Nachmanides opposed doctors

The renowned Spanish Mystic Bible and Talmud commentator Nachmanides’ view that God is involved in everything that occurs in this world affected his view about doctors helping people. He was generally, with only one exception, opposed to doctors.

 

Miracles occur daily

Nachmanides (1194-1270) writes[1]: “And now I shall declare to you a general principle in the reason of many commandments.” He identifies several groups of individuals with wrong-headed convictions. The first denies the basic principle that God created the world. The second refuses to recognize that God knows what occurs to humans. The third may think that God knows about people, but denies that God pays attention to them. They assert that God cares for humans as much as humans care for a bowl of goldfish. They look, admire and delight in them, but do not care for their individual lives. Just as it is ridiculous to imagine people rewarding and punishing fish for their behavior, so, too, these people say, God neither rewards nor punishes.

Many scholars are convinced that Maimonides denies the existence of miracles. All agree that he at least minimizes them. But Nachmanides was convinced, strongly and unyieldingly, that God is constantly involved in the world, as in the saying that no leaf falls from a tree unless God wills it to do so.

Nachmanides was persuaded that there are two kinds of miracles. The first, like the exodus from Egypt and the plagues that preceded it, are open and evident to all. Others are hidden and do not show God’s involvement, like the falling leaf, winter snow, and summer rain, even the shining sun. This belief in miracles was so significant and fundamental to Nachmanides that he proclaimed, “From [belief in] large perceptible miracles one [comes to believe] in hidden miracles, which are the very foundation of the entire Torah. A person has no share in the Torah of Moses our teacher until he believes that all that occurs is the result of miracles, not the laws of nature. … Everything happens by divine decree.”

He states that many Jewish practices were instituted for no other purpose than to teach or remind Jews that miracles occur daily. This, for example, is the reason that the Passover Seder is celebrated.

 

Doctors are unnecessary

Nachmanides’ conviction of the involvement of God in human affairs impacted his view of medicine. Although some scholars believe that he was a physician, he felt that the physician’s role in medicine was misunderstood. Only God can heal people. He insisted that religious people have no need for medical treatment for God will care for them. He interpreted Exodus 21:19, “He will surely heal,” as a God given dispensation to doctors to assist those who are not righteous, as long as “the physician is aware of the source and limit of his healing power and sees them as a participation in God’s work.”[2] He emphasized that Rachel’s conception following years of barrenness, was “through prayer and not by way of human cures.”[3]

 

[1]    Commentary to Exodus 13:16.

[2]    Novak, page 84. See D. Margolith, Ramban as Doctor, Sinai, 1957, pages 147–57. See also Nachmanides’ Commentary to Exodus 15:26.

[3]    Commentary, Genesis 30:14.

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