Wednesday, December 13, 2017

When Rabbis Don't Quack

In the all-time most-read post on this blog, When Rabbis Quack, I criticized an as-yet unpublished work on alternative medicine which featured an array of rabbinic endorsements. Then, after the book was published, I critiqued a too-positive (albeit still critical) feature article about the book which appeared in Mishpacha magazine. I was pleased to see that Mishpacha issued an apology and retraction of this article: 
CLARIFICATION: Several weeks ago, we addressed in these pages the complicated and high-stakes issue of alternative medicine and associated nontraditional practices. In retrospect, we have come to realize that such a sensitive and controversial topic should not have appeared in these pages.
Alternative medicine is an extremely complex and delicate topic, from both a halachic standpoint as well as a scientific point of view. Any attempt to address the topic demands a fair and balanced presentation that is far beyond the form of a feature article in a weekly magazine.
Many of these methods may also involve serious issurei d'Oraisa. Rav Yisroel Belsky ztz"l was known to have been vehemently opposed to such practices on these grounds. Although these potential issurim were noted in the article, unfortunately, they were not sufficiently highlighted, and some critical sources of information were overlooked, especially Rav Belsky's new sefer on the topic. Additionally, gedolei harabbanim have pointed to many unfortunate instances in which people placed themselves in grave danger by eschewing traditional medicine and opting for speculative methods.
The article also alluded to the possibility of an individual having gained mystical healing powers via various encounters. Considering this method as an avenue of medical healing is misguided. While the merits of alternative medicine can be debated, and the discipline has some precedent, this form of curing has no precedent, and can be a dangerous road to travel. Investing hope in people who claim to have special mystical powers is a foolish waste of time, energy, and money, and possibly dangerous as well.
Mishpacha feels an achrayus to the tzibbur and has long prided itself on seeking guidance from gedolei harabbanim. We thank the rabbanim who have contacted us in response to the article and with pride are modeh al he'emes. We regret publishing a piece that may have conveyed approval of these problematic practices, and strongly recommend that everyone proceed with great caution in this area and consult their rav and doctor when considering pursuing alternative medicine. (18 Kislev 5778 / 1 December 6, 2017)

It's good to know that many Rabbanim protested any praise for this book. And it's nice to see this retraction, although I would not agree that "such a sensitive and controversial topic should not have appeared in these pages... Any attempt to address the topic demands a fair and balanced presentation that is far beyond the form of a feature article in a weekly magazine." I think that a weekly popular magazine such as Mishpacha is an important forum in which to discuss such a topic; it's just that I don't think that the topic needs an Israel/Palestinian style "fair and balanced presentation." It needs an honest critique.


  1. This doctor has a series of videos about this subject and this is one of them. There is no debate, really. Either science of quackery. But quackery will always be with us and there is always an ample supply of chumps.

  2. In other words, Mishpacha realized the issue is not quite so simple after all. Though you frame it as though it was response only to you, presumably they heard from many readers who disagreed with them. Why, it almost reminds me of your post the other day on "bad men." Mishpacha was wise enough to publish a clarification (which you call a retraction.) Will you?

    1. Why would he? It's not like you made any compelling arguments for that. "Many people hated Bush and Obama" is not an argument, it's a whine. "There are worse people than Trump" isn't an argument either, it's a non sequitur.

    2. R. Slifkin starts his final paragraph with the words "It's good to know that many Rabbanim protested..."

      It's as if your vendetta interferes with your reading comprehension skills.

    3. "The article also alluded to the possibility of an individual having gained mystical healing powers via various encounters."

      Given the flyers that appear regularly in my shul on Friday night offering such cures, I'm curious to know which Rabbonim/Mekubalim in particular Mishpacha magazine was referring to here.

  3. What a ridiculous response. I read it as "Boy we got a lot of backlash for writing such a dumb article. Let's claim that the issue is just so, so difficult that no one could possibly do a good job, so it's not our fault. And we can throw in that we are being subservient to Daas Torah to make it seem like we are just doing the right thing."

  4. Just learnt Rashi that Yosef knew the shevotim came in through different gates via his crystal ball. No questions asked about the validity of this kind of knowledge.

    The Rambam wrote the Moreh to show which parts of Aristotle were acceptable and which not. IMHO today he would have written about how to use science as a tool and not make it an avoda zara. It is a system, it has its enormous benefits, but it still cannot see Moshe Rabenu as anything more than psychotic, and is not in accord with a Torah perspective.

    It is easy to use labels like 'quack', but this is simply propaganda from the establishment. Newspeak. The word refers to a specific historical situation which may or may not be relevant. Perhaps a doctor offering statins is also a quack? When you actually see the benefit of alternative treatments it becomes obvious that they work, even if they fail to pass the scientific bar. They too have their limitations and their place, but to rubbish them ignores their genuine potential. I recently met someone with a daughter who was confined to bed with disabling dizziness for 5 five years and went the rounds of the entire ENT Neurology establishment with no benefit. Eventually they came across a healer of some sort who put her hand behind the daughter's neck for a few seconds and she was able to stand up. Call it psychological (gr psuche = nefesh) if you will, but it worked.

    @David love your take on the response! spot on.

  5. @ Yaakov
    The "chumps' that you refer to are so often people with genuine problems that have spent much time and money running around various doctors and realised there is nothing at all to help them in the system. Many of them are highly intelligent and sensitive people. I think it is quite condescending of you to refer to them as chumps because they act in ways that are not in accordance with your belief system.


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