Friday, April 12, 2013

DIfferent Approaches To Medical Care In Judaism

Judaism, as many of you are aware, has many different approaches to a wide variety of topics. Being that I am shortly going to be officially joining the medical profession, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the two main philosophies in Judaism behind a doctors role as caretaker. The two main figures I will be discussing are the Rambam (Maimonides) and the Ramban (Nachmanides). They seem like the best two approaches because they are polar opposites, yet they were both physicians. 

Rambam, based on his rationalistic approach to Judaism, believes that a doctor has a biblical obligation to use his or her knowledge to heal anyone with an illness. He also conveys that a patient has the obligation to seek out the best possible treatment that can be attained. In contrast, Ramban, based on his mystical approach to Judaism, argues that G-D is the healer of illness, not man. According to him, even when a physician is involved with treating a disease, it is really G-D that cures the patient. To the Ramban a physician’s role within medicine is very minimalistic and he argues that a physician is permitted, rather than biblically obligated, to heal. Ramban goes so far as to say that a devout person should not seek out a physician but rather rely on prayer. 

These two views represent, I believe, the paradigms of rationalist vs mystical Judaism. Both were physicians, but Ramban clearly believed that G-D's involvement is absolute, controlling every little detail of human existence. However, the Rambam was much more of a minimalist. G-D's involvement only went so far, but man has to be the master of his own physical world. 

I plan on going through the sources in the Rambam and the Ramban and show how they tease out their different understandings. However, I also want to delve into their personal backgrounds. How could it be that two physicians, born and raised as Jews under Muslim rule, in approximately the same era come to such radically different conclusions about their own profession?

It's going to be a fun journey.  

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