ט׳ באדר א׳ ה׳תשע״ו (February 18, 2016)

Gittin 67a-b: Of Disease and Divorce

The first Mishna in the seventh perek of Massekhet Gittin discusses a case where a man who is suffering from a condition called kordyakos instructs messengers to write a geṭ for his wife. The Mishna rules that in such a case the geṭ should not be written.

In the Gemara, Shmuel explains that kordyakos is a condition that comes from drinking wine that has not properly fermented. The source of the term kordyakos is Greek (καρδιακός), meaning pertaining to the heart, or heart disease. According to both and the ancient Greeks, the heart was the seat of human intellect. Therefore, the term: Heart disease, was used to describe mental illness. In the context of our daf it implies temporary insanity: the heart refers to understanding and sensitivity. Thus, in a case where the husband cannot think straight because of his condition, we do not take his instructions seriously.

The Gemara explains that the cure for kordyakos is lean, roasted meat and diluted wine. This statement leads to a discussion in the Gemara of a variety of medical conditions and the recommended treatment for them – several of them are brought by Abaye who quotes his adoptive mother as an expert on these topics (see also, for example, Massekhet Shabbat 134a). Her suggestion for someone suffering from cold is to eat roasted fatty meat with strong, undiluted wine. Although many of the medicinal recommendations that we find in the Gemara reflect the contemporary knowledge of that time, this suggestion makes sense based on our current understanding of human physiology. When a person has been exposed to cold for a lengthy period of time, his body is in need of a supply of calories in order to get the body fully functioning again to counteract the effects of the cold. The recommended fatty meat and undiluted wine are ready sources of energy, since they are easily digested, and can offer a quick influx of calories. Even today, common practice is to give alcoholic beverages to people who are suffering from frostbite, since we want to give them ready access to calories.

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