Monday, August 09, 2010

Follow up: The Hazzon Ish and his famous sketch

On March 1, 2009 I wrote a post asking for evidence that the Hazon Ish prepared a sketch, used by a brain surgeon, to operate on a tumor.

For those not in the know, the story goes something like this:

1. Guy gets a brain tumor
2. Doctors decide the tumor is inoperable
3. Guy and his doctor go to see the Hazon Ish, an Israeli sage of the last century, who
4. draws a sketch illustrating the correct way to do the operation.
5. The operation is a success; and
6. everyone lives happily ever after (especially Das Torah-niks who say this story "proves" that absolutely everything is contained in the Torah, and that studying Gemarah can produce expertise in the natural sciences.)

A few weeks ago Mishpacha magazine published a photograph of the sketch, as part of a profile on the Hazon Ish. This article was brought to my attention by "Mike" who also referred me to the following photo copy of the sketch and the Hazon Ish's letter in Yeshurun.

I admit to being unable to decipher the sketch, or the letter. I don't know what I am looking at and would welcome an explanation from any brain surgeons who may be in the audience.

What does the sketch show, and what are Hazzon Ish's instructions?

The Mishpacha magazine article discusses two sketches, and two cases. In one instance the sketch was drawn by the doctor and the Hazzon Ish solves the puzzle, and suggests a route for the operation; in the other the Hazzon Ish is the artist. Here is all Mishpacha has to say about the second case
Above is the drawing with which the Chazon Ish answered when consulted by Dr. Ashkenazi, the famous brain surgeon. The respected professor refused to perform brain surgery on a patient who'd been referred to him by the Chazon Ish. He'd even answered arrogantly, "If he wants, let him tell me how to operate." Indeed, the Chazon Ish did draw him a diagram of how to operate, and wrote on it: "I am troubled, for the decision has fallen to me, and Heaven will help."
Mishpacha does not name the patient, or say if the operation was successful.Strange, no?

Daas Torah, is the claim that everything worth knowing can be acquired through the study of Torah. Does this story prove that the Daas Torah claim is true? Unclear.

Before this story can be accepted as a proof for Daas Torah, we must establish that all the information about the brain came from the study of Torah, and not from the doctor, medical books, or other confidants. I don't doubt that Hazzon Ish was a brilliant man, but the claim of Daas Torah is not proven true if he was an auto didactic who read medical textbooks. Likewise, if the Hazzon Ish received all the necessary background information from a physician and merely solved a problem that had stumped others, this would be evidence of the Hazzon Ish's superior intelligence, but not of Daas Torah.,

Please share this post with anyone who may be able to shed additional light on the subject.

As Wolf points out on the thread, Even if it could be proved that the CI knew this from his Torah learning, there is still another issue to be answered. Namely... why didn't the CI do the operation himself? My guess would be that he recognized that a trained surgeon would be better at the job. But the trained surgeon didn't get his knowledge from the Torah, he got it from secular learning.

Search for more information about Hazzon Ish at

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