Traditional Jewish Healing in Theory and Practice

By Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum

The Ramban on Doctors

"When the Jewish People are in a state of spiritual perfection, neither their physical bodies nor their country, nor any of their other affairs are governed by nature at all. This applies to the nation as a whole and to each individual Jew. For God `will bless their bread and their water, and remove illness from their midst' (Exodus 23:25). They will have no need of doctors, nor will they have to follow medical procedures even as precautionary measures, `For I, God, am your healer' (Exodus 15:26). In the era of prophecy, the tzaddikim acted accordingly. Even if they happened to sin and became sick, they consulted not doctors but prophets, as did King Hezekiah when he was sick (Kings II, 20, 2-3). It is said of King Asa that `even in his sickness he did not seek out God, but he turned to the doctors' (Chronicles II, 16:13). If it was common for them to go to doctors, why should the verse mention doctors at all? Asa's only guilt would have lain in the fact that he did not seek out God. But this phrasing is similar to saying, `He did not eat matzah on Pesach but chametz.' Someone who seeks out God through the priest will not consult doctors.

"What place do doctors have in the house of those who carry out the will of God, after He promised that `He will bless their bread and their water, and remove illness from their midst'? The only function of the medical profession should be to give nutritional advice - what to eat and drink and what to avoid. Thus the Rabbis said, `For the entire twenty-two years of Rabbah's leadership, Rav Yosef did not even call a bloodletter to his house' (Berakhot 64a). They went by the principle that `a door that does not open to charity will open to the doctor' (Bemidbar Rabbah 9:3). It is true that the Rabbis said, `because it is not the way of human beings to bring about a cure, but this is the practice' (Berakhot 60a,). But this merely means that, had they not been in the habit of resorting to medicine, a person who became sick because of his sin could have been healed through the will of God alone. However, since they resorted to medicines, God abandoned them to the vicissitudes of nature.

"As for the rabbinic comment on the verse, `He shall cause him to be thoroughly healed' (Exodus 21:19) - `from here we learn that the physician has been given sanction to heal' (Berakhot 60a) - they did not say that license has been given to the sick to resort to medicine! What they meant is that if a doctor is approached by a patient who was in the habit of resorting to medicine and was not part of the community of God whose share is life, the doctor should not refrain from treating him, not from fear that the patient might die under his hand - seeing as the doctor is expert in his craft - nor on the grounds that God alone is the healer of all flesh - because this patient is already in the habit of resorting to medicine. It is true that if two people quarrel and one hits the other with a stone or his fist, the Torah lays down that the attacker must pay the medical expenses of the injured party (Exodus 21:18). But this is because Torah law does not rely on miracles, for God knew that `the needy will not cease from the midst of the earth' (Deuteronomy 15:11). But when a person's ways find favor in God's eyes, he has no business with doctors."

Ramban, Commentary on the Torah, Leviticus 26:11




By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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