laws of the Sabbath? Who determines how the patient is treated? Today there is
no doubt that doctors who studied in medical school are the ones who determine
which illness is dangerous and which medicine effective. Everything written in
the Talmud and the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch, relying upon the Talmud, are
irrelevant. The only relevant ruling is "All the ill whom a physician says
are in danger...for them is the Sabbath violated."
This Halachic ruling summarizes all the laws of a sick person on the Sabbath
which appear in the Shulchan Aruch; all the other sections are not relevant in
practical terms, merely as historic artifacts of medical Halacha. The words of
the Shulchan Aruch which state that any person who claims a particular illness
is dangerous and permit the violating of the Sabbath are anachronistic and have
lost their force: There are those who say that there is no need for an expert,
that all people are somewhat expert, and "in saving lives, one is lenient."
It might have been proper to consider every person's opinion in his days, but
now, in the era of modern medicine, there is no doubt that we do not consider
the opinion of any person who did not learn medicine in a properly authorized medical school.
Most of the religious arbiters who wrote books of Halacha after the
closing of the Talmud wrote about diseases mentioned in the Talmud, but did not
mention the methods of healing mentioned in the Talmud, and this looks like a
silent agreement to listen to doctors and not the remedies of the Talmud. Rabbi
Joseph Karo related to this topic in dealing with the Talmudic remedy for one
who swallows a leech. The Talmud treats the swallowing of a leech as a
dangerous thing which can cause death, and therefore they permitted heating
water on the Sabbath as remedy:
"Our Rabbis taught:
One should not drink water either from rivers or from pools... if he drinks it,
his blood shall be upon his head, for it is dangerous. What danger is there?
That of [swallowing] a leech. [This statement] supports R. Hanina, for R.
Hanina said: For one who swallows a leech it is permissible to get water heated
on the Sabbath. There was actually a case of one swallowing a leech, when R.
Nehemiah declared it permissible to get water heated for him on the
Rabbi Karo wrote:
"We heat water for one who swallowed a leech...it is simply that we heat
water for him, for this is what is written in the Talmud as the specific remedy
for it, but it is clear that if he needs some other remedy we give it to
suggested remedy written in the Talmud is not obligatory, and if there are
other effective remedies of course we are to use them and not the remedies
written in the Talmud.
Even so, we find
amongst the arbiters those who say we should not listen to doctors when they
contradict the words of the Talmud in diagnosing whether an illness is serious
or not. For example:
is listed in the Talmud as a dangerous illness which requires the violation of
the Sabbath. Though it is now clear that it is healed by the ingestion of
Vitamin C and is not dangerous, the author of the Pri Megadim
wrote, "Scurvy, though the patient and the doctor say there is no need [to
violate the Sabbath for the patient], they lie, for Chazal said it is a danger."
The Pri Megadim,
though he accepted the words of the Talmudic sages above the words of medicine
contemporary to him, did not refer to the remedies mentioned in the Talmud,
ignoring them completely. It can be asked whether, following his approach, one
may now violate the Sabbath for scurvy patients and roast a goose for its fat
as an ointment for the gums, or to heat iron on the Sabbath to place an olive
pit upon it, "for this is accepted by Chazal as efficacious in
The question of
how to act in practical terms when faced with a contradiction between what is
brought by the Talmud and what the doctors say is discussed by many religious
arbiters. Thus, for example, the Tzitz Eliezer answers a question of whether
one is permitted to violate the Sabbath for those illnesses listed in the
Talmud as dangerous, though doctors claim it is not:
is: Yes, and this is the case for all illnesses for which Chazal say we violate
the Sabbath...even if the patient and the doctor say there is no need, we do not
listen to them...since the Gemara says it is dangerous."
We can also ask whether in his approach a person bitten by a rabid dog on the
Sabbath is permitted to kill a hyena on the Sabbath to skin it and write upon
it "I, so and so the son of so and so write upon the skin of a male hyena kanti kanti kilrus, though some say it
should be kandi kandi kilrus.
Lord, Lord, Lord of the Hosts, amen, amen, selah" as the Talmud suggests?
It is clear that
it is inconceivable that any religious arbiter would permit slaughtering a
goose on the Sabbath for a scurvy patient, or killing a hyena for a person
bitten by a rabid dog. If so, what is the difference between diagnosing an
illness and treating it? If we are not to rely upon Chazal for means of remedy,
we should not rely upon them for diagnosing the extent of illness.
One of the cases
which caused great embarrassment to contemporary arbiters is Chazal's demand to
suck the blood of a newly circumcised infant to prevent danger to the infant:
"Rav Papa said: a ritual circumciser who does not suck the circumcision
blood causes danger."
Therefore it is permitted to suck the circumcision blood even on the Sabbath,
to save a life.
claim that there is no medical necessity for the sucking of blood, and it is
preferable not to suck the blood in order to prevent infecting the open wound.
