Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Contact Us

Laws of Doctors & Healing

Laws of Doctors & Healing

Parshat Chukat

Advanced Advanced
 Email

The Book of Numbers1 relates how the Jews spoke out against G‑d and Moses. Their punishment was an invasion of poisonous snakes. When the Jews asked Moses to pray for them, he did, and G‑d told him to place a copper snake upon a high pole. Anyone who had been bitten by a snake would look up at the copper snake and survive.

The Mishnah2 says that it is not that the snake gave healing or death. Rather, the Jew would look up at his Father in heaven and devote his heart to him, and in this merit he would be saved.

While recognizing that healing ultimately comes from G‑d alone, we may, and must, use medicines that have healing powersSeveral hundred years later, the Jews began to ascribe special powers to the copper snake Moses had used. They began to worship it and offer sacrifices to it. In order to stop this practice, King Hezekiah crushed the snake.3 Despite the fact that as a result the Jews no longer had the snake to remind them of the miracle that had taken place, the sages approved of what Hezekiah did.4

While we must recognize that every illness is a message from G‑d and take appropriate spiritual action, trusting that healing ultimately comes from G‑d alone, at the same time, we may, and must, use medicines that have healing powers.5

Following is a collection of various laws that apply to patients and doctors.

  • Since the Torah gives permission to a doctor to heal, it is mandatory for an ill person to go to a doctor to be treated, and not rely on a miracle. One who does not do so is considered to be spilling blood.6 While it is true that had the person merited, he would not have become sick in the first place, now that he is sick, he needs to seek treatment.7
  • Although there are opinions that the Torah only permits a doctor to treat external wounds and not internal wounds,8 this is not the view followed by Jewish law.9
  • If a doctor knows of another doctor in his area that is better able than himself to heal a particular illness, it is incumbent upon him to refer a patient with that illness to that physician.10
  • The patient, in turn, should seek out the biggest expert on his condition to treat him.11
  • If one has an ill person in his home, he should go to the Torah scholar in his city and ask him to pray for the ill person.12
    Today, many visit, or send a note to, the Rebbe's resting place in Queens, NY, asking the Rebbe to intercede on their behalf On High. Many thousands have had their prayers miraculously answered as a result. Click here for more about the Rebbe's "Ohel," including information how to visit or email a blessing request.
  • Generally, a man may go to a woman doctor and vice versa. This is true even for areas of medicine such as gynecology.13 Nevertheless, the Lubavitcher Rebbe recommended that, all other things being equal, women should seek female gynecologists—for reasons of modesty as well as to benefit from the understanding and sensitivity that only fellow women can have when it comes to these matters.14
  • One should go to the Torah scholar in his city and ask him to pray for the ill personOne who is swallowing a medication should not make a blessing on it if it has no taste or if it has a bitter taste. If it has a good taste, one should make the appropriate blessing before eating it, as well as an after-blessing if a sufficient quantity was consumed.15
  • Before one takes medication, it is appropriate to recite the following prayer: May it be Your will that this treatment should bring healing because you are a gratuitous healer.
  • After a (successful) treatment, one should say: Blessed is the healer of the sick.16

Western Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

There is discussion amongst the poskim (halachic authorities) as to whether the Torah recognizes the validity of one system of medicine over another. Here is a story that sheds some light on this issue:17

A young man in Rechovot, Israel, had a growth on his face. The doctors confirmed that it was cancerous and insisted that it be surgically removed. He went to an alternative healer who said that he could treat it with medicinal creams. But despite the fact that he started using the creams, the tumor continued to grow. The healer said that the continued growth was a sign that the illness was coming out of his body, and that he would soon be healed. The doctors said that if he didn't cut it out, he would die.

Upon the insistence of the young man's wife, Rabbi Gluckowsky got involved and prevailed upon the young man to write to the Rebbe for advice. The young man agreed to follow the Rebbe's instructions, whatever they would be.

The Rebbe's response was that they should seek the counsel of an established halachic authority (k'atzat moreh hora'ah muvhak). After thinking the response through, they decided to consult with Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, of blessed memory, a world-renowned halachic expert who specialized in halachic questions relating to medical matters. They spoke to Rabbi Auerbach and presented the two options of treatment.

Rabbi Auerbach said that generally the Torah allows one to choose which form of treatment one wishes to use. However, when it is a life or death matter, and the two forms of treatment are mutually exclusive, then the Torah gives primacy to the form of treatment that is used by a majority of people (in accordance with the principle of acharei rabim lehatot – follow the majority), which today would mean Western medicine.

