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.”