According to physicians, the ritual circumciser who sucks the blood on the
Sabbath is violating the Sabbath, for there is, in their eyes, no danger.
embarrassment in this case is that the sucking of blood has become, over the
course of time, part of the circumcision ceremony, and to eliminate it because
of an error in the words of the Talmud would create a great spiritual crisis
for the believing man. Eliminating a custom which has become strongly rooted in
the souls of the believers may shake their faith even in the words of Halacha
in the Talmud. Therefore all the religious arbiters, as a man, decreed that one
should not change or eliminate the permission for the sucking of blood on the
Sabbath, even though doctors think there is no danger. Thus did Rabbi A.Y. Kook
answer the question: "They say that according to medicine [not sucking] is
not dangerous now...their words are contradicted by Chazal who said that a ritual
circumciser who does not suck the circumcision blood causes danger...we do not
listen to them at all...for when they come to contradict the words of Chazal they
are not trust-worthy at all, and of course their judgment is in error...But in
truth it seems that [the physician's] words are considered doubtful, for they
themselves cannot hold their own words with any certainty...for all their words
are nonsense; what this one builds the other contradicts, and so there words
are only estimations, not certainties...Therefore, even if there is a violation
of the Sabbath in the sucking, it is simple: we are required to [suck], for it
is always suspect of being fatal, and any suspicion of fatality supercedes the
Rabbi Kook, like
the other rabbis, treats the sages of the Talmud as though their medical
knowledge were more certain than that of modern physicians', and simultaneously
completely ignores the means of treatment in the Talmud. In case of illness the
rabbis send their followers to hospitals. One who was bitten by a snake rushes
to the hospital; he does not drink 86 cc of a white goat's milk or 170 cc of
human urine left stand 40 days, as recommended by the Talmud. The rabbis don't
notice that the very fact of ignoring the Talmudic cures and daily use of modern
medicine is testimony and witness that the words of the physicians are certain
and the medical words of Chazal are highly doubtful.
One of the medical
topics which has aroused great public debate is the harvesting of organs from
the brain dead for transplant. According to physicians death is determined by
brain function, but according to the Talmud death is determined by the
cessation of breath.
We will cite the
words of the Tzitz Eliezer responsa, part 10, 25:4 which serve as a wonderful
testimony of their relationship to modern medicine when it contradicts the
determination of the Talmud:
The determination of
death in these times...is a man's life tied to his heart or his brain?...the
determination of death in man is based on the cessation of breath, for it is a
rule for all dead; this is the measure we have accepted ever since we became
God's congregation, a holy nation [who draw medical knowledge from the ancient
tradition of Chazal] and all the spirits in the world [even contemporary
physicians] will not move us from our Holy Torah...in the manner that Chazal's
words...are spoken truly and justly, that all relies upon the nostrils and we
should not move a whit from this. Even if according to the new tests they find
some vitality and through this resurrect
him several times, even after it seems the breath in his nostrils has
already ceased, it only means the determination was inexact and they did not at
first notice anything, and he was only in that vegetative state which is close
to death...but the fundamental determination from this is that we have naught but
the Torah and the tradition of our forefathers, and any who doubt this doubt
God...The words of the doctors cannot be different, based on their knowledge of
medicine, than what Chazal determined, for we do not judge the laws of our
Torah and its commandments based on the sages of nature and medicine; they are
not faithful to their words and say Torah is not, heaven forbid, from the
Heavens, and they give false signs...we will rely upon Chazal, even if they tell us
right is left and left is right, for they received the truth and the
interpretation of the commandments one from the last back to Moses our teacher,
OBM. We will not believe the Greek and Arab sages who only spoke from their own
suppositions and experience, without noticing several doubts...Even today we see
this on medical issues; something which a few years ago was adopted as an
incomparable remedy is now held to be worthless and even harmful, and the
doctors do not hesitate to say that it is possible something is now considered
a wonder drug and an unshakeable medical recommendation but, in a few years,
based on new tests which will contradict those already run, medicines and
recommendations which utterly contradict these may be advised. How can it be conceived,
for even a second, to stray from what has been accepted by us for generations,
based on the Written Torah and tradition, because of these recommendations and
signs made up by the sages of medicine from era to era...let us clarify in what
they err...and wish to determine...that vitality depends on the brain...and this is
opposed to what Chazal determined for us. How many dead does this determination
claim, in this thing now called "clinical death"...they literally kill
people, and this is what some doctors now do to make themselves a name in heart
transplants. We should shout about this and announce that these people are
murderers. In truth, checking the nostrils does not show a cessation of brain
activity, it shows a cessation of heart activity. ... Rashi OBM agreed that
breath is seated in the heart...we will conclude by saying that...it is clear as
the sun that any we see dead, who have no breath, also have no heartbeat, which
is the sign of vitality brought in [tractate] Yoma."
That rabbi concludes two important things: one is that we should not
rely upon doctors, who change their minds from generation to generation. The
second is that one is not to doubt and change the tradition written in the
Talmud, even about medicine, "even if they say right is left."
