The art of discovering cures and concocting remedies is a skill that is a fascinating blend of ancient and modern knowledge. In honor of National Pharmacist Day (January 12), which recognizes the contribution of the talented men and women who are critical to our modern day health care system, Jewish Treats presents some of the interesting cures recorded in the Talmud. 

The sages often listed the benefits and hazards of common foods, such as “A raw beet kills a healthy man…a dish of beet is beneficial for the heart and good for the eyes and even more for the bowels. Abaye added: This applies only [to such beets] that remained on the stove until thoroughly cooked” (Talmud Eiruvin 29a).

In other places, the sages recorded specific concoctions. For instance: “Egyptian Zithom, What is Egyptian Zithom? Rabbi Joseph learned: [A concoction made of] a third part barley, a third part safflower and a third part salt. Rabbi Papa omitted the barley and substituted wheat. They soaked them, then roasted them, ground them and then drank them…they who are constipated are relieved, while they who suffer from diarrhea are bound” (Talmud Pesachim 42b). The Talmud continues with a “warning label” such as one might find on any modern day laxative: “For an invalid and a pregnant woman, it is dangerous.” 

Many of the cures recorded in the Talmud sound bizarre, but at the time these were the remedies used by the great healers. Today, we have access to a wealth of medicinal knowledge and many skilled pharmacists to help keep us healthy. 

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