Homeopathy and Alternative Medicine against Halacha?

The Torah tells us Vayikra (19:26)

לא תנחשו ולא תעוננו

which means that a Jew is not permitted to participate in (loosely translated) omens and superstitions. We normally associate that with things like the red “kaballah” string which some Poskim rule, based on a Tosefta, is forbidden to be worn as a Torah prohibition of the above.

Perhaps more interestingly, poskim such as R’ Hershel Schachter contend that not following evidence-based (scientific) medicinal practices and treatments also contravenes this biblical command. They claim this is why the Rambam (and Magen Avraham and others) omitted the prohibition of easting fish and meat all together. If Science (peer reviewed evidence based research) indicates that something does not pose a health danger, then it is prohibited to adopt a former practice that relies on faulty medicine of the time.

It could be argued that homeopathy and its cognate areas, elements of whose treatments have not been scientifically evaluated for efficacy, pose a similar Torah prohibition. That is not to imply that all alternate medicine (now also known as complementary medicine) falls under this prohibitive rubric. Rather, unless there is a known, scientific, evidence-based peer-reviewed study which shows that a homeopathic or alternate approach is indicated as a complementary approach to a medical condition, it could be cogently argued that it is forbidden to use these alternate approaches.

RMIT has a research group in Complementary Medicine. I don’t think Halacha has any problem with that, nor would it have a problem with going to a regular doctor who is also well-read and skilled with alternative, evidence-based, scientifically-sound, complementary alternative approaches to medical conditions.

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia although my views have naught​ to do with my employer. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

10 thoughts on “Homeopathy and Alternative Medicine against Halacha?”

  1. There simply can’t be a prohibition against using treatments that have not been shown to be effective: there was no such thing as evidence-based medicine until relatively recently, but people went to doctors anyway. A better argument would be that treatments that are demonstrably ineffective fall under the prohibition of darkhei emori – but that’s a harder test, and one with constantly-changing goalposts.

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    1. On the contrary. R’ Schachter says that the fact that Chazal bothered to provide medical advice is an indication that there is a chiyuv to use the best available cures/medicine. Chazal didn’t include the copious questionable quack cures that were extant in their time. Following Chazal, the Rambam felt it was therefore a Chiyuv to remove any medical advice from Chazal based on best practice at the time the Rambam was a doctor. This is why the Rambam did not include a prohibition against eating Meat and Fish. Eating Meat and Fish is purely Medical advice and is not derived from a Pasuk, is not a Gezera, and isn’t some extra halachic food prohibition. Certainly, Chazal, according to R’ Schachter said that it’s a halachic imperative to follow the best practice of one’s own generation in respect of such treatment. Failure to do that, and follow treatments which are at best scientifically spurious may be an infraction of Lo Senachashu. So, I’m wondering out loud, whether going to a Homeopath or similar, who tells you “drink radish juice because it will cure your ulcer” and there is absolutely no scientific/evidence base for such, or, even worse, they suggest you do something for which Science says it is baloney, is forbidden. There seems to be a whole “belief system” underlying much of these alternative cures. Misplaced belief, or belief born out of whim or ignorance seems to possibly be a Lav. Now, we all know that there is a placebo effect and that can alter moods and altering moods and attitudes seems to have an effect on some people in some cases. I’m arguing that the placebo effect always existed, and yet Chazal did not allow for such.

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      1. Hi this is all fascinating to me and I’d like to get to the bottom of this all. I run a clinic in Jerusalem. Can you direct me to online forums where I can get to the bottom of this all most directly? Thx!

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  2. “Rather, unless there is a known, scientific, evidence-based peer-reviewed study which shows that a homeopathic or alternate approach is indicated as a complementary approach to a medical condition, it could be cogently argued that it is forbidden to use these alternate approaches.”

    Homeopathy, by definition, is not complementary medicine. It’s important to know what homeopathy is, as claimed by the homeopaths themselves, before coming to halachic conclusions. The homeopaths follows “six fundamental/cardinal” principles layed out by their founder. The “Law of Simplex” states: “Only one, single, simple remedy should be administered to the patient at one time’.” Homeopathy is against prescribing more than one remedy at a time. If that’s the case, how can homeopathy be applied alongside conventional medicine?
    Since homeopathy, by definition, opposes conventional medicine, it is a violation of רפא ירפא.

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      1. I don’t think we’re arguing here; I was just clarify an aspect of homeopathy that its users may not be aware of. If we can show homeopathy to be exclusively effective, than that would be one thing.
        In absence of that evidence, we have two possibilities. One, that we have evidence against homeopathy, in which case its users are engaging in superstition and thus are in violation of ניחוש/דרכי אמורי/תמים תהיה. Two, that we don’t have enough information to determine whether or not homeopathy works. In that case, users of homeopathy would necessarily avoid using conventional medicine as I’ve explained above. That would violate רפא ירפא.
        This is a unique problem with homeopathy that doesn’t exist with other alternative treatments which don’t fundamentally demand exclusivity. Supposed one believed that listening to Chopin cures cancer. If he continues with chemo and other conventional treatments, he wouldn’t violate רפא ירפא.

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  3. Another problem with homeopathy, is that it is not just “alternative medicine.” It’s also a philosophy and religion- at least in some respects. Homeopathy is based on vitalism which is a religious philosophy. It also took on Swedenborgenian ideas as well. Again and again, you will find on homeopathic website, claims that homeopathy is a spiritual system. The British Homeopathic Association contains essays that are full of idolatry. This is no exaggeration- these essays explain the pagan symbolism behind substances used in homeopathic remedies. Similar pagan essays appear on homeovision.org, hpathy.org, homeopathyworldcommunity.com, californiahomeopath.com, interhomeopathy.org and no doubt others. Some homeopaths, while not spewing idolatrous garbage, will still emphasize the “spiritual” aspects of their system.
    Read how homeopaths deal with the fact that their system runs contrary to the laws of nature. So, if science can’t explain the efficacy, how does it work? They answer that it’s not natural, but it’s supernatural. Wouldn’t that put homeopathy into the category of kishuf?

    See HaMaor, Shevat 5742 where Rav M.D. Tendler quotes his father-in-law, Rav Moshe Feinstein that homeopathy is forbidden. (The responses to the psak are rather bizarre and degenerate into polemics, ad hominem arguments and an alarming misunderstanding of science, homeopathy and halacha.)

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  4. Another note: Apparently, the individual who got the negative response from Rav Moshe Feinstein then asked R’ Chaim Dovid HaLevi the same question. RCDHL disagreed with Rav Moshe’s conclusion and permitted homeopathy. I don’t have that תשובה in front of me, but I have to mention it for reasons of intellectual honesty. (I’m not whether his psak/reasoning would permit homeopathy in all cases.)

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