כ״ט בשבט ה׳תשע״ד (January 30, 2014)

Yoma 83a-b: Curing life-threatening danger

The Mishna on our daf discusses circumstances when an illness would allow someone to eat non-kosher food, and other cases when halakha would not allow non-kosher food to be eaten.

The first case discussed is bulmos – life-threatening hunger. In this case the Mishna teaches that he can be fed anything that may cure him. The second case is that of someone bitten by a rabid dog. The common cure in Mishnaic times, which was to have the victim eat from the dog’s liver, is forbidden by the Tanna Kamma, although Rabbi Matya ben Harash permits it.

The “hunger sickness” of bulmos, is, apparently, connected to a drastic drop in blood sugar that is caused by starvation or some other disease. As described in the Gemara, the sensation of hunger comes together with a loss of awareness – the individual cannot see or cannot see clearly. The recommendation of is to feed the ill person sweet foods that can be easily digested as quickly as possible.

The description of this condition is supported in the Gemara by a series of personal testimonies from Sages who were witness to someone who had this condition or who had it themselves.

Rabbi Yohanan said: Once I was seized with bulmos and I ran to the east side of a fig tree and found ripe figs there, which I ate. Figs on a tree do not all ripen at once but ripen first on the side where the sun rises, so Rabbi Yohanan searched first for figs on the east side of the tree. And I thereby fulfilled the verse: “Wisdom preserves the lives of those who have it” (Ecclesiastes 7:12).

With regard to the bite of a rabid dog, the disagreement in the Mishna would seem to be whether the popular cure was, in fact, effective. The Rambam, however, understands that eating the rabid dog’s liver is not a medical cure, but a segulah – a charm – which at best may be a psychological support to the victim. He argues that the Tanna Kamma rejects the possibility that a Torah law would be pushed aside for such an emotional support, even for someone who believes in it.

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