In light of the medicine in the Talmud presented above, there is no
doubt that extracting medical definitions or determinations about the moment of
death from the words of the Babylonian sages is one of the most ridiculous and humiliating
things about Judaism, which comes out strongly against progress and
investigation and does not accept the results of research while simultaneously
using the medical achievements of modern research. It would not take away from
Chazal's honor were we to state that they were not physicians, for they were
not meant to be physicians, only experts in Torah and Halacha. If we claim that
Supreme Court judges are not expert in medicine, would that take away from
their honor and status? One who thinks that Chazal were expert in medicine and
we can learn from them about modern medicine, who follows the words of the
Talmud in contrast to the opinion of modern medicine, yet who runs to the
hospital and to consult with physicians instead of opening the Talmud and being
healed by it turns himself into a source of mockery and jest.
We will conclude with the illuminating words of Professor Yeshayahu
Leibowitz OBM: "Medicine, as we know it, is an integral part of our modern
existence: it is an existential factor for us. Were it not for modern medicine
it is doubtful whether any of this honorable public would be here...modern
medicine is not a continuation of the medicine of ancient times and the Middle
Ages. They have nothing in common but a name...ancient sources do not deal with
medicine as we know it. They deal with what was then called medicine, and this
interests us from a historical perspective only. Any attempt to draw
conclusions from the "medicine" of those days to the medicine of our
times is fraud. It is impossible to discuss the problems of Halacha and
medicine in our times relying upon what is stated about medicine in Talmudic
sources, in the sources of the religious arbiters, etc." (Judaism, the Jewish People, and the State of Israel
In conclusion: the sages
of Babylon, who lived between the Euphrates and the Tigris, between the third
and the fifth centuries CE, under Persian Sassanid rule, were in close contact
with the Palestinian sages who lived under Roman rule with Hellenistic
influences. No aspiration towards
philosophy in its ancient sense -- the study of nature based in reason
-- can be discerned amongst them. Chazal did not write systematically or scientifically,
and it seems that is not how they thought, either. The sages of Babylon dealt
with their religion and their faith only, and all topics upon which they
touched or which they discussed were in this context. The field of medicine,
which we discussed in this chapter, shows it unequivocally. The sages of
Babylon lived in an era in which many medical treatises had already been
written in Greece and Rome; if Chazal were interested in knowing the advanced
medicine of their times they could have. The Jewish community in Rome had close
contact with the Jewish community in Palestine, but they did not try to find
out about contemporary medicine because they did not want to. The sages of
Babylon were interested only in the survival of the religious community in
terms of faith and economics. This is like the separatist Charedi community
which now lives in the State of Israel and invests all its might in maintaining
the Charedi community, forbidding its members to go to university, not teaching
its children what critical, scientific thought is. Thus, too, was the Jewish
community in Babylon -- they utterly ignored the progress of their times; even
things which would have been healthy for them they preferred to ignore and use
remedies from passers-by, incantations and witchcraft, magic, and folktales.
Bava Kama 85a: 'And to heal he shall heal' [is the source] whence it can be
derived that authorization was granted [by God] to the medical man to
Hippocrates wrote, "When Sirius begins to be seen before the sunrise (in
the summer), purgatives are unsuitable." Joshua Leibowitz (Ed.), 5740, History.
M. David, "The Empiricism of Hippocrates," fourth essay, volume 7,
pamphlets 9-10, The Israeli Society for the History of Medicine: Jerusalem (pg.
 As the Greek historian Herodotus
(approx. 450 BCE) wrote: "The practice of medicine is so divided among
them that each physician treats one disease, and no more. There are plenty of
physicians everywhere. Some are eye-doctors, some deal with the head, others
with the teeth or the belly..." Most of our knowledge about medicine in
ancient Egypt is based on medical papyri, of which some 15 survive and cover a
period of about 2000 years ....Amongst the medical papyri are the Adwin Smith and
the Ebers papyri, which were preserved in copies from the year 1550 BCE, though
sections may have been written even earlier." "Illness and Healing in
Ancient Times" (5756), Reuven & Edith Hecht Museum, Haifa University:
Haifa (pg. 10).
 Joshua Leibowitz (Ed.), 5740, History.
A. Uri, G. Baum, "Respirational aspects of Hippocrates' work," Volume
7, pamphlet 11-12, The Israeli Society for the History of Medicine: Jerusalem.
Hippocrates wrote the Hippocratic Corpus, which includes 70 essays. Galen wrote
some 110 medical essays.
Avodah Zara 28a gave a suggestion for curing gum problems.
In Tractate Bava Kama 82b: "Cursed is he who teaches his son Greek
Pesachim 53b: "Tudus [the doctor] was a great Roman." Mishnah, Rosh
Hashanah 1:7, "An incident which happened to Tuvia the doctor, who saw the
renewal of the moon in Jerusalem." During the Roman reign the Jewish
community in Rome was involved in the Hellenistic lifestyle. It can be assumed
that Tudus the doctor, who lived in Rome, had heard of Hippocrates and Galen,
whose names and books were amongst the most famous, even though the Talmud did
not find it appropriate to mention them.
