Medicine in the Talmud

With regard to your question concerning the role of Aggadah in the Talmud, particularly those [passages] dealing with medicine:

.. As to the question of medicine in the Talmud, [the various methods of healing, etc.,] are not at all as fantastic as they may appear. As a matter of fact, the therapeutic value of many medical suggestions in the Talmud have been confirmed in recent years, although medical science had long denied them.

Generally speaking, however, since the nature of the human organism has undergone many changes since those days, the medical advice contained in the Talmud cannot be applied nowadays. But it is quite certain that in their days the remedies were quite effective.

For references consult: Tosafos, Moed Katan 11a; Kesef Mishnah, ch. 4. of Hilchos Deos, law 18; and sources mentioned in Sdei Chemed, sec. of Kelalim, under “ReishKlal 54, where it is stated that due to physical and climatic changes, medical treatment and remedies of old are no longer generally valid.

In the history of medical science, many examples are given regarding changes in man’s susceptibility to disease and treatment, the development of virus attack, new diseases, etc. There is [already] quite an extensive body of literature on the subject, and [therefore] there is no need for me to [further] expand upon this subject.

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated the 11th of Tishrei, 5712)

Utilizing and Publicizing the Latest and Best
Medications and Forms of Treatment

I received your letter with the two attached articles, and as per your request, I reviewed your monograph. I must say that your explanation of how to avoid becoming resistant to medications is extremely sound.

It caused me to speculate why this method has not been accepted and used until now; although in the history of science there have been many similar occurrences, [i.e., where something that was scientifically and medically sound was nevertheless not picked up on].

Still, the past should instruct the future, and such occurrences [as failing to act on good science and medicine] should be on the decline.

Understandably, my intent is not to arouse speculation and doubt, but just to observe that it is possible that investigations have already been made in the direction that you suggest and that actions have already been taken along these lines, although surely you researched this matter to the greatest possible extent before you printed your article.

Parenthetically — although this is not my area of expertise:

I couldn’t help notice that in the tables you use in your monograph you cite medications and methods that were in vogue over 150 years ago.

This also arouses wonder — for during this long period of time, these medications and methods were surely used on numerous occasions with changes and improvements made in the manner and means of use, treatment and administration.

It is impossible for there not to have been novel approaches either to the right or to the left, [i.e., that a medication or method of treatment came to be used more extensively or fell into disfavor].

Your intent in publishing the tables is not to record the history of medicine but to help obtain the maximum benefit regarding medications and their beneficial use. With regard to this matter [of the best use of medications, etc.,] one should use only the latest results.

This is also in keeping with the general principle of our Torah, which is also, lehavdil, a principle in logic that the law is in accordance with the opinions of those who lived later [hilcheseh kibasra’i], since they were also aware of the prior opinions [and nevertheless disagreed].

As is self-understood, this is only being written from the viewpoint of someone who is not writing in his area of expertise, just as a comment from someone who is on the outside. ...

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XV, p. 351)

Assure That Latest Developed Medications
And Forms of Treatment Are Being Utilized

.. At an opportune time, I will mention Mrs. ... in prayer at the holy resting place of my father-in-law, the Rebbe, of blessed memory.

Surely she is under the care of a specialist. Try to find out whether they are using the medications and means of treatment that have recently been developed and which doctors are using with great success in the United States. No doubt the doctors in your country are aware of them as well.

It would be appropriate at this time to have her husband’s tefillin checked, as well as to check the mezuzos in their home. Also, she should give tzedakah prior to lighting candles erev Shabbos and erev Yom Tov.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XV, p. 114)

Using Treatments and Medications Just Out on the Market

.. I am surprised that you do not mention the course of treatment suggested by the doctor. In a situation such as yours, many new treatments and medications have been developed in the past few years and [even] in the past few months. Among them are Ortisone and Cortisone and others.

Possibly [you are indeed being treated in the above manner, but] you merely failed to notify me about it. However, if this is not the case, [i.e., it is not merely a failure in notification,] then it would be good for you to ask [the doctor] specifically about this [matter of using the latest treatments and medications].

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XV, p. 114)

Inquire About the Newest Methods Of Treatment

At an opportune time, I will mention your son in prayer at the holy resting place of my father-in-law, the Rebbe, of blessed memory, for all that your son shlita requires, particularly regarding an improvement in those matters of his health about which you write, [i.e., his skin ailment].

Surely you will inquire of a specialist about the newest methods of treatment that have lately been discovered in this area, and whether they would be appropriate in the present circumstances.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XVI, p. 357)

Medical Achievements in Other Countries

.. With regard to the medical achievements of doctors in the United States:

Generally, the doctors in the United States and in Eretz Yisroel are in close contact and they are aware of one another’s accomplishments in the field.

At times, however, it would be advantageous to ask your doctor specifically about the latest developments outside of Eretz Yisroel and particularly in the United States [since he may not be aware of them, as it may have not come up in his practice] — in keeping with the saying of our Sages, of blessed memory:1 “People do not focus on matters they are not responsible for.”

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XX, p. 128)