The Rebbe's response was that they should seek the counsel of an established halachic authority As he had agreed he would, the patient accepted this decision and had the growth surgically removed. After this, the doctors recommended a course of radiation to ensure that the cancer would not spread.

On the Saturday night before his last treatment, Rabbi Gluckowsky and the young man went together to the Western Wall to thank G‑d for healing him. There they saw Rabbi Auerbach. They approached him and thanked him for his counsel, and told him that there was only one radiation treatment left and then the patient would be considered healed.

Rabbi Auerbach, who generally never acted with any airs of being a rebbe or tzaddik, took the young man's hand in his two hands and said, "Men darf nisht, men darf nisht" (it's not necessary, it's not necessary). And indeed it wasn't.

Footnotes
1.

Chapter 21:4-9.

2.

Rosh Hashanah 3:8.

4.

Berachot 10b.

5.

Ibid and Maharsha.

6.

Code of Jewish Law, Yoreh De'ah 336.

7.

Taz on the Code, ibid.

8.

Ibn Ezra on Exodus 21:19.

9.

See Sha'arei Halacha Uminhag, vol. 3, pg. 352.

10.

Code of Jewish Law, ibid.

11.

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 192:3.

12.

Rama on Yoreh De'ah 335:10.

13.

See Code of Jewish Law, ibid. and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 192:8.

14.

Sha'arei Halacha Unminhag vol. 3 pg. 352.

15.

Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim 208:8.

16.

Ibid. 230:4, with Magen Avrohom and Mishbitzot Zahav.

17.

I heard this story from the Chabad Rabbi of Rechovot, Israel – Rabbi Menachem Mendel Gluckowsky.

Rabbi Aryeh Citron was educated in Chabad yeshivahs in Los Angeles, New York, Israel and Australia. He was the Rosh Kollel of The Shul of Bal Harbour, Florida, and is now an adult Torah teacher in Surfside, Florida. He teaches classes on Talmud, Chassidism, Jewish history and contemporary Jewish law.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
15 Comments
1000 characters remaining
mulu Moses December 9, 2016

I have never felt so appreciative of western medication...I much appreciate first step healthy lifestyle,in its extreme the a well counseled, guided patient will experience healing as soon as action is taken, God willing Reply

Anonymous December 6, 2016

Excellent article and very well written! Thanks for posting! Reply

Marsha Selwyn Billings January 21, 2016

Jewish aging Illness that's associated with aging especially rheumatoid arthritis, spine problems, and more! The video on joy really helped! I am a new member. Reply

joss April 10, 2013

Personally have thought that sometimes sickness has been to bring about corrections, more so than punishment. Such as, being more sincere in appreciations of medical professionals.
Praying and thanking for healings of soul, mind and body
And of souls, minds and bodies.
Including direct healings and those through medical professionals and alternative medicine too.
Thanking for useful guidance and praying and thanking for sensible wisdoms to use in appropriate ways and for ongoing beneficial blessings / improvements. Reply

Rachel Dundalk, Maryland February 14, 2012

Alternative or Medicine of compounded chemicals. When a person studies the matters of alternative medicine as compared to "Western" medicine founded in chemicals like mercury, rat poison and invasive and harsh handling of the body without consideration of all aspects of the human life......body, soul and spirit.......then researching the two types of medical approaches we learn that Holistic/Alternative practitioners really are taught to treat all 3 aspect of human life and to approach healing as such. The other form of medical treatment seems to gloss over the 3 aspects of human life and goes aggressively after the prominent symptoms or condition. At times it might be necessary to approach health care at such levels, as is the case in emergency and trauma treatment where the patient must be stabilized to begin treatment. But, the recourse after that can be done when a full evaluation of the person is taken into consideration. If we love and trust God, we should pray for wisdom from God to direct our choices for all healing. Reply

Alan Johnson O'fallon October 15, 2017
in response to Rachel:

Prayer is fine in its proper context. In situations such as those mentioned in your comment, I would trust in the 'Learned Professionals' opinion however. Consult the experts and then make your decision. (Through prayer, should you need that affirmation.) Remember, these folks are well versed spiritually, as well as medically...in most cases. (As long as youve chosen this person carefully.) Having said that, you remind me that "In god we trust. All others pay cash". I err on the side of trust first. Keeps the skepticism and pessimism in their proper perspective. Hope this helps. Always bear in mind that opinions are like feet. Everybody has a couple of 'em. :) Reply

dj kihei, hi July 19, 2011

healing what do you do when western cancer medical chemotherapy FAILS..
I prayed
I live on maui not a hotbed of oncologists so i asked GOD for permission to write HIS prescription down ..
First was daily prayer and meditation etc i created a 12 point concept from my lifes experiences being a JEW ,using a machine that saves lifes ,,,,RIFE
30 days later my prayers etc were answered

CANCER FREE

i had a sponteneous remission.

