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At Bava Kamma 85a , the Talmud and the Rishonim discuss Ex 21:19 as the authority by which a doctor is permitted to heal a patient.

Is this discussion really halachic? If no verse mentioned doctors and healing, perhaps one might think that the Merciful One struck the patient and the doctor heals illegitimately; but this would not amount to a true Biblical prohibition for either the doctor or the patient. Right?

Or is there another instance of a Biblical prohibition arising through the complete silence of the Torah, the absence of any reference at all to some activity?

  • It's always hard to prove a negative, and it's sometimes a bit silly to ask 'What-If' questions about theoretical situations, since if we make theoretical cases, anything could be said. But the simple reading of that Gemara is that yes, if not for the dispensation from the Passuk, it would be forbidden to heal. – Salmononius2 Feb 4 at 19:08
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  • @Salmononius2 I guess that the idea seems so strange to me that I'm looking for some other way to understand those words, perhaps as a more hashkaphic (philosophical) discussion. – Chaim Feb 4 at 19:21
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In truth the sick must trust in God to heal him, and going to a doctor would sour the sick’s faith in God.

God gives the doctor permission [through writing the verse] to heal the sick, justifying the sick and their lack of belief.

Peninim Mishulchan Hagra, p. 161

שמעתי מהחסיד דקהלתנו שיש לדקדק מש שאמרו רשות לרופא לרפאות ולא רשות לחולה. רק באמת חיוב גדול לבטוח בה׳ ולא ברופא נמצא כשהולך לרופא מועל בבטחון ולכך ה׳ יתברך ברחמיו אינו רוצה לרפאותו בעצמו כי אם ברוב רחמין הוא נותן רשות לרופא לרפאותו. (כתב-יד רבי מרדכי אפשטיין, מבאי בית הגר״א)

  • Hi, we're not supposed to rely on miracles. I don't know if going to the doctor signifies a lack of belief. There's a mitzvah to take care of one's body, and if someone doesn't care for their body the way they should, they bear the consequences. Does that mean all illnesses are due to a lack of care? No, because some are sent from HaShem(shelo neda). See R' Sa'adia Gaon a"h on the question. Trusting in the doctor, by any means, is forbidden. – chacham Nisan Feb 5 at 11:56
  • So I think that you're saying that medical care would be forbidden by the Torah's silence on the topic, were it not for this verse. Can you tell me other Torah prohibitions that arise this way, through the Torah's silence on some topic. For example how do we know whether it is permitted to converse in foreign languages, given the Torah's silence on the topic? – Chaim Feb 5 at 12:37
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This is a great question. I think we should differentiate the perceived "nature" of different diseases. There are two aspects to it:

  1. General providence - השגחה כללית -, i.g. plain biology. Those are diseases that are "inevitable" or "natural", everyone would get sick if certain conditions are met.

  2. Private providence - השגחה פרטית, namely person's luck, unusual or exceptional cases unexplainable by current understanding of #1.

For centuries, most diseases fell under the second category - illnesses were perceived as G-d's anger or punishment, atoning suffering etc. For such attitude, interference with G-d's plans would be considered bad conduct, healing someone's fate would be a sort of blasphemy (which it was indeed for centuries in many religions). Just as we don't try to save somebody sentenced in a Rabbinic court, we don't try to save somebody sentenced in the Heavenly court.

(Needless to say that the in contrary, any intervention to the first type of disorders is readily allowed just like coping with any natural situation - if you're hungry you eat, if you're thirsty you drink etc.)

So the Torah brings a big Chiddush here, related to the similar Gemmorah's (B"B 10a) discussion on G-d's relations with the Jewish nation: either as His slaves or His sons. The Gemmorah asks:

"...מלך בשר ודם שכעס על עבדו וחבשו בבית האסורין וצוה עליו שלא להאכילו ושלא להשקותו והלך אדם אחד והאכילו והשקהו כששמע המלך לא כועס עליו?
ואתם קרוין עבדים..."

"[if] king of flesh and blood who was angry with his slave and put him in prison and ordered that he should not be fed or given to drink. And one person went ahead and fed him and gave him to drink. If the king heard about this, would he not be angry with that person? And you, after all, are called slaves,"

We can see that if we behave like slaves, doctor's intervention will be perceived as negative, as overriding G-d's orders. the Gemmorah continues:

אמר לו ר"ע אמשול לך משל למה הדבר דומה למלך בשר ודם שכעס על בנו וחבשו בבית האסורין וצוה עליו שלא להאכילו ושלא להשקותו והלך אדם אחד והאכילו והשקהו כששמע המלך לא דורון משגר לו ואנן קרוין בנים דכתיב (דברים יד, א) בנים אתם לה' אלהיכם

Rabbi Akiva said to Turnus Rufus: I will illustrate the opposite to you with a different parable. To what is this matter comparable? It is comparable to a king of flesh and blood who was angry with his son and put him in prison and ordered that he should not be fed or given to drink. And one person went ahead and fed him and gave him to drink. If the king heard about this once his anger abated, would he not react by sending that person a gift? And we are called sons, as it is written: “You are sons of the Lord your God”

So, if the Jews are seen as G-d's sons, everyone who helps them, even if their father's angry with them, is welcomed and well compensated.

Because we see the Jews as G-d's sons a doctor has the right to heal.

  • Take a look at judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/98956, where I use this idea to challenge Tosfos’ understanding of the Gemara cited in the OP. – DonielF Feb 5 at 22:56
  • @DonielF Wow, great minds think alike. I'll check your question later B"H – Al Berko Feb 5 at 23:47

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