Medical Research? Read Carefully

The danger of distorted IDF values, reflected in the conviction of Elor Azaria and the terrorist attack in Armon Hanatziv * A response to the column on nutrition and health: alternative methods prevent illnesses * My reply: According to halakha, one must listen to conventional doctors * In a case of ‘pikuach nefesh’, if an alternative doctor offers a solution he says will save life, listen to him * Information posted on social networks is not always reliable and founded * Special care must be taken in regards to extreme medical and dietetic methods; approaches that exclude all other methods are particularly prone to errors * A person who feels that conventional medicine is not suitable for his physical and spiritual health, should investigate and adopt alternative approaches

Azaria and the Hypocrisy of Political Correctness

Anyone possessing a moral conscience and a Jewish heart could not remain apathetic upon hearing the conviction of the soldier Elor Azaria with manslaughter. The appalling feelings intensified after hearing the statements of self-righteous hypocrisy from leftists, especially from top military officials past and present, who were quick to determine that his conviction was an expression of the moral values ​​of the IDF. Ultimately, those very officers command soldiers to eliminate terrorists because they are deserving of death, but on the other hand, when speaking to the media, they hypocritically claim that eliminating a terrorist is murder! It could be the soldier severely transgressed military procedures, and deserves harsh disciplinary punishment. But from that to accusing him of brutal manslaughter – according to the judges – the gap is unbearable. His public denunciation harms the moral strength of the IDF and motivation of the soldiers, as witnessed immediately in the murderous terrorist attack in Armon Hanatziv, in which our holy soldiers – three women, and one male officers, were killed. Our hearts bleed for them and their families.

Indeed, according to the IDF spokesman’s account, everything was in order. The “IDF values” he voices, were expressed to the tee: “IDF values” that men and women should serve together – indeed, men and women were injured together. “IDF values” not to harm a suspected terrorist before it is absolutely clear he is indeed a terrorist, in the process of carrying out a terrorist attack and not after its conclusion – and in fact, the soldiers waited or fled until it was clear it was a terrorist attack. After it was certain that indeed it was a terrorist attack, despite the terrorist having been killed by the gunfire of the tour guide and male soldiers, it was absolutely essential to emphasize the value of gender equality in the shooting, and confirm that a woman officer had killed the terrorist (like they always are careful to note the handful of women who participate in the combat forces).

Nevertheless, since almost everything regarding this issue has already been said, let this suffice.

A Reply to the Column on Nutrition

Following the column dealing with matters of health and nutrition (Issue 718), I received responses from people passionate about this issue. I will present one response worthwhile of an answer. The following is an extremely abbreviated and edited version of the letter:

“Shalom Rabbi… the last two years we have made a big change in our diet. At first we investigated the existing literature about healthy eating habits in Hebrew and in English… the books were written by serious doctors who conducted clinical studies, and recommend a diet based mainly on fruits and vegetables – a wholesome, and healthy nutrition.

“I was glad to hear about health awareness being introduced into your community. I believe it is very important to understand the concept of vegetarianism, and the great power of such a diet… the food pyramid which they support is composed of whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds. I personally did the diet… and I lost thirty kilos in one year… (At this point in her letter, she shared fascinating insights she had read in books which, according to its authors, was based on extensive experience and knowledge accumulated in China). The basic concept is that the body can heal itself… but when loaded with so much harmful food, the body has great difficulty performing this task. When the things that interfere with the body’s functions are eliminated, and it is provided with a lot of food that helps the body in the healing process – fruits and vegetables – the body is able to heal itself from a myriad of ailments. I would be happy to hear your opinions, Rabbi, in respect to the issues I have raised.”

My Reply: Listen to Doctors

Thank you very much for your informative letter. Concerning my opinion – my opinion is not really important, because I do not pretend to be knowledgeable in the fields of medicine, nutrition, or physical exercise. Therefore, as the halakha mandates in such matters, I trust the doctors who are the experts in all matters of health.

A Follow-up Response: Should One Read Research Studies?

“Thank you for the reply. Actually, I believe that one of the significant advances of our generation is the ability to be a Renaissance man – the ability to easily explore any topic, easily reach scientific research, and easily read books written by scholars. I believe this requires us to change our perception, to understand that we can learn many things, even if we did not sit in university for seven years.

