Judaism on Health and Illness

Human health and flourishing are core values in the Jewish tradition. At times the Hebrew scriptures suggest that illness is the result of sinful behavior; lepers, for example, are sometimes depicted as afflicted with their illness because of ethical shortcomings. The much greater emphasis, however, is placed on God as healer. The Psalms describe a Yahweh who cures the ill and looks after those who are sick. The history of Jewish medicine and its codification in halakha (rabbinic law) is grounded in an ethic of healing; physical suffering is considered an evil to be combated through the use of reason and specialized knowledge, understood as gifts of God and products of human ingenuity. Contemporary Jewish medical ethics draws on rabbinic law and adapts it to contemporary issues ranging from stem cell research and abortion to organ transplantation and artificial life support. A common thread linking Jewish reflection and action around medical questions is the command to “heal the world” (tikkun olam).
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