Jewish Healing & Magic
"Whatever is effective as a remedy is not witchcraft (Shabbat 67a)"--is that really the case?
Still, whether provided by folk healers or scholastic healers, most medicine continued to be based on a hodgepodge of natural and supernatural assumptions and a melange of natural and magical treatment regimes.
Jews were enthusiastic in applying the Arab elaborations on the Greek methods of medicine during the Middle Ages and began making their own unique contributions using the new methods. Outstanding Jewish physicians, like the philosopher Maimonides, championed naturalistic theories of disease etiology and treatment over more fantastic traditional assumptions.
Jews embraced the subsequent scientific revolutions in medicine and as a result, traditional folk healing has been pushed to the periphery of Jewish life in recent centuries. Now it is mostly the domain of communities who resist the influences of modernity, such as certain hasidic groups, or among Oriental Jewish communities who are still only a generation or two away from more traditional folkways. Interest in non-Western healing methods, however, is on the rise, and many Jews are re-incorporating traditional Jewish healing practices of prayer, healing touch, and herbal medicine into their treatment.
Geoffrey Dennis is rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in Flower Mound, TX. He is also lecturer in Kabbalah and rabbinic literature at the University of North Texas.
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