Maimonides, Pirkei Moshe [on medicine]. (5719) Medical Writings. Mossad HaRav
Kook: Jerusalem, introduction.
In his introduction to the book Ein Yaacov.
Laws of Ritual Slaughter 10:12-13. The Chazon Ish made a grave error in his
explanation of Maimonides, as though the latter had accepted Chazal's medical
knowledge, and therefore the Chazon Ish was puzzled: "And [Maimonides']
words are opaque, for it seems he verifies what the physicians say, and if this
is so, how does he reconcile them with the words of our Sages, which are as
nails driven forever?" Yeshayahu Karelitz (5736). Chazon Ish. Yoreh Deah,
Laws of Ritual Slaughter, section 5. Bnei Brak.
Bereshit Rabbah 10.
Rav Ami said: "There is no death without sin and no suffering without
wrongdoing..." [The Talmud concludes that] there is death without sin
committed by the dead man; his death may have been caused by Adam's sin, as
Chazal put it, "the snake's bite." All opinions say that there is a
reason for death and suffering -- straying from the correct path (Shabbat 55a).
After Rav Huna's wine barrels soured, his friends reproved him and told him to
examine his actions, for the souring of the wine was caused by an act which
should not have been done; Rav Huna had not paid a laborer his wage. After he
accepted the reproof, the wine barrels which had soured were once again wine.
Some say that what happened is that the price of vinegar went up to match the
price of wine (Brachot 5b).
In tractate Yoma 83b the Sages debated what causes a dog to become ill with
rabies: "Rav says, 'Witches toy with it.' Shmuel says, 'An evil spirit
rests upon it'."
One who was bitten by such a dog can be cured by taking the skin of a hyena and
writing an incantation upon it. He should take off his clothing and bury it [in
the graves by the crossroads]; after a twelve-month he should unearth them and
burn them, throwing the ashes at the crossroads. During the twelve-month he
should drink water only through a straw made of brass, lest he see the demon
[who jumped from the dog to him] reflected in the water and be endangered (Ibid.).
In the Gemara it is written tzmirta, which means a urinary tract
blockage due to kidney stones. Steinsaltz, Adin, Gittin, Hasholeach chapter, Glosses
and Notes, pg. 208.
Bava Metzia 85a.
A defect or illness in an animal which will cause its death within a year;
The Jews appointed as tax collector for the Persian government many times did
not heed the decrees of the Sages and instead were beholden to the laws of the
reigning monarch. It is possible that this legend was invented to force them to
heed the Sages' words, and that is why they used the fear tactic of punishment
by snake bite.
This method of scaring
the masses was written about by Ibn Ezra; his words are cited in the Turei
Zahav, Yoreh Deah, 116:5 : "I found it written that one should beware
drinking water at the time of the tekufa because it is dangerous, lest one
be harmed and damaged. The reason is that a drop of blood falls between one tekufa
and the next, but the sage Ibn Ezra answered that this is just a guess...and
there is no danger in it at all. Some of the gaonim said that snakes cannot
harm the Jews, and that the early sages only spoke of this to frighten the
people into returning to the Lord, so that the Lord would save them from the
of the year."
One of the most amazing things found in the Babylonian Talmud (Bava Metzia 83b)
is the surgical intervention performed on Rabbi Elazar the son of Rabbi Shimon
Bar Yochai to check his righteousness. Rabbi Elazar the son of Rabbi Shimon Bar
Yochai handed over to the Roman authorities Jews who stole or evaded taxes.
Since his acts were questionable, it was decided to investigate his
righteousness using the belief that the bodies of the righteous stay whole
after their deaths; the worms do not eat their flesh. They gave him a sleeping potion,
cut his stomach and removed a piece of fat along with some flesh. Afterwards
they left the fat in the summer sun to see if it would rot. They found that it
did not, as is the case with the righteous.
This story crowns the
tales of the Sages which appear in the Talmud, and we should be quite cautious
in approaching them: do they represent historical reality or are they the
fruits of the author's imagination? See the Open University course on Medrash
and Aggadah; Professor Yona Frankel wrote in the introduction to that course
(pg. 379), "Our conclusion is that many stories about the acts of the
Sages are the inventions of the storytellers and not a historical chronology
reflecting what really happened." This story about Rabbi Elazar the son of
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai seems mainly an aggadic story unconnected to historical
reality, and it may have been brought to justify R' Elazar's actions, handing
Jews over to the Roman authorities. In this story there are several
fundamentals which match the literary creations of the sages' doings rather
than tales of historic reality, such as the tale of R' Elazar's death, after
which his body remained in the attic of a house 18 years until its burial (Bava
Tosefta, Shabbat chapter 15, halacha 14, Lieberman edition.
To put on the wound to heal it -- Rashi, Yoma 83b.
The Gemara discusses whether it is preferable for the sick person to eat from
food which was not tithed or if it would be preferable to violate prohibitions
against work on the Sabbath and tithe the food.
