Alternative Medicine in Halacha: a Review

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times Rabbi Rephoel Szmerla’s new Sefer entitled, “Alternative Medicine in Halacha” [Israel Bookshop 198 pages English 398 pages Hebrew 596 total] is divided into two sections – the main part of the Sefer and the in-depth biurim in Hebrew in the back of the work. In the biurim, it is truly groundbreaking in terms of its exhaustive treatment of the aveiros of the occult: specifically, kishuf, doresh el hameisim, nichush and kosaim. It also deals with following the ways of the gentiles (Darchei Amori) and of the Mitzvah of Tamim Tehiyeh. In discussing these aveiros, the author takes us through every opinion of the rishonim. In the body of the English text the Sefer is near exhaustive in its discussion of alternative forms of healing. In terms of the scholarship – it is quite clear that we are dealing with an extraordinary Talmid Chochom. The Sefer also has numerous haskamos from leading figures who back up the Torah erudition of the author. There are two underlying ideas that permeate the work. The first is that the multiple modalities of alternative medicines do not in their core violate the aveiros of the occult. The second underlying idea is that these alternative forms of medicine are, in fact, effective. It is this author’s opinion, however, that the author makes a number of fundamental errors in coming to this conclusion, and that this thesis can seriously compromise the physical health of the Torah-observant community with the publication of this Sefer. And while the author states that it is not his goal to encourage people to discount conventional medicine – the reality is that advocating the efficacy of modalities of treatment that have statistically been proven ineffective actually does the very thing that Rabbi Szmerla claims that he is not doing: His book will perforce encourage people to discount conventional medicine in favor of the forms of medicine that he claims work. One must always keep in mind that Hashem is the ultimate Rofeh Cholim – but one must also utilize and implement the proper Hishtadlus that Hashem put into the world. THREE MAJOR PROBLEMS WITH THE SEFER Specifically, it can and does cause family members of those who suffer illness to a] squander much needed and valuable resources on ineffective treatments b] not pursue effective and proven forms of treatment c] cause unnecessary damage to those who are ill. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the moneys spent on pursuing most of these alternative treatments would be far better spent on supporting Torah learning. Rabbi Szmerla ignores the overwhelming medical evidence that these treatments have proven ineffective. THE HASKAMOS ARE NOT NECESSARILY ENDORSING OF HIS VIEWS It is clear that Rabbi Szmerla is a scholar of great knowledge and depth, which is perhaps why great Rabbis provided him with approbations. However, a careful reading of a number of the approbations clearly indicate that they do not necessarily agree with his conclusions. SEFER IS DANGEROUS It is this author’s view that this second and central thesis of the sefer is dangerous and can seriously undermine the health of many members of Klal Yisroel. People may pick up the sefer, and peruse the haskamos. They may erroneously assume that the information contained in the sefer is … Continue reading Alternative Medicine in Halacha: a Review