Traditional Chinese medicine and Halacha - מכון שלזינגר
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מכון שלזינגר לחקר הרפואה על פי ההלכה

Traditional Chinese medicine and Halacha

11 בינואר 2013

שאלה:

Dear Dr. Halperin,

I am a recent graduate of Dongguk Royal University Oriental Medical school,  in Los Angeles, and hope to IY"H take the California State board
of Acupuncture examination, this summer.    I have found that there are a
number of complicated halachic issues that potentially  present themselves in the practice of Traditional Oriental Medicine.  I also have found that internationally,  among students and practitioners, are an ever increasing number of Yidden for whom Halacha is of paramount importance, as well as interest in the parallels between traditional Jewish medicine as practiced by the Tanaim,  Amoraim and the Rambam, z"l, and  Chinese Medicine. To that end I have founded an online discussion
group.   Our group seeks your advise to guide us to a posek with a strong
medical background and  perhaps a background in alternative medicine, who could make himself  available to address the  issues we face,  some of which I will elucidate after a brief introduction:

Traditional Oriental medicine (also referred to as TCM or traditional Chinese Medicine) is a unique,completely integrated system of medical philosophy, diagnosis and treatment, used in eliminating disharmony and creating balance in patients. It is an unbroken, 3000 year old tradition which uses 5 branches or methods of treatments: Acupuncture and moxabustion ( therapeutic combustion therapy using the herb mugwort), Herbal medicinal formulae, specific active and passive exercises to cultivate wellness (tai ji and qi gong), specific diet therapy, and a form of massage therapy called tui na.
As I said, the focus of of treatments is to create balance. For example, if a patient shows excess signs (such as heat, cold, dryness, food acumulation, phlegm, or dampness) the treatment would be to sedate the excess. If a patient shows deficiency, the treatment would be to tonify. If the patient shows blockage or stagnation, the treatment would be to open up and move the stasis or the blockage of the body's vital energy. Or, If the patient shows signs of an exterior pathogen entering the body, the pathogen is expelled. Treatment is based on function rather than structure, and the body's own diagnostic signs are used to determine a differential diagnosis and treatment.

Traditional Oriental medicine is real medicine, and quite powerful, but I must emphasize, its laws and properties are unique, and parallels can't be found in Western allopathic medicine. It is real science, but, lehavdil, like halacha, it has its own terminology.
Just like chometz isn't leavening, and bishul isn't cooking, so too blood deficiency does not necessarily connote anemia, and heart heat does not mean angina or tachychardia. Many double blind studies have verified its effectiveness, and clinically a good practitioner is able to successfully treat and resolve a plethora of conditions from digestive disorders and pain syndromes, to gynecological and fertility issues and is even able to eliminate the side effects of chemo used to resolved cancer (no hair loss, no lowered wbc, no loss of vitality.) These are just a sampling of the many areas of Oriental medical practice.

But as Jews, we practitioners and future practitioners are faced with very real halachic problems. As our numbers grow, and as more and more people are exposed to the effectiveness of treatments, real shaalos need to be addressed.

for example:

1. What is considered a chole she'ayn bo sakana as far as administering acupuncture on Shabbos?
2. Some points tend to bleed more than others, and some have very powerful therapeutic effects. Is unintentional bleeding, while therapeutically administering acupuncture, considered a psik reisha delo nicha lay. And what about chabura? What about those points and situations when we therapeutically, specifically want to draw a few drops of blood?
3. What about needling parents? Especially if they insist, or feel that no one is better equipped or available to needle?
4. The Oriental materia medica uses plant, animal and mineral substances. The formulae are boiled, generally quite bitter, and contain multiple ingredients (usually around 20 ) which are not visible upon decoction. Shouldn't their halachic status be that of medicine, and not considered in the same class as food supplements?
5. Some are mamash chometz or kitnios. What are the dinim for pesach?
6. As I said, these are real medicines, and not just "herbal remedies". Therefore, what are the dinim legavei Shabbos?(Particularly  since the signs read on the tongue and pulses are constantly changing, it is important to continue taking one's formula even on Shabbos.) 7. In orech chaim, hilchos brochos it says beferush, that a brocha should be said on refuah, as long as it's not bitter, but if it's sweetened to make it palatable (but still very unpleasant) do you make a brocha or not?
8. Of the animal products used, some are shells, some are fossils, some are the horns of kosher animals, taken while still alive, some the bones and organs ie: the gall bladder, of non-kosher animals, some are the molding and shells of insects and snakes, and some are the actual insects and snakes, some are plants prepared or fried with non-kosher substances. Do we differentiate and utilitze some and not others, knowing that medicinally there may not be an appropriate substitute.

These are but a few of the many issues we face. As a profession, we want to practice al pi halacha and be'ruach hakedusha. But we need guidance.

The  yahoo discussion group which I moderate is:
traditionaljewishmedicineandtcm@yahoogroups.com

Please write to me there, or privately at: rebyidel@juno.com

Thanks in advance for your consideration,

Yehuda Frischman
Los Angeles

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