Shabbat 110a. Dishtana, used in
this passage, is Persian for "menstruating woman."
In Yevamot 48a they disagreed on the meaning of the word "do."
"Rabbi Eliezer says 'cut' and Rabbi Akiva says 'grow'."
Devarim Rabbah 6. "The holy One, blessed be He, said, 'Though I permitted
her [the captive] to you, I told you to shave her head and do her nails so that
she will not find favor in your eyes and you will send her away'."
Chazal, when they want to express the disgrace of a woman, speak of
menstruation as something disgusting: "Woman is a sack full of excrement,
her mouth is full of blood -- yet all run after her" Shabbat 152a.
Who apparently "understood" their words. See Gittin 45a and Sefer
Halachot Gedolot 39; there were people who were expert in the language of the
"He whispers and says less and less. The demon named Shavriri leaves when
he hears the syllables becoming less, one by one, down to ri." Then the
demon runs away. Rashi, Avodah Zara 12b.
Avodah Zara 30b.
Terumot chapter 8, mishnah 4.
Tosefta on Tractate Terumot [Lieberman] 7:12.
Avodah Zara 31b.
Chazal forbade moving things on the Sabbath which have no use, such as stone,
dirt, etc. This is what Halacha calls muktze.
Therefore water which one is forbidden to drink should have been forbidden to
move, for it has no use.
Its leaves look like a flute, and therefore it is called obov.
In ancient Egypt they used a lotion of this plant as a cure for poisonous
snakebites. Yigal Granat (1994), "Medicinal plants of the Negev --
Medicinal plants in the Hellenistic period," Environmental Education
Publishing House: Sde Boker Academy.
Sheet for chemistry teachers: Knowledge of Chemistry. Technology and Society
No. 56/57 (1994). "Vitamin C" Editor: Dafna Mandler.
Avodah Zara 28a.
Rashi on Yoma 84a.
Rashi on Avodah Zara 28a: Kisa d'Harsena
is fish which has been fried in its own fat and in flour.
Though the Talmud does not reflect medical knowledge which can be relied upon,
there were rabbis who treated the medical information written in the Talmud as
"the words of the living God" and permitted doing forbidden actions
on the Sabbath based on what is written in the Talmud:
Rabbi Yosef Teumim
(1727-1792, Frankfurt) in Pri Megadim, Eshel Abraham, Orach Chaim Laws of
Sabbath 328:2, "With scurvy, even if both the patient and the doctor say
there is no need [to violate the Sabbath for the patient], they lie, for Chazal
generally stated it was a danger." We will write more about this further.
One who suffers from gout should, after the sharpest pain passes, rest for 40
days '' Joshua Leibowitz (Ed.), 5740, History. M. David, "The
Empiricism of Hippocrates," fourth essay, volume 7, pamphlets 9-10, The
Israeli Society for the History of Medicine: Jerusalem (pg. 772).
Encyclopaedia Hebraica, entry gout.
Weinberg, Y., Pinchas, Y. (5740) History. Volume 7, pamphlet 11-12, The
Israeli Society for the History of Medicine:, Jerusalem. History of Colchicine(pg. 760).
Sde Boker Academy, Division for the Development of Curricula. Environmental
Education Publishing House. "Medicinal Plants of the Negev: Summary of
Annual Colloquium in Memory of Aiynat Gross." Author: Yigal Granot (1994).
Mishnah Shabbat chapter 6, mishnah 6.
Shabbat 6, folio 8c.
I Kings 15:23.
R' Eliezer the son of Joel HaLevi (1140-1220), Germany. Raaviah part one,
tractate Shabbat 216.
Steinsaltz, Adin (1968). Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 65a. The Israeli Society
for Talmudic Publications: Jerusalem.
The type of remedies which common sense cannot rationalize were called by
Chazal "Emorite ways" and were permitted for medical needs:
"Whatever is used as a remedy is not the ways of the Emorite" Shabbat
Adin Steinsaltz tries to defend this medicine by writing, "The coin
attached to the painful spot apparently prevented rubbing. It is also possible
that the contact with metal also helped heal the wound. Even in our day some
metal dusts are used as remedies" and completely ignored the Talmudic
discourse and the demand that there be a figure on the coin.
Encyclopedia Hebraica, entry Epilepsy
Michael David (5740). History. Volume 7, pamphlets 7-8 (5739). "The Empiricism of
Hippocrates," second essay, 45, pg. 603. The Israeli Society for the
History of Medicine: Jerusalem.
For approximately nine minutes, the time it would take to walk half a mil.
This demon resembles a lamb (Berachot 62a).
Yevamot 64b: "A man should not marry the daughter of an epileptic
Epilepsy is considered a defect which invalidates a cohen from serving in the
Holy Temple (Mishnah, Berchorot 7:5). It is considered a defect in a married
woman, which, if discovered only after the wedding, allows the husband to
divorce her without paying her marriage settlement (Mishnah, Ketubot 7:7).
