Sunday, April 25, 2010

ArtScroll and Talmudic Medicine

Noah Roth sends in this great example of ArtScroll tying itself into pious knots. The excerpt is from Artscroll Avoda Zara 28A, note 31. All caps added by Noah Roth for emphasis:
"... However, when the Sages were forced by the general decline in knowledge to set down in writing the entire body of oral law, they included in their Talmud lists of remedies, lest they be entirely forgotten. This roster of HIGHLY EFFECTIVE REMEDIES provides a glimpse into the BREADTH of the Sages' KNOWLEDGE. However, since it was set down in concise Talmudic fashion, it comprehensible only to those able to plumb the depths of the sage's words (Maharsha to Gittin 68b) [For this reason, one should not attempt these remedies nowadays, SINCE IT IS UNLIKELY THAT ANYONE TODAY WILL FATHOM THE TALMUD'S INTENTIONS, AND ONE WHO FINDS (HIS INTERPRETATION OF) A REMEDY INEFFECTIVE, may come to belittle the sages (likutei maharil cited by R' Akiva Eiger). Moreover, WITH THE PASSAGE OF GENERATIONS and the different countries & climates in which people now live, it is possible that remedies that were effective in Talmudic times may be ineffective, and even harmful, if used today.]
Noah Roth notes:
  1. Worth noting that the sugya goes on to discuss blood letting!
  2. Oh, and homeopathy works but we're doing it wrong.
  3. And evolution never happened, but if thes highly effective cures don't work, either you are doing it wrong or we've evolved in 1500 years, but not C"V 30 million years.
To this list I'll point out the along with their utter absence of any scholarly objectivity, the ArtScroll editors are functioning as PR hacks for the Sages. Thus, these remedies no one has ever tried were not just effective, but HIGHLY effective.

Also, if we're content to say that the medicinal advice provided by the Sages can no longer be understood, and must therefore be approached with extreme caution, why are we so smugly certain that we're understanding their history and science correctly? Why can't we say that Talmudic science and Talmudic history is just as unreliable as Talmudic medicine - and for the exact same reasons ArtScroll offers here?

PS: ArtScroll says the Sages wrote the Talmud, but this is inexact. When we speak of the Sages, we usually mean Tannaim, but the Talmud was redacted by the Savoraim. They are the ones who made the final decision to include these remedies in the Talmud. Its possible the Sages knew medicine, but transmission errors and scribal mistakes had garbled the recipes before they reached the Savoraim who ultimately recorded them for posterity. ArtScroll is muddying the water by presenting "the Sages" as a monolith.

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