Monday, November 2, 2009

In Cases of Illness

The advances in medicine in the last century at combating illness and extending human life have been astounding. At the same time, now that we now know so much more of the causes and effects of different illnesses, that which we are unable to heal and to cure is all the more frustrating, and, of course, heart-wrenching.

Numerous websites have pointed out the strange Talmudic passage referring to “swine” flu: (Ta'anit 21b) “Once Rav Yehudah was informed of a disease amongst the swine. He decreed a fast. [The rabbis ask:] Did he do this because he believed that rampant diseases amongst one species spread to others? [They answer] No, it was because humans have similar anatomy to pigs and are likely to suffer from the same diseases.” But, it appears that Rav Yehudah was referring to a digestive ailment, not the flu.

Perhaps H1N1 is what the sages referred to as “dever.” According to the Mishna (Ta'anit 3:1), dever is defined as three deaths from an unknown disease occuring during a period of three consecutive days (meaning one death each day for three days) in a town large enough to mobilize 500 foot-soldiers. The sages were, in effect, stating that an illness is categorized by how quickly the mortality rate increases.

The debate about H1N1 and its vaccine is fierce. The Jewish answer to such a situation, beyond prayer and teshuva (repentance) is to remember the words of Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides, 12th century scholar and physician), “Since maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of God ... a person must avoid that which harms the body and accustom himself to that which is helpful and helps the body become stronger” (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Deot 4:1).

Jewish Treats wishes all of its readers good health!

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