Shabbat 61a. One who reads Maimonides' Guide to the Perplexed, Part 3 chapter
37 will see that he wrote peony aids epileptics, through experience:
"These things have been considered in those days as facts established by
experiment. They served as cures, in the same manner as the hanging of the
peony over a person subject to epileptic fits, or the application of a dog's
feces to the swellings of the throat...For the Law permits as medicine everything
that has been verified by experiment, although it cannot be explained by
Rashi sometimes uses the term yarkon
for the damage caused (Deuteronomy 28, 22) and sometimes tzahevet (Berachot 25a).
Michael David (5740). History. Volume 7, pamphlets 11-12 (5740). "The Empiricism of
Hippocrates," sixth essay, introduction, pg. 772. The Israeli Society for
the History of Medicine: Jerusalem.
Ninth essay, saying 61. This is another example showing that even great ancient
physicians like Galen still held to a view of charm-based medicine. See note 1.
Essay 12, saying 30.
Bechorot 44b: "An overabundance of bile leads to jaundice."
Bechorot 44b: "There are two holes in a man, one through which he releases
urine and one through which he releases sperm, and there is only the thinnest
of separations between them. If they should leak one into the other, he would
Yoma 84a. This is the opinion of Matya the son of Cherash on the opinion of the
Sages that this remedy is not so effective it overrules the prohibition on
eating forbidden meat.
Bechorot 7b. The Gemara notes that this is the custom of people who drink
donkey urine to heal jaundice.
Shabbat 66b. In the Palestinian Talmud, Eiruvin 10:26, it is said that five or
seven or nine knots help.
The Mishnah, Shabbat 6:10. "One goes out [to the public domain on the
Sabbath, though one violates a prohibition] with the egg of a chicken [for feebleness
in the thigh] and the tooth of a fox [which helps with sleep problems] and the
nail of a cross [which helps heal infected wounds] because they are
According to Rashi's commentary on Pesachim 55b, "The tradition of our
fathers." Rashi on Yoma 32a, "Halacha given to Moshe at Sinai."
"According to Talmudic precedent, which has a precedent in the New
Testament and Tacticus, the spittle of a man's firstborn (not just of the
mother) has the power to heal the eyes." Jacobowitz, Emanuel (5726).
Medicine and Judaism. Mossad HaRav Kook: Jerusalem (pg. 62).
Bava Batra 126b: "A
certain [person once] came before R. Hanina [and] said to him, 'I am certain
that this [man] is firstborn'. He said to him, 'Whence do you know [this]?' —
[The other] replied to him: 'Because when [people] came to his father, he used
to say to them: Go to my son Shikhath, Who is firstborn and his spittle heals'.
-- Might he not have been the firstborn of his mother [only]? -- There is a
tradition that the spittle of the firstborn of a father is healing, but that of
the firstborn of a mother is not healing." Thus was it also ruled in the
Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 277:13, "It is a tradition that the spittle
of a man's firstborn heals, but not that of a firstborn only to his
Responsa Chavat Yair 234.
The philosophy researcher Tzvi Wolfson wrote that he did not find a single
philosophical concept in the whole literature of Chazal. Another researcher of
Chazal, Saul Lieberman, answered that Wolfson found no philosophical concepts
in Chazal because there were none to be found. Open University, "Jewish
Philosophy in the Middle Ages, from Rabbi Saadiah Gaon until Maimonides,"
Unit 2, pg. 6.
I Chronicles 29:3.
Bava Kama 87b and in the Tosephta on Bava Kama (Lieberman) 9:8.
Nachmanides on Genesis 30:14.
Sefer HaIkarim, second essay,
Sefer Kuzari, essay one, section 95.
R' Judah HaLevi supposes that the Divine power in the Jewish nation is genetic.
Shabbat chapter 6, mishnah 10.
Rabbi Shlomo the son of Aderet (1235-1310). Responsa of the Rashba, part one,
The Vilna Gaon, Yoreh Deah 179:13, comes out strongly against Maimonides and
writes: "All those who come after [Maimonides] disagreed with him, for
there are many incantations in the Gemara. [Maimonides] was drawn to philosophy
and therefore wrote that witchcraft and incantations and demons and amulets are
all false. But they already knocked him on his head, for we have found many
incidents in the Gemara using sacred names and witchcraft...and philosophy led
him astray, causing him to interpret the Gemara in mockery and to tear it away
from its simple meaning."
Laws of Idolatry 11:16.
Guide to the Perplexed part 2, chapter 25. Benedict Spinoza (Theological-Political
Tractate, chapter 7, pg. 91, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 5722) came out
strongly against Maimonides' method of interpreting the Scriptures:
"Therefore, the method of Maimonides is clearly useless: to which we may
add, that it does away with all the certainty which the masses acquire by
candid reading, or which is gained by any other persons in any other way. In
conclusion, then, we dismiss Maimonides' theory as harmful, useless, and
absurd" (pg. 93).
