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What is Traditional Jewish Medicine?

The Jews are known as the people of the Book. Throughout the ages, Jewish literacy has been virtually universal. One would therefore expect a significant amount of Jewish medical literature to have been written, reflecting medical theory and clinical practice.

Yet, incomprehensibly, beyond the Rambam, there is a conspicuous lack of Jewish medical literature! The Rambam ( the acronym of his name, Rav Moshe ben Maimon ) was an unprecedented genius of Jewish law, as well as a prolific writer ( I am fortunate to have in my possession all ten of the Rambam's medical works ). His magnum opus, the Mishna Torah, is truly a fulfillment of the words of the sages ( Pesachim 3b ), "A person should always teach his students in a concise manner," for his every nuance, every word, as well as every omission has significance pertaining to Jewish law. His Torah writings clarify, enlighten and inspire, often, in areas never before addressed, and he was the acknowledged spiritual leader of Egypt 's Jewish community.

As a physician, his brilliance was recognized by Jew and non-Jew alike. At the age of 39, he was appointed court physician to the Vizier of Egypt. Legend has it that Richard the Lion-Hearted sought out the Rambam to become his personal physician, an offer which the Rambam declined. As a clinician, the Rambam treated royalty and common people, Jews and non-Jews, friends and enemies alike. His medical expertise is seamlessly integrated into his Torah writings, particularly in Hilchos Deos of the Mishna Torah and the Moreh Nevuchim ( Guide to the Perplexed ), as the Rambam considered health and balance to be quintessential elements in the fulfillment man's ultimate destiny: Knowledge of Ha-Shem.

As such, this giant of Judaism is truly the inspiration of Traditional Jewish Medicine: both in its theory as well as in its clinical application. We know that historically, a disproportionately large number of traditional Jews have always engaged in the practice of medicine. How could there not have been a great body of Jewish medical writings from which Jewish medical students learned? Could it be that a national treasure was lost? I would vehemently suggest not!

    In the Mishna of Pirkei Avos (The Chapters of our Fathers)5:22, Ben Bag Bag, says, "Learn Torah and turn it inside out, for every wisdom is found in it."

This Mishna gives us an important clue to put some sense behind this strange anomaly.
( Source: )
For In order to understand the role of medicine in traditional Judaism, we must first understand the source which guides and directs the Jew in his daily activities: the Oral and Written Torah.

This Mishna gives us an important clue to put some sense behind this strange anomaly. For In order to understand the role of medicine in traditional Judaism, we must first understand the source which guides and directs the Jew in his daily activities: the Oral and Written Torah.

I would posit, that Traditional Jewish Medicine, rather than being a separate body of literature or thought, is actually an integrated, seamless application of the very Torah principles that our sages prescribed for us as the elixir for a long and healthy life, just as we find throughout the Rambamís writings, with constant references made to the Torah and the oral tradition.

Unfortunately, we live in a disconnected age, one in which the prominent medicine practiced treats symptoms without directly addressing underlying physical or emotional causes. The body is viewed and treated mechanically so that when a system or part fails, it is simply replaced, or anesthetized. The Torah, however, teaches us to take a different approach, to view illness as a spiritual as well as a physical imbalance and to recognize that there is a synchronistic interactive relationship between body and soul.

As the Baal Shem Tov, would frequently say,
"A small hole in the body, is a big hole in the soul."

And how should a lesion in one's body be healed?

The Gemara in Brachos tells us what to do:
"When one becomes sick, he should examine his deeds and return to Ha-Shem!"

Yet, do we ever consider that the cause of our pain is our lifestyle, our dietary indiscretions or our emotional inability to cope? And even if we did begin to analyze how we got sick, would we not still run to the drugstore or to the doctor to find a way to quickly suppress our pain, in order to enable us to return to our previous activities? The result of this desensitization has been to drive symptoms of dysfunction deeper inside, causing an increasing number of new unresolved or under-resolved medical and psychological illnesses and syndromes. Could it be that all along, the solution is to be found in the Torah, as Ben Bag Bag has told us?

I therefore offer, for your edification, my small contribution, to bridge this gap. As I began to delve into the question of "Is there a traditional Jewish medicine?"

I realized the importance of collecting and organizing its guidelines, derived from the Torah. Thus far I have adduced ten basic principles. Utilizing the clinical and diagnostic tools of Traditional Chinese medicine ( TCM ) and acupuncture, as well as CranioSacral therapy, SomatoEmotional Release, and Bioset allergy determination and desensitization, Traditional Jewish Medicine ( TJM ) has enabled me to address previously unresponsive health problems, in a new ( yet very old! ) integrative manner. In the pages which follow I will try to introduce to you what these principles and tools are.

Yehuda L. Frischman, L.Ac, CST, SER, candidate, DAOM

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