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I remember learning once that the גמרא says to perform a certain procedure / say certain words when someone is choking on a fish bone. I also remember hearing that this is the one cure mentioned in the גמרא that still applies today.

So:

  • What is the procedure?
  • Does it still apply today?
  • Optional: What's the meaning behind the procedure (words and actions)?

(I remember it as fish bones, but if applies to all bones as well, please correct me)

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Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/22971 –  msh210 Dec 24 '12 at 1:43

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The source is the Gemara (Shabbos 67A) which says as follows (translation from here):

כי האי תנא תני תנא בפרק אמוראי קמיה דר' חייא בר אבין א"ל כולהו אית בהו משום דרכי האמורי לבר מהני מי שיש לו עצם בגרונו מביא מאותו המין ומניח ליה על קדקדו ולימא הכי חד חד נחית בלע בלע נחית חד חד אין בו משום דרכי האמורי לאדרא לימא הכי ננעצתא כמחט ננעלתא כתריס שייא שייא

A tanna recited the chapter of Amorite practices before R. Hiyya b. Abin. Said he to him: All these are forbidden as Amorite practices, save the following: If one has a bone in his throat, he may bring of that kind, place it on his head, and say thus: 'One by one go down, swallow swallow, go down one by one': this is not considered the ways of the Amorite. For a fish bone he should say thus: 'Thou art stuck in like a pin, thou art locked up as [within] a cuirass; go down, go down.'

According to here, The Aruch says "Shaya Shaya" means "melt, melt"

So the Gemara has one saying for bones in general, and another saying for fish bones in particular.


Chidushei R' Akiva Eiger (336:1) quotes the Maharil who says that this is the only cure from the Talmud that we are permitted to use, since it is "tried and tested". The Maharil only quotes the incantation for any bone, he does not quote the incantation for the fish bone.

R' Akiva Eiger then brings a Shoshanei Leket who describes a different method which he says works for anything stuck in the throat, not just bones.


avakesh.com says that they asked Rabbi Belsky and he said:

  • It works with any food

  • even putting the empty plate on top of the choker's head will work

  • someone else can say it and it will still work

  • Rabbi Belsky has done this himself for someone else who was choking and it worked.

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+1 Great answer! –  WAF Jun 28 '11 at 12:42
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The fact that the g'mara makes it seem as though the person himself is to say the text would seem IMO to imply that the person is not choking (as then he couldn't talk) but rather that he simply has a bone stuck in the back of his mouth. Of course, according to Rabbi Belsky as quoted by avakesh.com, it works for someone choking also. –  msh210 Jun 28 '11 at 18:12

We can talk theoretically all day long about how to interpret that Gemara. But practically speaking:

If someone is conscious and choking, encourage them to cough if they can. If they can't breathe at all, (if there's someone else around have them call 911 immediately), get consent (if children, get consent from parent if around), and perform first-aid for choking immediately. If that doesn't work (loses consciousness), call 911, and then perform treatment for unconscious choking.

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Shouldn't there be a CYLMD caveat in there somewhere? If the assumption is that this question is one in their realm, then it is off-topic for us. If not, then all it needs is a well-placed tetraliteral as a reality check. –  WAF Jun 28 '11 at 16:01
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When recommending particular first-aid procedures, it's important to cite a source. In this case, it seems that the American Red Cross, at least, is now recommending back slaps preceding the Heimlich Maneuver. Perhaps it would make sense to just say "Apply first aid and call 911 first," and link to an authoritative source on how to apply first aid for choking. –  Isaac Moses Jun 28 '11 at 16:02
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@WAF, we wrote our comments at the same time and, I think, come to the same conclusion. What's a tetraliteral, in this context, "CYL*"? –  Isaac Moses Jun 28 '11 at 16:04
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@IsaacMoses Yup, that was the type I meant - in which, OR and MD are uniliteral. –  WAF Jun 28 '11 at 16:06

I will supplement Menachem's answer with my own. See his answer for the source in the gemara for it. But there was an optional component to the question which still requires answer:

Optional: What's the meaning behind the procedure (words and actions)?

See my post on this. To quote myself:

as a rationalist and amateur linguist, I can readily explain just how this would work. Because of the placebo effect, the person doing this or having this performed on him will think it will work, and may relax a bit. Perhaps this would aid in getting the bone or foodstuff unstuck.

Furthermore, by holding the same food over his head, he stretches his pipes in a certain way. Then, consider the "incantation": חד חד נחית בלע בלע נחית חד חד . We don't necessarily realize it, because we Ashkenazim pronounce our chets like chafs and our ayins like alephs (or rather, like nothing at all). But ayin and chet, as the Amoraim pronounced them, are actually gutturals. And every single one of the words in this incantation has on of these difficult gutturals in it. Combine it with the other phonemes, and you are giving yourself quite a linguistic workout. Do this when you have a stuck bone in your throat, and it certainly makes sense that you could dislodge a bone!

On the basis of this, I would contest Rabbi Belsky's extensions (as described in my post and in Menachem's answer). Where the gemara was (somehwat humorously) giving the one incantation which was not darkei Emori, Rabbi Belsky has transformed it into darkei Emori!

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I like your answer, it has a good chap. But according to your answer, why would the gemara say to say " ננעצתא כמחט ננעלתא כתריס שייא שייא" on a fish bone. It doesn't have nearly as many gutturals as "חד חד נחית בלע בלע נחית חד חד"? –  Menachem Jun 28 '11 at 22:34
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assuming that this is indeed part and parcel of the non-superstitious incantation -- note that אין בו משום דרכי האמורי appears at the conclusion of the former, not the latter -- i absolutely agree that it does not work out nearly so well. Still, it does have a guttural in the first four words. (resh is a quasi-guttural, which is why is does not take a dagesh chazak.) maybe fish bones are easier, and more flexible, and demand instead a concluding repeated sibilant. –  josh waxman Jun 28 '11 at 22:53

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