The Talmud as a Medical Textbook

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.”

Read more at Cornell Chronicle

More about: Judaism, Magic, Medicine, Talmud


To Save Gaza, the U.S. Needs a Strategy to Restrain Iran

Since the outbreak of war on October 7, America has given Israel much support, and also much advice. Seth Cropsey argues that some of that advice hasn’t been especially good:

American demands for “restraint” and a “lighter footprint” provide significant elements of Hamas’s command structure, including Yahya Sinwar, the architect of 10/7, a far greater chance of surviving and preserving the organization’s capabilities. Its threat will persist to some extent in any case, since it has significant assets in Lebanon and is poised to enter into a full-fledged partnership with Hizballah that would give it access to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps for recruitment and to Iranian-supported ratlines into Jordan and Syria.

Turning to the aftermath of the war, Cropsey observes that it will take a different kind of involvement for the U.S. to get the outcomes it desires, namely an alternative to Israeli and to Hamas rule in Gaza that comes with buy-in from its Arab allies:

The only way that Gaza can be governed in a sustainable and stable manner is through the participation of Arab states, and in particular the Gulf Arabs, and the only power that can deliver their participation is the United States. A grand bargain is impossible unless the U.S. exerts enough leverage to induce one.

Militarily speaking, the U.S. has shown no desire seriously to curb Iranian power. It has persistently signaled a desire to avoid escalation. . . . The Gulf Arabs understand this. They have no desire to engage in serious strategic dialogue with Washington and Jerusalem over Iran strategy, since Washington does not have an Iran strategy.

Gaza’s fate is a small part of a much broader strategic struggle. Unless this is recognized, any diplomatic master plan will degenerate into a diplomatic parlor game.

Read more at National Review

More about: Gaza War 2023, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy