The Physician in the Talmudic Period: between Techne and Halakhah

Samuel S. Kottek


The Talmud is a vast corpus in which medicine is no more than an artifact. We can nevertheless, in the light of the extant data, gain some idea of the status of physicians in biblical and talmudic times. After some brief considerations on the biblical period, particularly on the relationship of priests and prophets to medicine, we shall focus on the talmudic data. Several Sages of note were knoledgeable in medical lore, mostly of popular origin, but in some cases of scientific origin as well. The most impressive case is that of Mar Samuel. A report of an experimentation in the field of embryology allegedly performed in Alexandria will be described. In all these cases, data pertaining to the healing art (techne) are recorded with the only aim of establishing the law (halakkah). We shall then detail what is known of the medical profession then and there, i.e., licensing, liability and fees. Some data on ethics and etiquette will close this overview of the practice of medicine in ancient Jewish lore.

Key words: Medical profession - Ethics - Bible - Talmud

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