כ״ב בסיון ה׳תשע״ב (June 12, 2012)

Nidda 22a-b: When Rabbis Consult With Doctors

As we learned on yesterday’s daf , the Mishna teaches:

If a woman aborted an object that was like a rind, like a hair, like earth, like red flies, let her put it in water and if it dissolves she is unclean, but if it does not she is clean.

On today’s daf the Gemara tells stories about how such cases were dealt with.

Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Zadok stated: A report of the following two incidents was brought up by my father from Tib’into Jamnia.
It once happened that a woman was aborting objects like pieces of red rind and the people came and asked my father, and my father asked , and the Sages asked the physicians who explained to them that the woman had an internal sore the crust of which she cast out in the shape of the pieces of red rind. It was ruled that she should put them in water and if they dissolved she should be declared unclean. And yet another incident occurred when a woman was aborting objects like red hairs, and she came and asked my father, and my father asked the Sages, and the Sages asked the physicians who explained to them that the woman had a wartin her internal organs and that that was the cause of her aborting objects like red hairs.

The fact that the Sages turned to physicians for advice shows that experts can be relied upon for information when deciding matters of Jewish law, even when there is a Torah prohibition under discussion. The Maharik adds that this is true even when the prohibition carries with it the severe punishment of karet. Some attribute significance to the fact that the Sages did not turn to an individual physician, but asked for the opinion of a group of doctors; others argue that the Sages would only turn to Jewish doctors and would not rely on non-Jews for information that has impact on ruling Jewish law.