The Talmud as a Medical Textbook

June 30 2022

One of the factors that makes the Babylonian Talmud an immensely rich text—and a bewildering one to the uninitiated—is the expansiveness of its reach. In their attempt to interpret the Bible and Mishnah and to clarify Jewish law, the talmudic sages leave absolutely no subject untouched. Thus it includes numerous folk remedies and pieces of medical advice, ranging from the baldly supernatural to the seemingly practical. Jason Mokhtarian, a scholar of talmudic medicine, discusses the subject in an interview with Kate Blackwood.

Compared to [the attitudes of] other Jewish cultures, the Babylonian Talmud downplays the role of God and sin in human illness and health, and instead promotes the idea that God authorized humans to heal themselves using the natural world that He created, such as plants and animals,.

For the most part, scholars of rabbinic literature research medicine as a subcategory of magic. . . . Yet as I argue in [my] book, it is equally important to remember that in the Talmud not all magic is medicine, and not all medicine is magic. In other words, scholars who subsume talmudic medicine under the category of magic tend to ignore the therapies that have few, if any, identifiable magical elements, such as those that use natural ingredients to be consumed or applied to the body. It is these latter therapies—the more empirical ones, so to speak—that actually make up the majority of the talmudic medical tradition.

There is no reason, [therefore], to dismiss out of hand that some of the more empirical therapies (e.g., potions, drugs, salves, etc.), based on a detailed knowledge of the medicinal properties of specific plants and animal parts, may have been effective in treating certain afflictions.

One sees, [however, a] skeptical attitude toward Talmudic medicine already in the writings of Rabbi Sherira Gaon, the head of the Pumbedita academy [in Baghdad] in the 10th century, who says simply that “our sages were not physicians.”

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Read more at Cornell Chronicle

More about: Judaism, Magic, Medicine, Talmud

 

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter