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.

Advertisements