BARUCH HASHEM Reply

Kayla Reina Miriam Boston, MA April 5, 2011

Re 1: If we Would Merit Okay, but I would like to clarify to readers here that sickness itself is not always a punishment. Chassidus explain the following reasons for challenges:

1. Atonement (aka punishment). This is the most "popular" view of why we have challenges, although it is not necessarily always why we have them. The cleansing done to to the soul while the body is on Earth is far easier than in after life, in Gehinom.

2. A "test" or an "opportunity" to grow spiritually by overcoming the said challenge

3. G-d is connecting to the person on a higher level, in a less concealed way, so it hurts. As my teacher told me: if the ozone layer were to completely vanish, the sun rays hitting earth would be unbearable. Sometimes G-d connects to us by removing some of his "ozone layer", so no doubt, for our physical creatures, it hurts much more.

It is true that the Code of Jewish Law tells us that a wise person would view his suffering as punishments, so that he may scrutinize his service to G-d and seek out any imperfections to fix. However, the same Code of Jewish Law also tells us that we are not allowed to make a judgement of why others are receiving suffering, like thinking, "Oh, he's getting punished with a heart attack because he has bad ahavas Yisroel," or even simply "Oh, his heart attack is a punishment". If we are not allowed to view another person suffering as a punishment, that could only mean that there must be at least one OTHER reason for his suffering. Otherwise, that would completely illogical, "Your suffering is a punishment, but don't you dare think of another's person suffering as a punishment." Reply

Alan Johnson O'fallon October 15, 2017
in response to Kayla Reina Miriam:

Ozone layer as a metaphor?? Perhaps you might consider other teachers. Suffering may simply be of our own making...in some cases. God doesn't need credit for all of it. Sometimes the only lesson is "to bear it until it's gone." Don't over think it. That obsessiveness is a form of suffering in and of itself. Eliminate it, and you'll feel much better about life in general...and God gives you permission to do this all by yourself. No help required. Reply

Aryeh Citron Surfside, fl March 30, 2011

If We Would Merit The Taz is the source for the idea that if we would merit we would not need doctors. He is explaining the language of the Talmud: "the doctors have permission (reshut) to heal." He questions why this not considered a mitzvah and is only referred to as "permission". He explains that when a person gets sick the best avenue to seek healing is to daven to Hashem. If we do not merit His healing, we have "permission" to go to doctors. As far as the Rebbe, it is the Jewish people who unfortunately did not have the merit to have our prayers on his behalf answered (in a revealed way). In the case of babies, it is the parents and friends who should be davening and will hopefully merit to have those prayers answered. Reply

Kayla Reina Miriam Boston, MA March 29, 2011

Punishment 100% of the Time? Are all sickness ALWAYS punishments from G-d? You said that if the person "merited", they wouldn't be sick in the first place. Is that ALWAYS true?

Do you think the Rebbe got sick because of punishment?

Do you think that babies get sick because of punishment? Reply

lucy i, a January 26, 2011

May it be Your will that this treatment should bring healing because you are a gratuitous healer.

After a (successful) treatment, one should say: Blessed is the healer of the sick. Reply

Aryeh Citron (Author) Surfside, Fl June 17, 2010

Thoughts on Majority Certainly there are truths in holistic medicine. Generally it is gentler on the body and better for overall health, while Western medicine is generally recognized as being more powerful in dealing with the specific symptom or disease. These are two different methods of healing. In my view, there is no clear right or wrong.
As far as the majority goes, generally, when dealing with similar questions, we go according to the majority in the specific locale of the questioner.
All the best, Reply

Tone Lechtzier Brothers, Or US June 14, 2010

The majority... Shalom,
there are perhaps more people utilizing eastern medicine, than western. According to the American Cancer Society, a person is cured of cancer if they remain cancer free for three years! So... are we to follow the majority of the other nations as well, and assimilate to their ways? The majority is not always right, our history proves this fact. It's typical for western doctors to say you're going to die if you don't... Sometimes they are right, sometimes wrong. Often it's employed as a scare tactic. My corp. lawyer's wife had some tumors in her brain, so did a close friend. The friend utilized alternative medicine, and was cured. [clinical tests] The lawyer's wife chose western medicine, the tumors were spreading at an alarming rate,
the last I heard. A retired biotech CEO.
Blessings, Reply

Davida Coral Springs, FL July 4, 2009

Western vs Eastern Radical article, Aryeh! Fascinating. Reply