JEWISH SCIENCEDIVINE HEALING IN JUDAISM

by Rabbi Alfred Geiger Moses (1878-1956)
© 1916

reprint of 1916 edition:
Hudson Mohawk Press; William F. Shannon, ed.
124 pages (paperback *)
ISBN 978-0-9843040-3-5
© 2011

Prof. Ellen Umansky has detailed the development of “Jewish Science” in her book, “From Christian Science to Jewish Science.” [1]

Why is the term “Science” used? It’s chosen out of the conviction that the laws of healing prayer are as definable and dependable as the Newtonian laws of Physics. Prayer need only be “offered properly” to achieve the desired outcomes.

The Jewish Science “movement” (if it can so be called) began in 1916 with the self-publication of Rabbi Alfred Moses’ “Jewish Science: Divine Healing in Judaism.” Rabbi Moses himself updated this in 1920 with his publication of “Jewish Science: The Applied Psychology of Judaism.” But if the latter volume goes into more detail and depth about the methodology of healing as Rabbi Moses understands it, the present volume has real historical importance in laying out the “basics,” including how and why he chose the name “Jewish Science” at all:

“The term ‘Jewish Science’ will on first blush seem strange and startling to the average reader, for inevitably it will reflect the well known phrase ‘Christian Science.’ I have purposely used the much mooted term Science because to the religious mind it has come to connote the entire subject of Divine Healing [as later also used in ‘Religious Science,’ ‘Divine Science,’ etc.]. Yet the Jewish student knows full well that the word is an exact translation of the Hebrew term…Chochmah which means ‘Divine Wisdom’ or ‘Science.’ Therefore…[the term] ‘Jewish Science’ is entirely in keeping with the Faith and History of Judaism.” [2]

His other main purpose, though, as later reiterated by the other Jewish Science authors, was to show that Divine Healing has always been a part of Judaism. William F. Shannon, in his “Editor’s Note” to the current edition, expresses some discomfort with what he calls Rabbi Moses’ “religio-centrism.” To a “universalist” thinker, concerns with or emphasis on a specific religious tradition might well seem less than desirable. But Rabbi Moses was raising to Jews an ancient, yet perennial Jewish theme: How do we maintain and preserve our tradition in the face of ever-new challenges to it? His answer, as a Rabbi and Jewish teacher, was to find and demonstrate deeper teachings in the tradition itself. Rabbi Moses doesn’t diminish the work of any other religion in the betterment of the world: “All religious organizations unite in the World-War on World Wrong.” [3] He merely re-affirms that the good we find in other religious traditions – and much good is found there – has never been missing from Judaism. That being so, there should be no need for a Jewish man or woman to seek it elsewhere.

What is the “scientific” understanding of prayer? Rabbi Moses indicates “auto-suggestion” [4] as the working principle:

“The mind of man alone has the unique or peculiar function of being able to suggest to itself ideas which work themselves out in the subconscious self. This subconscious self or mind is the real mind in which man lives, moves, and has his being, and by which all bodily functions are controlled and disciplined.” [5]

Although Rabbi Moses borrows terms like “subconscious” from the field of modern Psychology, he’s not referring to repressed memories or feelings. Rather, he means a “higher” level of the mind that is always responding in kind to the thoughts and images placed before it. Rabbi Lichtenstein later calls it “the Divine Mind in man.” Much of his later revision in his 2nd edition expands upon this idea. But it’s in this book that Rabbi Moses first sets out the paradigm for discussion. Again, it’s Rabbi Moses who, opening the discussion of “auto-suggestion,” distinguishes between it (as a mechanical practice in which only part of the mind and heart are involved) and Divine Healing, which follows a similar principle but on a much grander scale; a distinction with which Rabbi Lichtenstein later concurs in his own writing.

How does Rabbi Moses connect this with traditional Jewish teachings and prac-tice? He says, “…of all suggestions that the subconscious mind can appro-priate, none is more effective than the pure idea of Faith in an All-Good G-d.” [6] He follows this with a reminder that Divine Healing can be found many places in Jewish scripture, and continued to be seen in the Hasidic movement that was still thriving in pre-Shoah Eastern Europe. Rabbi Lichtenstein, born in Eastern Europe, later likewise mentions the Hasidic movement of the day as proof of a history of Divine Healing in Judaism. [7]

Among the very important parts of this volume is Rabbi Moses’ recounting of an incident in which a “change of name” helped heal a direly ill child. The “technique” is a traditional one, explained by saying that G-d sends an angel with a “contract” to retrieve the soul of a specific child named so-and-so. If the name is changed (which would only be done if all else seems to be failing), the “contract” the angel brings is no longer valid:

“When I arrived at the home, I found the child in a critical state. Boldly varying the usual form [which required a ‘minyan’: 10 adult Jewish males], I took the infant in my arms, prayed with all my strength to G-d, and then at the mother’s advice declared the name changed from Rebeccah to Ruth. I left the house shortly after the incident, and later learnt that the child began to improve at once.” [8]

Rabbi Moses had never done this before and was actually disinclined to believe that it would “work.” The significance seemed to be that the procedure was effective in spite of his disbelief – just as we can turn on a house-light by flicking a switch, regardless of our “belief” about it. He referred to this incident many other times in other sources. That it impressed him so strongly argues that the incident really occurred. That it occurred can therefore be regarded as “anecdotal” or “qualitative” data about Divine Healing – particularly in a Jewish context. On a literary/historical note, this text then becomes the primary source of a story that he retells elsewhere, too.

The Rabbi spends a fair part of the rest of the book delineating “Jewish Science” from “Christian Science,” and refuting mentions of Jewish teaching in “Science and Health” that he believes – correctly, I agree – are in error. Later Jewish Science authors tend to give less detailed responses to Christian Science, preferring instead to affirm what Jewish Science itself is. Still, we again see that Rabbi Moses, even in this preliminary volume, was setting a model for them to follow.

The book concludes with an “anthology” of references to healing found within Jewish Scripture. This section is much expanded in his later revision. Rabbi Lichtenstein, too, concluded his text, “Jewish Science and Health,” with a section of Scriptural readings, although more specifically meant as “inspirational,” and arranged more or less according to themes within his book.

Rabbi Moses’ ideas — so controversial in their day — are now commonly employed in “alternative” or “complementary” medicine. Mr. Shannon, editor, correctly notes that current bestsellers like “The Secret” and “The Law of Attraction” draw on the same sources as Rabbi Moses did. “Jewish Science: Divine Healing in Judaism” therefore holds an important place in the history of Jewish-American spiritual and inspirational writing, even if it was ultimately succeeded by Rabbi Moses’ later work.
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[*] also available in hardcover
[1] See my review at: http://rabbielimallon.wordpress.com/2011/07/14/7-14-11-from-christian-science-to-jewish-science-book-review/
[2] p. v (Introduction)
[3] p. 4
[4] This refers to the work of Émile Coué, who found that his patients’ health improved when they repeated the phrase “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” He called his method “auto-suggestion.”
[5] p. 6
[6] p. 7
[7] The validity of this association of “auto-suggestion,” healing prayer, and Hasidut can be seen in the Hasidic anecdote recounted at http://rabbielimallon.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/hasidut-and-positive-words/
[8] p. 27

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