In Tractate Yoma 83b the sages were divided on the cause of rabies: "Rav
said witches toyed with it [the dog], and Samuel said an evil spirit is upon
it. Following Samuel, they said to kill the dog by throwing things at it from
the other side of the road. If he rubs against it he is endangered, and if he
is bitten by it, he will surely die. If he rubs against it he is endangered.
What can he do? Throw off his clothing and run. Rav Huna the son of Rav Joshua
rubbed against such a dog, threw off his clothing and ran. He said, 'I
fulfilled for myself what is written "Wisdom will grant life to its
possessors".' One who is bitten will surely die. What can be done? Take
the skin of a hyena and write an incantation upon it. He should take off his clothing and bury it [in the graves
by the crossroads]; after a twelve-month he should unearth them and burn them
in an oven, throwing the ashes at the crossroads. During the twelve-month he
should drink water only through a straw made of brass, lest he see the demon
[who jumped from the dog to him] reflected in the water and be
In the Palestinian Talmud Yoma 8:45 they testify that eating the dog's liver
does not help against rabies. "The servant of Rabbi Yudan the Nasi was
bitten by a wild dog and he was fed the dog's liver, but it did not heal
Mishnah Yoma 8:6.
Part 3, chapter 37.
A nail in the form of a cross helps heal infected wounds.
The tooth of a fox helps one who has sleep problems.
In many instances Maimonides walks between the cracks--rational wisdom on the
one hand and the Scriptures and the Talmud on the other. Thus, on the issue of
witchcraft he wrote (Laws of Idolatry 11:16) "Anyone who believes in these
things and their like and considers in his heart that they are true and matters
of wisdom, but the Torah has forbidden them, is a fool and lacking in sense,
like women and children, whose knowledge is lacking. Wise and innocent people
clearly know that the things which the Torah has forbidden are not wisdom, they
are chaos and nonsense to which those without sense are drawn, abandoning the
ways of truth for them. Therefore the Torah spoke and warned against this
nonsense, for you shall walk innocently with your God." On the other hand
he wrote (Laws of the Fundamentals of Torah 8:1) "Israel did not believe
in Moses our teacher because of the miracles he performed, for one who believes
in miracles has a defect in his heart; miracles can be worked through magic and
witchcraft." In the Vilna Gaon's commentary on Yoreh Deah 179:13 he comes
out strongly against Maimonides and writes: "All those who come after
[Maimonides] disagreed with him, for there are many incantations in the Gemara.
[Maimonides] was drawn to philosophy and therefore wrote that witchcraft and
incantations and demons and amulets are all false." It is the same thing
with the issue of God's corporeality. On the one hand Maimonides wrote (Guide
to the Perplexed part 1 chapter 36) "Therefore bear in mind that by the
belief in the corporeality or in anything connected with corporeality, you
would provoke God to jealousy and wrath, kindle His fire and anger, become His
foe, His enemy, and His adversary in a higher degree than by the worship of
idols. If you think that there is an excuse for those who believe in the
corporeality of God on the ground of their training, their ignorance or their
defective comprehension, you must make the same concession to the worshippers
of idols: their worship is due to ignorance, or to early training, they
continue in the custom of their fathers." On the other hand Maimonides
explained that the Torah wrote things which point to corporeality as the Torah
speaking according to the language of man, (Guide to the Perplexed part 1,
chapter 26), "That is to say, expressions, which can easily be comprehended
and understood by all, are applied to the Creator. Hence the description of God
by attributes implying corporeality, in order to express His existence: because
the multitude of people do not easily conceive existence unless in connection
with a body, and that which is not a body nor connected with a body has for
them no existence." He attributed the Torah with teaching corporeality by
compulsion, which he later rejected. Thus it seems that Maimonides tried
(unsuccessfully) to explain the remedies written about in the Talmud when faced
with reason and experience by saying Chazal thought experience proved them out.
Why should he not defend the witches and say they thought experience proved
Thus did Rashi explain Chulin 77a: "It has something of medicine about it --
such as a potion or drug or incantation whispered over a wound. It has nothing
of medicine about it -- such as an act on an area not affected or burying the
placenta at the crossroads."
A nail in the form of a cross helps heal infected wounds.
The tooth of a fox helps one who has sleep problems.
In many instances Maimonides walks between the cracks -- rational wisdom on the
one hand and the Scriptures and the Talmud on the other. Thus, on the issue of
witchcraft he wrote (Laws of Idolatry 11:16) "Anyone who believes in these
things and their like and
considers in his heart that they are true and matters of wisdom, but the Torah
has forbidden them, is a fool and lacking in sense, like women and children, whose
knowledge is lacking. Wise and innocent people clearly know that the things
which the Torah has forbidden are not wisdom, they are chaos and nonsense to
which those without sense are drawn, abandoning the ways of truth for them.
Therefore the Torah spoke and warned against this nonsense, for you shall walk
innocently with your God." On the other hand he wrote (Laws of the
Fundamentals of Torah 8:1) "Israel did not believe in Moses our teacher
because of the miracles he performed, for one who believes in miracles has a
defect in his heart; miracles can be worked through magic and witchcraft."
