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    Rabbis & doctors – Tazria

    The new Chief Rabbi of Rome is a doctor. He has stated that he intends to continue his medical work. Obviously his life is going to be hectic, since being a chief rabbi is already demanding enough.

    But he will be following a long and illustrious tradition since many great rabbinic figures – we need only mention Maimonides – were also doctors.

    Not only in the Middle Ages: the Talmudic sages followed many professions and some were well versed in medicine. And long before their time, the Torah expected spiritual leaders to have some medical knowledge: for evidence, look at this week’s portion with its instructions to the priests as to how to handle an outbreak of leprosy.

    The Jewish approach is clearly that spiritual leadership restricted to the synagogue and study hall is too limited to achieve its real influence. One must know what is going on in the world – not merely in order to earn the respect of so-called “ordinary” people, but because every human challenge and situation is of concern to the Almighty.

    Divine teaching has something to say in every situation. If a person is healthy, Judaism tells them to safeguard their health; they need it in order to perform the commandments. If someone is ill, they must seek medical help and not rely on prayer alone. They must also look into their own spiritual state and ask whether they did anything which made them susceptible to illness, and if need be change their life-style. If their illness brings pain and suffering, they must try to rise above it.

    They must not lose faith, but if it appears, God forbid, that their prognosis is poor, they must put their affairs in order, including their spiritual affairs, and they have to make every endeavour to face death at peace with God and with other people.

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