2

What is the "benefit," if any, of having one's spleen removed?

Melachim I - I Kings - Chapter 1:5 "And Adoniahu the son of Haggith exalted himself saying: 'I will be king,' and he made for himself chariots and horsemen and fifty men to run before him."

And fifty men: had their spleens removed and the soles of their feet were scraped.

https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/15885/showrashi/true

This is a two-part question on Rashi's commentary:

What is the (medical/logical or any) purpose of having "their spleens removed and the soles of their feet ... scraped"?

3

Rashi is saying this based on a gemara in Sanhedrin 21b:

"The verse continues: “And he prepared for himself chariots and riders and fifty people to run before him” (I Kings 1:5). The Gemara asks: What is the novelty of these actions, since other wealthy people do the same, even if they are not the sons of kings, with designs on the throne? Rav Yehuda says that Rav says: What was unique was that the runners all had their spleens removed and had the soles of their feet hollowed, removing the flesh of their feet, and these two procedures enhanced their speed."

On that gemara, Rashi clarifies more:

"נטולי טחול וחקוקי כפות הרגלים - נטולי טחול על ידי סם שהטחול מכבידו לאדם וחקוקי כפות הרגלים אין בשר בפרסותיהם ורצים על הקוצים ועל הברקנין ואינן ניזוקין:

Translation: had their spleens removed and soles of their feet hollowed - had their spleens removed by a medicine for the spleen weighs down upon the man and had the soles of their feet hollowed, they had no flesh on their feet and they ran upon the thorns and were not injured.

  • if this removal of spleen was first mentioned in the gemara, then from where did the gemara source get this information about the removal of spleen? – ninamag Oct 30 '20 at 12:56
  • 1
    @ninamag presumably, like many things that are seemingly sourceless in the gemara, it was a tradition that was passed down. Also, as Dov points out in his answer, this was a thing done in the Greek and Roman armies, so it's a bit of a put two and two together situation. – Harel13 Oct 30 '20 at 13:32
  • "a thing done in the Greek and Roman armies", but our Tanach passage "I Kings 1:5" was before "the Greek and Roman armies" at least, before the Romans. – ninamag Oct 30 '20 at 13:39
  • 1
    @ninamag of course, but they saw it as an action that made sense. The Roman army was one of the greatest in the world. Look at it this way: They may have had a tradition that they removed their spleens and cut their feet, but the sages would have sat around scratching their heads, like, what? Why would they do that? And then someone comes and says: You know why the Romans are such good runners? Because they do the exact same thing! – Harel13 Oct 30 '20 at 13:42
3

@Harel13 has provided the main answer, but I thought you might be interested in noting a fascinating article here (on pp.13-14) which provides further academic research to support Rashi's assertion that their spleens were removed to increase their speed and was indeed a common practise in the ancient world (in both the Roman and Greek culture).

The author notes interestingly, that to perform splenectomies, an incredibly complex medical procedure, especially in those times, would have resulted in a very high death rate. Even by the early twentieth century, such a procedure had a 28% mortality rate(!).

The author writes:

One plausible resolution to this question is in Rambam’s twelfth century medical writings, where he states that the dangerous splenectomies were never performed in King David’s time. Instead, Rambam insists that Adoniya’s soldiers were given herbal drugs that shrunk their spleens, thereby decreasing the inhibiting weight 1.

Rashi’s interpretation of the Gemara in Sanhedrin (21B) might be the basis of Rambam’s herbal interpretation. Rashi explains that the soldiers were given certain drugs that enabled safe spleen removal. Unlike Rambam, however, Rashi maintains that the spleens were definitely removed, and not just atrophied. Thus the question still exists, how could such a dangerous surgery have been performed in ancient times, even with herbal drugs and medicines?


1 Oren, M., Herman, J., and Elbaum, J. (1998). Men with No Spleens and Carved-Out Feet: What is the Meaning in the Words? Ann. Intern. Med. 129: 756-758.

  • @Dov Which herbal drugs did Rambam say shrunk the spleens? – ninamag Oct 30 '20 at 13:37
  • I haven't looked into it yet - I guess look into the academic paper that I listed in the footnotes – Dov Oct 30 '20 at 13:41
  • I have to do a bit of detective work as the academic paper that quotes from Rambam is culled from another source - Rosner F. Medicine in the Bible and the Talmud: Selections from Classical Jewish Sources. New York: Ktav; 1977 – Dov Oct 30 '20 at 13:45
  • Woohoo! Found the book on googlebooks! look at p104 - books.google.co.uk/… – Dov Oct 30 '20 at 13:48
  • The book says that Rambam asserts that "a cattle hoof, if burned and drunk with oxymel, will shrink an enlarged spleen..." - This is referenced as being on p.269 in Pirkei Moshe BiRefuah – Dov Oct 30 '20 at 13:52

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .