The medical interests of the Talmudic rabbis are complex and far-reaching

The medical interests of the Talmudic rabbis are infinitely more complex and far-reaching than those of the Jews in Biblical times, and only with the formulation of the Talmud can one speak of a Jewish medical science. Perhaps the most impressive achievement of Talmudic medicine for the student of Hippocratic and Galenic science is rabbinic pathology. It is no exaggeration to state that the Talmudists invented the science of pathology, a direct consequence of the need to examine slaughtered animals that were to be used for food…. In the course of such investigations, the Talmudists made the remarkable discovery that disease may be associated not only with morphological changes in tissues, but may manifest itself in functional abnormalities and external symptoms and morbid alteration of tissue appearance. For the Greek doctor, disease was simply the result of a condition termed plethora by the Hippocratic school, that is, an excess of one or more of the four bodily humors isolated by the Hippocratics, namely black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm. Health is defined by the Hippocratic physician as a proper balance of these humors. An external circumstance, like a fall or even a sudden change in the weather, can cause a humor to rarefy or condense, rushing to a particular part of the body and rendering it diseased. Ironically, the Hippocratic theory of humoral imbalance became the accepted explanation for the origin of disease in the Middle Ages, while the sound Talmudic pathological anatomy had no influence on medieval medicine.

Stephen Newmyer, “Talmudic Medicine: A Classicist’s Perspective,” Judaism 29, Issue 3 (Summer 1980), 362.


The priesthood does not play a part in Avot’s succession list

Unlike the role of the priesthood in I Clement, the priesthood does not play a part in Avot’s succession list. The elders, the prophets, and the men of the Great Assembly are all explicitly denoted in Avot and thereby assume a role in Avot’s list. The Second Temple Leaders, the House of Gamaliel, and the tannaim also feature in Avot’s list since the members of these groups are listed together and in succession. In contrast, priests (like shoemakers (4:11)) only appear as individuals, and the priesthood as a result is omitted from Avot’s chain of transmission. As M.D. Herr has shown, however, priests were important teachers and officials during Temple times and therefore their omission from Avot requires an explanation. Consequently, scholars like Herr, who attribute the early portion of Avot to the Pharisees, hypothesize that the Pharisees omitted the priests from their chain of transmission sometime during the late Second Temple period in order to undermine other sects, such as the Sadducees, for whom the priesthood (so it is alleged) was a central element (see Finkelstein, Introduction, 9-11; M.D. Herr, ‘Continuum in the Chain of Torah Transmission’, Zion 44 (1979) [Hebrew], 44-56). It is questionable, however, whether the Pharisees actually viewed the priesthood as a vehicle for the Sadducees (see also above, Ch. 6 n. 36)). According to this hypothesis, one might suggest that Clement, unlike the Pharisees, was free to envision the Christian leadership as the heirs of the priests because he was not threatened by priesthood-oriented Jewish sects. It is questionable, however, whether this hypothesis (even if correct) can explain how the omission of the priests in the final edition of Avot was understood in the third century. Perhaps this omission was not understood polemically but as a natural derivative of rabbinic legal theory. As expressed in Avot 4:13, certain tannaim assumed that the Jewish polity was ruled by the crowns of Torah, of priesthood, and of kingship. These three crowns, moreover, were ‘the governmental extensions’ of the pillars of Avot 1:1: Torah, temple service, and correct civil behaviour (see Cohen, The Three Crowns, 19). Thus, according to this theory of the division of powers found in Avot, the priests did not belong in the chain of Torah transmission because their responsibilities were limited to officiating in the temple. Perhaps both priests and kings were omitted from Avot because the editor wanted to stress that only the rabbis were the true Torah authorities. In contrast, the Christian penchant for allegorizing and spiritualizing possibly led Christian authors such as Clement of Rome and Cyprian to view the Christian leadership as the spiritual counterpart to the Jewish priesthood of old (see E.W. Benson, Cyprian: His Life, His Times, His Work (London and New York, 1897), 31-34).

Amram Tropper, Wisdom, Politics, and Historiography: Tractate Avot in the Context of the Graeco-Roman Near East (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 213-214, n. 11.


The Talmud remains for most classicists and for most non-Jews in all disciplines virtually a closed book

One document of paramount importance in the history of ancient medicine, the Talmud, remains for most classicists and, indeed, for most non-Jews in all disciplines, virtually a closed book. Yet it has a strong claim on the attention of the student of Greek medicine, for the medical researches of the Talmudic rabbis in some respects far surpass the extent of knowledge demonstrated in even the best of Greek medicine….
The medical achievement of the Talmudic rabbis is all the more remarkable because it was incidental to the main interests of the authors of the Talmud. Medical matters are covered only when they help to shed light on religious concerns, in particular on ceremonial and legal points.

Stephen Newmyer, “Talmudic Medicine: A Classicist’s Perspective,” Judaism 29, Issue 3 (Summer 1980), 360-361.

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Orthodox Judaism and “Fifty Shades of Grey” have something in common

Here is where Orthodox Judaism and “Fifty Shades of Grey” have something in common. Sex in “Fifty Shades” is safe. It is carefully channeled around a set of rules and hardly the white-hot, unbridled licentiousness common in porn books. There are boundaries around desire, quite literally. The lovers are contractually bound; every detail of their erotic encounter is agreed upon: They will be monogamous, they will use birth control; diet, exercise and dress code are part of the deal. Can’t take the pain? Just say so. The portrait of their pleasure is thus carefully guarded, fenced in by rules of conduct.

Sex is also private. It is reserved for the secret sphere of the bedroom, or even better, Christian’s “Red Room of Pain,” which plainly possesses its own dangers — whips, clamps, riding crops, to name just a few choice items — but remains secluded from the rest of life, its own sacred space. It is a holy shrine to carnal pleasure, and it is cordoned off.

Danielle Berrin, “Like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’? You’ll Love Judaism,” Jewish Journal (31 August – 6 September 2012), 17.