“Concerning illnesses, of course it is necessary to consult a doctor. But in a normal situation, when a woman investigates how best to feed one’s family, I believe there is certainly room for independent investigation. Precisely concerning the subject of nutrition, doctors testify that they learned very little about it during their medical studies, therefore they direct those who ask about it, to dietitians. The idea that nutrition based on a vegetarian diet is the best for man is increasingly growing in Western society… people are fed up with taking twenty different types of pills…

“I understand that the halakha instructs to go according to the expert, but the halakha also instructs “ve’nishmar’tem me’od l’naf’sho’tay’chem” (“therefore, watch out for yourselves very carefully”). Since today a lot of people die and are sick with diseases caused directly by the poor food we eat, despite the dedicated treatment of doctors… and since many illnesses, including the severe and difficult ones… can be cured by proper diet, isn’t a rabbi obligated to check these studies properly? Do you not believe there is truth in the words of alternative doctors, who studied conventional medicine, and found that it fails to provide correct answers to a significant portion of the problems?”

My Response: Conventional Medicine Determines

Although information is currently available in databases on the Internet, one must be an expert to examine its quality and credibility, particularly on issues where there are differences of opinion. The more serious and critical an issue is, the greater amount of responsibility in choosing information is required.

Therefore, today as well, the instruction of the halakha is to act in accordance with the accepted view of the majority of doctors, who are experts in the field of health. Such instruction holds true even for Shabbat and Yom Kippur, for if a doctor says one needs to violate the Shabbat, or eat on Yom Kippur – we listen to him. Not only that, but our Sages instructed that when someone is sick and requires treatment, if the person taking care of him goes to ask a rabbi how to treat him, or whether it is permissible to listen to a doctor, he is considered a murderer, because while asking, the patient is liable to be at risk. And the Rabbi who was asked is reprehensible, because he should have taught his students not to turn to him in a life-threatening situation, but to rush and treat the patient in the best way possible (Jerusalem Talmud, Yoma 5:5).

When doctors disagree we follow the majority, for this is the rule concerning all doubtful questions – we follow the majority, as it is written: “Do not follow the majority to do evil” (Exodus 23:2). However, in certain situations, when a person believes that the minority is correct, he must act according to the minority position. These laws are clarified in detail regarding a sick person on Shabbat and Yom Kippur (see, S. A., O.C. 618; Peninei Halakha: Yamin Nora’im 8:4 footnote 5; Shabbat 27:2).

Conclusion

1) When there are disagreements between conventional medical doctors and alternative doctors, since the conventional doctors are the majority, and are also considered to be more proficient because their assertions are based on extensive studies, we follow the instructions of conventional medicine. 2) In a case of imminent and tangible danger to life and conventional medicine maintains a specific procedure is not beneficial, but on the other hand, is not damaging, and in the opinion of alternative doctors it could save the patient’s life, the alternative doctors should be listened to, provided they are known to be serious and responsible doctors (see, S.A., O.C., 618:4). Similarly, when a patient’s personal opinion is that the alternative doctors are correct, he should listen to them, even if their level of expertise is uncertain, for “lev yode’ah marat naf’sho” (“the heart knows its own bitterness”). This, provided their instructions do not contradict conventional medicine.

3) In a situation where there is no imminent and tangible danger to life, and when regular physicians do not take into consideration what alternative doctors have to say, even an ordinary person does not have to take their opinion into consideration, and should act according to conventional medical instructions. However, one who is convinced that the alternative doctors are correct, is permitted to act according to their instructions.

The Appropriate Approach to Alternative Methods

I will now address your question about how to relate to the various alternative methods. In principle, I assume that every position a serious person who honestly studied the subject has some truth, and most likely, his method is appropriate for some particular type of disease, or a certain types of people, and therefore, it is proper to investigate his method in earnest, so as to study the truth it contains, and consider how to incorporate it within the overall, accepted system. This is indeed how serious researchers and doctors work.

This position, which gives room for all the various methods, on the other hand also determines that the more extreme a method is, excluding a larger number of different opinions, the risk of it being misguided and damaging is greater. For just as most likely there is a point of truth in her words, similarly, there is also a point of truth in other alternative methods, and far more points of truth in the conventional method that was based on the experience of thousands of serious researchers. And since the extreme method excludes all these points of truth, consequently, it encompasses many errors that are liable to make it potentially dangerous.

Enrichment in Guidebooks

Therefore, it is beneficial for a healthy person and those suffering from various ailments that are not dangerous, to read guidebooks and hear lectures on healthy lifestyles, nutrition, exercise, relaxation and sleep, in accordance with the accepted ways of conventional medicine. However, one who does not find the guidelines of conventional medicine fitting for himself, it would be good to widen his knowledge by reading alternative guidebooks, and learn from them approaches that do not contradict accepted medical methods; but one should always remember that the more dissimilar and divergent the method is from conventional methods, the greater the risk it possesses serious errors, and should not be preferred. Nevertheless, if one feels that precisely these methods are extremely fitting for his body and soul, he can adopt them, because indeed, they may be beneficial for him, on the condition he checks and is sure they possess no real danger according to conventional methods.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: http://en.yhb.org.il/

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