What Today’s Academic Scholars Can Learn from Their Precursors

Reviewing a recent scholarly monograph on talmudic medicine, Shai Secunda finds it “philologically sloppy, theoretically obtuse, and astonishingly lazy,” while at the same time demonstrating “the chutzpah to dismiss earlier scholars for not having been trained in the fields of knowledge that [the author] never actually puts to work.” Some of those earlier scholars in fact still have quite a lot to offer, and even if their works need updating, they have been spared “the toxic positivity” that, according to Secunda, produces so much mediocre scholarship today:

Julius Preuss was one of the few rabbi-doctors of old-school Jewish studies (Wissenschaft des Judentums) who could actually write prescriptions. Versed in Jewish learning, competent in Semitic philology, and trained in medicine at the University of Berlin, Preuss in 1911 published a 735-page tome called Biblical and Talmudic Medicine that capped a short life of intense research into anatomy, pathology, therapy, pharmacology, and dietetics in classical Jewish literature and especially the Babylonian Talmud, where medical discussions abound. He died two years later at the age of fifty-two, leaving behind a prominent rabbinic and academic family that counts among its ranks a chief rabbi, heads of yeshivas, and university professors. One of the founding fathers of the history of medicine, Karl Friedrich Jakob Sudhoff, eulogized Preuss as no less than a “master of historic criticism.”

Like a good German philologist, Preuss discerned better readings in medieval rabbinic manuscripts and sniffed out cognates of the original Hebrew and Aramaic medical terminology in Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Persian, and Arabic. A comprehensive encyclopedia rather than a thesis-driven monograph, Biblical and Talmudic Medicine still affords a dizzying view of a late antique world seething with disease and teeming with medical experts, local doctors, accepted practices, and indigenous therapies, including those discussed, debated, collated, and collected in the Babylonian Talmud. If nothing else, the sheer scope, ambition, and seriousness of Biblical and Talmudic Medicine conveys something of the consequence of the history of medicine. We won’t be visiting the bloodletter anytime soon, nor will we be consuming honey-soaked wheat cakes in the event of heart palpitations (two therapies recorded in the Talmud). Yet, studying how our forebearers dwelled in their mortal bodies, struggled to care for the infirm, and even flourished, to the best of their abilities, against a world of pain gives us a precious view of how they understood themselves and the cosmos, how they navigated situations of life and death, and how far we’ve come.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Academia, Jewish studies, Medicine, Talmud

Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy