Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

19 Iyar 5766 - May 17, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Faith in Medicine

A Roundtable Discussion with Four Doctors on Various Vital Issues of Emunah and Medicine

Part I

On a recent evening, four observant doctors gathered with us after they had finished their work, for a roundtable discussion in the offices of Arachim. All of them are connected to the Teshuvoh movement. Some of them returned to their roots and some of them work in outreach. Each one felt at home in the offices of Arachim. Their work is in the field of medicine, but their essence is men of faith. "From my flesh I see G-d," and from the flesh of any man. They see faith, experience it, and breathe it.

We sought the opportunity to gain insight into emunah from their experiences and their fascinating personal stories. We sought to delve into the depths of questions surrounding faith and medicine as well: Can one influence the results of an ultrasound by spiritual means? What is the source of exaggerated arrogance often found amongst doctors? Why should we go to a doctor, given that sin is the cause of death? How well does the chareidi community follow doctors' orders? What is the meaning of the Zohar that states that matzoh is the "bread of healing?"

Rabbi Yisroel Friedman presented the questions. Chaim Arbeli took notes.

Part One: Faith and Healing

As background for the first question, Rabbi Yisroel Friedman told a fascinating recent story to the participants: With your permission, I would like to open with a true story I witnessed, and afterwards I would like to hear your reactions. On motzei Shabbos, a Jew came to HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman's home and told him that he had a brother who lived in New York who had undergone chemotherapy for his illness, and it caused his inner organs to be "consumed." In light of the medical diagnosis and prognosis, they had already said with him the viduy confession in preparation for death. The Rosh Yeshiva made a name change for an ill person immediately, blessed him with a blessing for a complete recovery, and began to pray for his recovery.

Not long after this, the doctor who was treating his brother came out of the treatment room and told the family: "I do not understand what has happened here. Tell me, what exactly have you done for the patient?"

The family told him that the only thing they did was the name change, prayer, and a blessing. The doctor was a Jew, but very distant from observance of Torah and mitzvos. When he heard their story he responded that he had to travel to Israel in order to understand this phenomenon.

The family now keeps two x-ray pictures of the patient, one "before" and one "after," which provide scientific verification to the story.

We know of many incidents such as this, concerning many gedolei Yisroel, in which going to a great man had a great effect. As men of science and medicine, how do you relate to these stories?

We thought that after the first story the discussion would begin — but we were mistaken! The doctors, one by one, told personal stories and provided deeper material for the question under discussion.


Dr. Shoraki: You told a story, allow me to tell a story . . . (See box).

Dr. Hart: Before I answer the question, I would like to say that I know of many stories such as these, and if we tell them all now we will not finish before morning. I will tell one story, though. I was in HaRav Chaim Kanievsky's home and a Jewish mother came in, placed her infant on the table in the library, and asked me to examine him. I examined him and found that everything was okay.

After the examination the mother told me: "In the first ultrasound made on my baby when he was a fetus, they detected that his brain was not developing. In the second ultrasound they said they could hardly identify his heart. After the third one they said his kidneys were in very bad shape . . . "

The doctors said that everything was hopeless, but the family received a blessing from HaRav Chaim Kanievsky.

Mayanei Hayeshua Hospital would not accept the mother for delivery of an infant with an undeveloped brain and problematic heart and kidneys, and they sent her to Tel Hashomer Hospital. The baby was born completely healthy, with a normal brain, heart, and kidneys.

Let us return to the question: As men of medicine and science, how do you relate to the stories?

Dr. Hart: As doctors, we have no tools to examine the power contained in the Torah, including the power of the gedolei Yisroel's blessings that transform nature. There are proofs to this in the words of our Sages. This works in reality, in nature!

There was a case of a girl who suffered from a tumor in the brainstem which was detected in an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) image. They sent her to be operated on in Switzerland. HaRav Chaim Kanievsky gave her his blessing, and when she arrived in Switzerland the tumor was gone.

The blessings of gedolei Yisroel have power. I heard from HaRav Chaim Kanievsky that when medical examinations are not made, the blessings can take effect more readily. In cases where the blessing did not take effect, it was because the one receiving the blessing was not worthy. These were his words. (By the way, one should also know the simple fact that many ultrasound examinations are in error).

The blessings are similar to antibiotics. I give an antibiotic, but I do not know how it works. The fact is that it works for one patient, while for another it does not. Blessings seem to me to be the same, HaKodosh Boruch Hu gave them power to work and they work. This is the reality. You ask me how a secular doctor looks at this? He has a problem when he compares the two x-rays pictures; he has to find an answer.

Dr. Kapach: This question is a trap, because the minute you ask me to answer the question as a doctor you have placed me in a trap. You are asking about supernatural processes and you are requesting me to answer in natural terms. You are taking away all the tools and then you ask for an explanation. What can I say? Without the tools of emunah I can only answer that maybe it was a mistake, maybe the story was not exact, maybe the doctor was not an expert. There are always excuses . . . in a natural way it could not be that a tumor such as that which was described could disappear. In a natural way, evidence from an ultrasound does not disappear. Therefore, with natural tools we have no true, fundamental answer to your question.

Dr. Straw answered the question by providing a comprehensive picture of the point of contact between medicine and emunah, also by means of a personal story (see box). His inevitable conclusion was that the doctor does nothing, he only "plays the role of a doctor, and HaKodosh Boruch Hu does everything!"

The tzaddik, the "schnorrer" R' Dovid Leib zt'l used to give advice that was not at all medical and it helped people to be cured from their illnesses. Maybe you should also do so? According to what you say, you are only "playing" doctor, why not play with R' Dovid Leib's tools?

Dr. Straw: Because HaKodosh Boruch Hu obligates us to make our hishtadlus efforts with the science of medicine. HaKodosh Boruch Hu gave us a certain tool, and we need to use that tool in its framework to try and reveal the illness and to treat it. In the framework of hishtadlus I must prescribe the scientifically accepted medicine, but I must also recognize that only HaKodosh Boruch Hu decides whether the medicine will work or not. If He wishes, there could be severe side effects from taking two grams of flour, as the story I told demonstrates.

Dr. Hart: The proof of the doctor's obligation to heal with conventional means comes from the gedolei Yisroel! They are the ones who are the most careful to follow their own doctors' instructions. Other people have a tendency to disregard them, but the gedolei Yisroel are exceedingly careful with the instructions. Therefore, it is not possible to say that because everything comes from HaKodosh Boruch Hu there is no need for hishtadlus in the natural way.

Dr. Kapach: If we lived in a period with a very high spiritual level and were exempt from hishtadlus we could do so, but as long as we are living in today's day and age we are obligated to do hishtadlus.

If a person with a very high level of emunah came to you, would you advise him to pass up on treatment?

Dr. Kapach: No.

But we are speaking about someone who really believes!

Dr. Kapach: So why did he come to me? Because his wife would not let him rely on his power of emunah? They tell the story of a man who went to the doctor and received a prescription. He went to the pharmacy and filled the prescription, but when he arrived at his home he threw the medicine into the garbage. "The doctor needs a livelihood," he explained, "so I went to him. The pharmacist needs to make a living, so I bought from him. Now, I also need to live!"

Obviously this story is a joke. There are some who take it literally, though. If a man would be on the level of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa I would agree he is exempt from making hishtadlus. But hishtadlus is necessary for us. If you are not on the level of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai—take the antibiotics! And someone who thinks he is on the level of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai needs to be sent to a different type of hospital.

Do you deal with the supernatural in the course of treatment?

Dr. Kapach: I take into consideration the influence of spiritual causes—emunah—and I can say to the patient to read Tehillim before and after taking the medicine.

Have you noticed that people with emunah heal quicker?

Dr. Kapach: I do not need to see this. There have been investigations that revealed that people with greater emunah have more effective immune systems — maybe not in high percentages such as 100 percent but their recovery was better because their body is healthier. It is impossible to deny the connection between the body and the spirit.

End of Part I

A Personal Story of Dr. Shmuel Shoraki

Dr. Shoraki began the discussion with a personal story. He chose his words carefully and put into each one of them an ocean of feeling. His gestures were exhilarated and his face was beaming.

A few years ago his wife was sent during pregnancy for an ultrasound checkup, performed by an expert in the field. The expert informed them that the baby's kidneys were "not okay." This was very difficult news for them because they had already passed through a difficult period of expectations and disappointments. They were sent for a series of examinations, and at the end they were told to make one more test, after which the doctors would decide what to do.

His wife refused to take the test and Dr. Shoraki, who was then secular, admired her simple faith but found it difficult to accept. In his pain, he turned to Rav Machluf Pachima, who knew him from when he was a small boy and who guided him in the process of returning to his roots.

The Rav told him they must not take the test. Dr. Shoraki claimed it was very hard for him to accept this and asked to understand why not.

"I am a doctor," he explained, "and it seems to me that if HaKodosh Boruch Hu has given us the possibility of making the test then we have to use it. Why isn't refusing to take the test considered as if we are disregarding the wisdom HaKodosh Boruch Hu gave us?" Dr. Shoraki, who was then at the first stages of returning, was perplexed.

The Rav listened and said: "What you are saying is logical, but do not take the test."

Dr. Shoraki asked again for the reason, and the Rav asked him: "If you hear the reason, will you give up the test?"

"Yes," he answered.

The Rav stated an idea, recalled Dr. Shoraki, "and from the moment I heard it, it has been worth a fortune to me."

"You are in a closed room," the Rav began his parable, "and this room has many doors. You want to leave the room and you try all the doors. The first door is locked. So too the second and the third. You go on trying all the doors until you come to the last door. The last option.

"Please! Don't mix in! Leave the last door for HaKodosh Boruch Hu! Let Him open it for you!"

"You need a lot of strength in order to hold back from trying to open the last door," admits Dr. Shoraki, "but that is what we did. If you are stubborn enough to insist on opening that door yourself you prevent, as it were, HaKodosh Boruch Hu from entering. It was difficult to accept this — even very difficult. Because I was a doctor it was much harder. If I were not a doctor it would have been easier. I felt as if I were tying my hands with handcuffs. I thought that someone would have to be unreasonable to act in such a way."

They did not do the test, as the Rav advised, and the doctors who were treating his wife were angry. "Why did we do all the tests if you are going to stop at the last step?" they asked.

"You are not reasonable people," the doctors offered their opinion in a field that was not really their profession. Despite the pressure from the doctors, they remained firm in their decision and did not even do any simple sonograms.

They arrived at the hospital before the delivery. Dr. Shoraki called an important Rov from the hospital, who told him he should pray to HaKodosh Boruch Hu: "Recite perek Yosheiv beseiser elyon, in Tehillim without interruption."

After the operation they called him inside the delivery room. "I came in and I soon heard the newborn screaming. For a number of moments everyone held their breath. A newborn usually cries, but he was screaming in an unusual voice; it sounded as if he were angry . . . "

Rav Vallis interrupted and asked: "What was the anger all about?"

Dr. Hart: "Are you wondering why he was angry? He was screaming: `Gevald!' They bothered me in the middle of learning a sugya with the angel."

Dr. Kapach: "The answer is perhaps not in the realm of physiology. Maybe the newborn's anger was `saying' to the doctors: `You wanted to injure me and prevent me from being born?' Today we know scientifically that the fetus absorbs and feels what the mother feels, what its surroundings broadcast."

Less than an hour after the birth the doctors sent Dr. Shoraki with the infant for an ultrasound examination because of his problematic medical records. He came to the examination and told them about the problem in the kidneys that had been revealed in a previous ultrasound. A new examination was made and no problem was found. They asked him if he wants a more thorough series of tests and he answered: "No, no, no."

When he returned to the department they made a comparison between the two results and . . .

"Soon we will be making the chalakah for this child. He is almost three years old."

A Personal Story - Dr. Shlomo Chaim Straw

With your permission I would like to touch on the subject of science and medicine, and to demonstrate scientifically who is the One who treats a patient. Is it the doctors and the antibiotics, or does HaKodosh Boruch Hu cause the antibiotics to work?

In a meeting of cardiologists at the Tel Hashomer hospital, I was asked to present a research article that was published in a respectable periodical — one of the most prestigious in the field of medicine. The subject of the research was the effectiveness of a medicine called Procor for patients who suffered from irregular heartbeat. The article presented a comparison between the results of those who took the medicine and those who took a placebo.

When I read the article I was astounded by a basic piece of data, which I will soon explain. I presented the results of the article to the participants, all of whom were experts and professors who were themselves researchers. I detailed this astounding result to them, and I was surprised by their reaction.

They did not relate to it at all, despite the fact that it was a blatant point, surprising and impressive. After a few minutes I mentioned the point again and just about asked explicitly: "How could this be?"

Only one doctor responded that it could be a mistake. I looked at everyone's eyes and I could see they were avoiding the question.

Let me explain the surprising data, and the lesson I learned from it:

Throughout the history of medicine, researchers have always made comparisons between real medicines and placebos (harmless substances given in place of the medicine, when both the patient and the administrating doctor think he is taking the real medicine or at least do not know that he is not). Every time a medicine is researched, they record the complaints the patients have as "negative side effects."

Afterwards they analyze the data and summarize the percentage of those who suffered from any particular side effect. Despite the fact that the placebo is really only two grams of flour, there are those who report negative side effects from taking it — usually about four to seven percent of the participants. These side effects include pains, nausea, vomiting, and the like.

How do they analyze the negative side effects of the real medicine? Everyone knows that the placebo can cause nausea and the like but it will not cause a major ailment, for example swelling in the legs. Let us say twenty percent of those who took the medicine have swelling of the legs, this would be a clear indication that it is a negative side effect of the medicine.

We do not know of negative side effects in some of the new medicines, since they have not been studied for a long time. But the research paper I was presenting was dealing with an old medicine that millions of people have used for thirty years! One of the negative side effects of this medicine is the formation of severe scars in the lungs that can cause shortness of breath. This is a very serious negative side effect that causes significant changes in the lung's membranes.

In the history of medicine no one has ever taken a placebo and been stricken with this negative side effect. We eat flour every day and it does not cause this side effect. No researcher has ever cited a negative side effect of this magnitude from a placebo.

And yet this research paper reported that three percent of those who took the placebo were stricken with this serious side effect!

How could this be? How could people be stricken with a serious aliment as a result of taking a placebo? And it was a relatively high amount of three percent! (Amongst those who took the real medicine, four percent were stricken with the side effect.)

In the article they reported the dry facts without relating to the surprising data. The doctors before whom I presented the article did not react as well. In the periodical from which I quoted they always print letters from their readers who comment on articles they have published — but nothing was printed on this. If I were one of the editors of that periodical I would not have publicized this research, because it does not make any sense!

I ask myself as a man of science: What caused those patients who took the placebo to have such a severe side effect? As a normal person I have to ask this question!

I tried to solve the riddle myself in the following way: Since the doctor knows about the negative side effect of the real medicine, he is therefore sensitive to follow-up and check the patient to see if this side effect is developing.

Therefore, perhaps we could say that the patients had the negative side effect not because of the placebo but rather because the doctor was looking for it and he knew this was a possible side effect from taking the medicine, and that is why it was discovered in a relatively high percentage. However, this explanation is untenable because throughout history, amongst the millions that took placebos, there has never been such a severe side effect!

Another possibility is the psychological influence. The doctor warns the patient about the list of possible negative side effects ahead of time (on the assumption that he is taking the real medicine). If so, it is possible that psychological factors created physical changes in the patient's body because he was worried about this ailment.

Let us examine another research finding that negates this possibility. Research was once publicized regarding a medicine called Phoslo, which showed it was beneficial for bone density. After a year they publicized the case of three patients who had taken Phoslo and suffered from hard ulcers in the esophagus. People complained and asked why they did not publicize and warn of the existence of this negative side effect a year ago, in the original research article?

The answer given by the researcher was (in part): "I could not warn the medical community about this negative side effect because at the time of the investigation we discovered that those who took the placebo also had hard ulcers in the esophagus."

This is astounding!

This means that people who could not possibly have known that a possible side effect of Phoslo is hard ulcers in the esophagus, took the placebo and were stricken with this ailment! This incident negates the possibility of psychological factors being responsible for the side effects, because with Phoslo both the doctors and the patients knew nothing about such a possibility!

Was there ever a case where someone who took a placebo and was stricken with such a serious ailment in the history of medicine?

There never was! We know that placebos can cause nausea or the like—but could they case a serious illness? This is impossible!

A third possibility is that the placebos were actually the true medicine. In every investigation about the effectiveness of a medicine the doctor receives the medicine in a package and he does not know if it is the real medicine or the placebo. Therefore, maybe the pharmaceutical company made a mistake and in the investigation everyone received the real medicine and that is why they had the negative side effects.

However, this is not tenable since the heartbeat rhythms improved amongst those that took the real medicine and not among those who took the placebo. This would indicate that a portion of the patients really did receive the placebo.

What is the solution to this paradox? The answer is simple: HaKodosh Boruch Hu allows us to "play" the role of a doctor, and that is how He built His world. However, you have to know that it is not Procor that causes scars in the lungs, and it is not Phoslo that causes the ulcer in the esophagus. HaKodosh Boruch Hu does it all!

The Participants

Dr. Shmuel Shoraki

He studied medicine in France, specializing in emergency care, skin surgery and hematology. Dr. Shoraki became familiar with Arachim sixteen years ago as a result of a conference in France, and moved to Eretz Yisroel in Tishrei, 5759 (1999).

Dr. Shoraki has received favorable newspaper coverage for his treatment to save diabetics' feet from amputation. He receives about a hundred people every day in his clinic in Bnei Brak for treatment and advice.

Dr. Meshulam Hart

A specialist in childhood diseases, allergies of adults and children (immunology, the science of the immune system and allergies), he studied medicine in the University of Tel Aviv in the first graduating class.

Dr. Hart is one of the most experienced activists in the field of outreach, and has been active in Arachim, among other organizations. He serves and has served as the doctor of gedolei Yisroel ztvk'l vylct'a.

Dr. Hart has published the pamphlet entitled VeRapoh Yerapei, which contains responsa from HaRav Chaim Kanievsky on medicine issues.

Dr. Shlomo Chaim Straw

He studied medicine in Colombia, and specialized in Israel in internal medicine and cardiology. He is acquainted with Arachim for sixteen years as a result of a conference in Ashkelon.

Dr. Straw has a special method of treatment utilizing hypnosis/relaxation techniques for illnesses or for long periods of difficult tests. (For example, for the problem of ringing in the ears, he has developed a special treatment with Dr. Shemesh of the Noise Institute in Tel Hashomer).

Dr. Shlomo Kapach

He studied medicine in Hadassah, Jerusalem, and specializes in internal disease with an emphasis on cardiology and diabetes. Eighteen years ago he published a textbook in the subject of the pathological EKG entitled Electrocardiology- Principles and Concepts, and has authored a book on the subject of faith and science (Evolution—The Theory of Development in a Scientific Perspective), which refutes the atheistic theory from a scientific vantage point. He has been acquainted with Arachim since 5755 (1995), when he joined the participants of an Arachim Seminar in Arad.

Dr. Kapach serves as a lecturer in Arachim.


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