Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Did the Chazon Ish violate לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל-דַּם רֵעֶךָ? Did Chazal?

This is an interesting thought if one assumes that Chazal (and various modern Gedolim of note) know beruach hakodesh all of modern science, and actually all that science will ever discover.

The pasuk in Vayikra 19:16 reads:
טז לֹא-תֵלֵךְ רָכִיל בְּעַמֶּיךָ, לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל-דַּם רֵעֶךָ: אֲנִי, ה'.16 Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people; neither shalt thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD.
Now, a recent Cross-Currents post speculates on whether it would have been "better" for the Chazon Ish to have become a doctor, for with his medical brilliance, he surely would have found a cure for cancer. While this is unlikely, there is a further question to this: if his medical knowledge was the result of ruach hakodesh, how could he stand by and not cure people?! What sort of cruelty is this? Thus, in the comment section there (numbering actually starts at 6):

  1. May I ask a related question? Curing cancer is not just a Kiddush HaShem matter – there is also the mundane issue of Pikuach Nefesh, saving lives.

    How far out of our way are we obligated to go for Pikuach Nefesh matters? If I see a wounded person in the street, I am obviously obligated to bandage the wounds as best I can, and administer CPR if necessary. Am I obligated to attend CPR classes and carry bandages with me in case they prove necessary?

    Comment by Ori — June 24, 2009 @ 11:46 am

  2. There is a well known story that the GRA’s parents did not let him study medicine/pharmacology (and it is well known that the GRA studied all chachmot and valued them – but that’s for another debate) because had he studied this he would have been required to apply it to save lives.

    Question: If the CI had attained this level of knowledge greater than MD’s(and there are other stories of this nature including iirc a surgical direction for brain surgery), why was he not bound to be “meishiv aveidah” and use this knowledge to cure those who others could not cure?


    Comment by Joel Rich — June 24, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

I would add: It is fine for Hakadosh Baruch Hu to impose plagues on humanity. For He is entirely Separate from mankind and mankind's understanding. And this is the way the world is run. Thus, Hashem can impose misa biydei Shamayim and it is not murder. But for a human being to cause a plague, or to murder someone, or to stand back and withhold a cure that will save someone's life -- that is wrong and evil.

The "answer" was provided before the question, in this case. The preceding comment had an answer that

I once heard (from a reliable source) that the Chazon Ish had said that while he could find a cure for cancer -if he did a worse disease would show up in its wake.
The point of it was that there is always going to be a “machaleh” for which we have no cure by which Hashem hides behind. That is getting off the subject and a whole different disccusion.

Comment by Benshaul

So of course the Chazon Ish was kol yachol, and mystically knew everything. To cope with the deep theological difficulty it presents, the answer is that cancer is just Hashem's messenger, and there are many such messengers. So curing cancer does no one any good. (Would this apply to doctors researching such cures? Are they wasting their lives on nonsense and futility?)

The same can be said for Chazal, who knew about the germ theory of disease, but concealed this knowledge even as thousands of Jews and gentiles died.

On the other hand, if the Chazon Ish was doing his best, and Chazal were doing their best, given the medical knowledge available at their time, then this "difficulty" never gets off the ground.

See also here and here at the Jewish Worker. And here and here at Divrei Chaim.


Anonymous said...

With all due respect, I don't understand why a smart person like you is wasting your time with idiots, talking about stupidity. Anyone who says the Chazon Ish could cure cancer is first of all stupid, and second of all being mevazeh a gadol beyisrael. Do you think for even a second that if the Chazon Ish could save lives he wouldn't do it? These idiots think they are building the Chazon Ish up but they are really turning him into an evil person, who is willing to let people die needlessly. But why waste your time with these foolish people?

joshwaxman said...

good point, and you are right.

in part, it fits into the broader nonsensical "battle" of Chazal knowing science, but i do have a game plan, to transition from this to a discussion of Rav Wosner's grandson and tzadik gozer. though i forgot about it until this moment.

but you are right.


Anonymous said...

Hi Josh,

Just wondering, how do you explain the medical knowledge that the Chazon Ish had? Like giving directions to a doctor how to do brain surgery, and other medical knowl;edge that he had? Was it from Ruach Hakodesh? From learning Gemara? Or from reading medical books? No one seems to have seen him read medical books.
And no one reported that there were medical books in his house.

Some of my friends say that just like the chazon Ish knew this, so too chazal. How would you respond?


Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>No one seems to have seen him read medical books.

First of all, that's irrelevant. Secondly, at least one person who knew him, R. Gedaliah Nadel, is on record saying that the Chazon Ish had read medical journals or books. Thirdly, the "medical knowledge the Chazon Ish had" is not at all quantified, and may well be overstated. There is a "story" that he "gave directions to a doctor." Now, firstly I don't know what kind of "brain surgery" there was before the Chazon Ish died (1953), but that could be my chisaron. But even if in essence the story is true, it meant that the Chazon Ish was conversant with neurology. If the Chazon Ish was illiterate and lived outside of civilization, I would agree that it would be unexpected and amazing. But the Chazon Ish was neither illiterate nor did he live apart from civilization.

joshwaxman said...

sorry, i should have included a link to the post this was a follow-up to. in that first post, i discussed just this:

there, i note what Mississippi says above, that we have testimony from his student Rav Nadel that in fact he did read medical journals. and in the comment section, that Rav Gifter said the same thing.


מֹשאל רפאל said...

Physician meets Rabbi. Comes out and says he was impressed with the Rabbi's knowledge in his field. The Talmidim do the rest.

Stories are unreliable. Stories about Gedolim are especially unreliable, because the story-tellers have an agenda.

The alleged story of the physician should be seen against the background that most Rabbis nowadays are ilitterate. After meeting one that was not, the physician was surprised.

The objective fact is that the Torah world has not contributed a thing to any field of Science. The lack of knowledge needs to be accounted for. I suggest that the stories are to cover up the collective shame.


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