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Medical or Magic

Gavriel Horan

Could complimentary and alternative medicine involve Torah prohibitions against sorcery, divination, and avodah zarah?

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

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Assuming these practices work, do they operate utilizing some yet-undiscovered law of nature, or do they make use of a supernatural power or spiritual energy?

B ack in 2005, Rav Rephoel Szmerla of Lakewood decided to write a short kuntrus on the halachic permissibility of various types of alternative healing. In the end, what he thought would be a six-month project took him a decade of intense examination: Do these practices utilize some yet undiscovered law of nature, or do they harness a spiritual energy that could involve transgressions of sorcery and avodah zarah?

Day after day, three-year-old Chaya’s behavior deteriorated, leaving her parents, who live in the Jerusalem suburb of Beitar, beside themselves with grief, exhaustion, and worry. Whenever they tried to dress or bathe her she would go into hysterical fits that would last for hours. And although they made the medical rounds, no doctor could find anything wrong with her physically or psychologically.

Finally, after much urging from friends, they finally decided to see an alternative practitioner specializing in health kinesiology. He tested Chaya’s muscles for signs of weakness while touching her with vials containing various foods and minerals. After testing dozens of samples, he turned to Chaya’s anxious parents with a smile. “Your daughter is allergic to the laundry detergent you’ve been using.” They immediately switched laundry detergents and her tantrums subsided completely.

Most readers know someone who swears by at least some form of alternative healing — known collectively as CAM (complimentary and alternative medicine). These practices consist of a wide array of modalities that include such practices as homeopathy, acupuncture, reflexology, kinesiology, tapping and EFT, acupressure, dowsing, flower essences, geobiology, hypnotherapy, yoga, Reiki, TAT, and feng shui (harmonizing your body, not your home decor), to name a few.

Some techniques, such as acupuncture, date back thousands of years, while others, such as applied kinesiology, are just 50 years old or less. According to the National Institute of Health, 38 percent of Americans spend $33.9 billion out-of-pocket every year on CAM products and practitioners. Over the past 20 years, the NIH’s National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health has spent tremendous resources to research the effectiveness of countless nonconventional medical treatments.

Eastern medicine focuses on treating the whole person by addressing the root cause.

While some practices, such as acupuncture, have been proven to work well in certain conditions, others, such as energy healing, have not been verified. But that hasn’t stopped millions of people from continuing to use alternative healing techniques that have not passed the rigors of scientific scrutiny.

This is not a forum for discussing the merits and pitfalls of the various CAM disciplines — people who have had success aren’t really interested in statistics anyway — but one question within the Torah community (which seems to have a special affinity for many of these methods) keeps coming up: Assuming these practices work, do they operate utilizing some yet-undiscovered law of nature, or do they make use of a supernatural power or spiritual energy? And if this is the case, does harnessing those energies involve the Torah transgressions of sorcery, divination, avodah zarah, or other prohibited behaviors, since it appears that some of these modalities are rooted in pagan rituals and philosophies? (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 683)

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