י׳ באדר א׳ ה׳תשע״ו (February 19, 2016)

Gittin 69a-b: To Your Health

As we learned on daf 67, one of the concerns of our Gemara is medicines and treatments for a variety of diseases. It is worthwhile noting that clearly viewed these discussions as being important and worthwhile discussing in the beit midrash and even being recorded in the Talmud for posterity. Thus we see that the Sages of the Talmud saw themselves as responsible not only for the spiritual growth and well-being of their constituency, but for their health, as well.

One treatment recommended by the Gemara involves the application of ilva – apparently a reference to the aloe vera plant. This plant is a species of succulent plant that probably originated in Africa. It has thick green leaves that can be split or broken and ointments can be made from the juice that is extracted. Even today, aloe vera is used to make such ointments, which are used primarily to assist in healing broken skin and sores. Nevertheless there is little scientific evidence of the effectiveness or safety of aloe extracts for either cosmetic or medicinal purposes, and what positive evidence is available is frequently contradicted by other studies.

It should be noted that already in the tenth century the Ge’onim ruled that we should not make use of the medicines or procedures recommended by the Rabbis in the Talmud, unless they were checked by contemporary medical professionals who can assure us that they are not dangerous in any way. Later forbade the use of these approaches entirely, arguing that since we do not understand the underlying basis of the treatments and how they are supposed to affect the diseases, it is likely that making use of them will lead to a lack of respect for the words of the Sages.

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