In the Vilna Gaon's commentary on Yoreh Deah 179:13 he comes out strongly
against Maimonides and writes: "All those who come after [Maimonides]
disagreed with him, for there are many incantations in the Gemara. [Maimonides]
was drawn to philosophy and therefore wrote that witchcraft and incantations
and demons and amulets are all false." It is the same thing with the issue
of God's corporeality. On the one hand Maimonides wrote (Guide to the Perplexed
part 1 chapter 36) "Therefore bear in mind that by the belief in the
corporeality or in anything connected with corporeality, you would provoke God
to jealousy and wrath, kindle His fire and anger, become His foe, His enemy,
and His adversary in a higher degree than by the worship of idols. If you think
that there is an excuse for those who believe in the corporeality of God on the
ground of their training, their ignorance or their defective comprehension, you
must make the same concession to the worshippers of idols: their worship is due
to ignorance, or to early training, they continue in the custom of their
fathers." On the other hand Maimonides explained that the Torah wrote
things which point to corporeality as the Torah speaking according to the
language of man, (Guide to the Perplexed part 1, chapter 26), "That is to
say, expressions, which can easily be comprehended and understood by all, are
applied to the Creator. Hence the description of God by attributes implying
corporeality, in order to express His existence: because the multitude of
people do not easily conceive existence unless in connection with a body, and
that which is not a body nor connected with a body has for them no
existence." He attributed the Torah with teaching corporeality by
compulsion, which he later rejected. Thus it seems that Maimonides tried
(unsuccessfully) to explain the remedies written about in the Talmud when faced
with reason and experience by saying Chazal thought experience proved them out.
Why should he not defend the witches and say they thought experience proved
Part 1 section 413.
See Responsa Chavat Yair, section 234 [Rabbi Yair Chaim the son of Moshe
Shimshon, 1638-1702, Germany]. From his answer it can be argued that even in
the 17th century rabbis who dealt with Halacha still relied upon the common
people in all connected to remedies: "You asked about incantations; some
women know which to apply to which pains and which problems. Are they Emorite
ways or not?...[Answer] In practical terms, of whatever has spread amongst the
women we have found it said what is popular
amongst Israel has probably been proven by experience and we have
been taught to permit such things as encircling a child whose fever has risen
and is starting to show signs of pox, though not eruptions, with a ring taken
off the finger of one dead, etc." This is a wonderful testimony to our
statement that there was no methodical research, even after the scientific
revolution, and certainly not in the ancient era, in the time of the sages of
the Babylonian Talmud; they relied on the customs of women, on incantations,
and on placing rings of dead people to cure the pox. From this they ruled
Margalit, David (5722). The Sages of Israel as Physicians. Mossad HaRav Kook:
Jerusalem. (pg. 38).
According to Margalit, it is a tube as thick as the core of a cabbage, see the
note on pg. 39. The Talmudic commentators did not explain it as he does, ibid.
Margalit writes: "Samuel was a sage and perfect in knowledge of medicine,
in keeping with the scientific levels of our own times. His guiding lights were
the Greek Hippocrates and the Roman Galen" (pg. 66). Margalit did not
bring proof or comparisons of the words of Samuel and those of the Greek
physicians, he merely wrote this as an accepted conclusion. It would have been
appropriate to bring proof and support for his claims.
See the pamphlet I wrote, posted on the Daat Emet site: http://www.daatemet.org.il/pamphlets/en_pamphlet2.html
In the periodical History
by the Israeli Institute for the History of Medicine: Jerusalem, pg. 804.
Ibid. pg. 807.
Turner, Eli. History (5742). Volume 8, pamphlets 3-4, The Israeli
Society for the History of Medicine: Jerusalem.
Bava Kama 85a.
The Mishnah in Shabbat 8:1 treats honey as a cure through slathering on wounds.
"One who takes out [on the Sabbath]...honey to put it on a wound" and
the Gemara (78a) explains that this is special honey, more effective for the
treatment of wounds than other liquids.
Beit Yosef Yoreh Deah 116:2, from the Gemara in Pesachim 76a.
Judaism, the Jewish Nation, and the State of Israel, pg. 339.
Berachot 35b. "And you shall gather in your corn. What is to be learned
from these words? Since it says [Joshua 1] 'This book of the law shall not
depart out of your mouth,' I might think that this injunction is to be taken
literally. Therefore it says, 'And you shall gather in your corn', which
implies that you are to combine the study of them with a worldly
occupation [work and earning a living]. This is the view of R. Ishmael."
Bava Kama 85a, "'And to heal he shall heal' [is the source] whence it can
be derived that authorization was granted [by God] to the medical man to
Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 328:10.
Avodah Zarah 12b.
Beit Yosef Orach Chayim 328:6.
See above in the explanation of scurvy.
Rabbi Yosef Teumim (1727-1792, Frankfurt), Eshel Abraham Orach Chayim Laws of
Tzitz Eliezer part 19, section 29.