Praying and Illness: The Jewish Attitude
Continuing on with the thread of the role of prayer in medicine, the following is an extract from a paper in the Mount Sinai School of Medicine Journal nr2,vol 66, p 102-105, March 1999 titled
"Complementary Therapies and Traditional Judaism" by Fred Rosner, M.D. Prayer appears to be considered as a complementary form of treatment since “the healing powers of God was never allowed to usurp the essential functions of the physician and of medical science.” Read the entire paper, which includes, in addition to prayer, discussion of the views in Judaism regarding amulets, astrology, medical charms an incantations, nostrums, quacks and quackery. ..Maurice.
At one time or another, most human beings offer prayers for the relief of their own illness
or that of others. These prayers may differ in content and in the manner in which they are offered,
by both religious and non-religious people (1). Recourse to prayer in Judaism during illness is not
necessarily an indication that the person lacks confidence in traditional medical therapy.
The patriarch Abraham prayed for the recovery of Abimelech (Genesis 20:17), and God
healed him. David prayed for the recovery of his son (II Samuel 12:16), but his son died. Elisha
prayed for the recovery of the Shunamite woman’s son (IIKings 4:33), and the boy recovered. King
Hezekiah prayed forhis own recovery (IIChronicles 32:24), and God added 15 years to his life. The
shortest healing prayer on record is the famous one uttered by Moses for the recovery of his sister
Miriam, who was afflicted with leprosy. Said Moses: El na r’fa na la [O God, heal her, I beseech
thee] (Numbers12:13),and she recovered. These incidents are anecdotal andhence donot constitute scientific, statistical evidence for the efficacy of prayer, but they are certainly worthy of mention.
One should never be discouraged from praying, even under the most difficult and
troublesome conditions. The Talmud says (2) that “even if a sharp sword rests upon a man’s neck,
he should not desist from prayer.” On the other hand, a person should never stand in a place of danger and say that a miracle will be wrought for him. One should not count on being cured by
direct intervention by God without first having sought out the advice and treatment offered by
conventional human medical practitioners. The Jewish attitude toward prayer is succinctly summarized by Jakobovits (3) as follows:
.while every encouragement was given for the sick to exploit their adversity for
moral and religious ends and to strengthen their faith in recovery by prayer,
confidence in the healing powers of God was never allowed to usurp the essential
functions of the physician and of medical science.
1. Rosner F. The efficacy of prayer: Scientific versus religious evidence. J Relig Health 1975;
2. Rosner F. Medicine in the Bible and Talmud. 2nd ed. Hoboken (NJ) and New York: Ktav and
Yeshiva University Press; 1995. pp. 204–210.
3. Jakobovits I. Jewish medical ethics. New York: Bloch Publishing Co.; 1975. pp. 15–