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June 30, 2005


Autism Diva

Thank you for your comment on my blog.

Have you already written on the Jewish law and the way society should feel toward individuals who don't fit, through no fault of their own, particularly the autistics and the "retarded"?

I feel that the moral thing is to treasure these people and not hold them out as moral or mental failures and culls and waste. It's very unfortunate that some parents have painted their children as such in order to draw attention to their needs.

"Over the top" scarcely covers their descriptions. The children absolutely are aware of these descriptions, too, as are autistic adults, even if they seem to be unaware.

Autism Diva


"Have you already written on the Jewish law and the way society should feel toward individuals who don't fit, through no fault of their own, particularly the autistics and the "retarded"? I feel that the moral thing is to treasure these people…”

Some scholars (e.g., J. David Bleich, Tzvi Marx) have written about pre-modern Jewish law concerning the deaf-mute, which is a problematic pre-cursor for current Jewish legal and ethical approaches. I haven’t written (yet?), but we can start putting some sources and links here. For instance:
"Local parents cry out for special-needs kids' services" (in Calif.)

"How a learning-disabled child can help achieve G-d's Perfection (was Boys will be boys)"

There is a helpful bibliography on Judaism and disability at the Disability Social History Project, which includes some materials dealing with mental illness.

Autism Diva


I'm sure those links will be helpful. If you write on this subject, I'm sure it will be interesting and helpful, too. :-)


This is a terrific post! Thank you for sharing your wisdom in these matters, Kaspit. I am about to embark on Melitz Yosher training in order to better my amulet-making craft, so I will keep your writings in mind.
I'm also going to link to your blog today, bli neder :)


"However, these Talmudic criteria may not be sufficient. After all, Jewish law here judges amulets only in terms of Shabbat. The downside to poor judgment on an amulet was small. "

Interesting post. I'd like to think more (ok, i wish someone lese would think more and I could read it) about talmudic criteria for establishing medical/scientific facts.

perhaps another analogous case may be the evaluation of pseudo-healing practices as darkei emori (prohibited pagan practices, or perhaps just prohibited foreign practices) or not. the principle applied (shabbat 67a) is
תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף סז עמוד א

אביי ורבא דאמרי תרוייהו כל דבר שיש בו משום רפואה אין בו משום דרכי האמורי

everything that has medical value is not included in this category.

i was once told that later rabbis (rishonim - i forget which) use this as a springboard to discuss exactly how we know when something 'yesh bo mishum refuah.'

anyway, as for the quote above one quick point:

i don't think that the rabbis saw hillul shabbat as a "small" downside. (note that the rabbis required a special logic that saving someone now allows her to keep future sabbaths in order to allow life-saving medical procedures that violate shabbat). especially if the potential prohibition involved is biblical (or is it rabbinic?).


The principle about medical effect (yesh bo mishum refu'ah) does seem to be a focal point of debate among rishonim. Rambam and Meiri apparently are among the most skeptical and disapproving of practices that are not rationally proven. I gather that a more Da'as Torah position would believe that the Talmudic sages could not have erred in their judgment of the efficacy of amulets, incantations, etc. So people on different sides of the Slifkin debate would disagree sharply about these sugiyot (passages at e.g., Shab 53,67).

You are also right that the rabbis take hillul shabbat very seriously. Still, if the Talmudic criteria are insufficient, then somebody is wearing an amulet that was approved by the Sages based on a spurious correlation. For the Rabbis, this is a kind of a judicial error. For one wearing the erroneously approved amulet, I would guess it's categorized as a completely inadvertent transgression (shogeg gamur. What do you think?

Ineffective amulets* are forbidden by rabbinic decree and d'rabbanan, not Biblical, prohibitions. (I.e., Biblically ok if worn, but problem if they are taken off, dropped, etc.) Furthermore, at least by the rishonim, we realize that all this wearing occurs in a karmelit (less than public domain), so there's no transgression anyway. (See last Tosafot 64b)

Kol tuv, Kaspit

* My post considered written amulets (e.g. daf 61) as a shabbos violation. You properly note that some other amulets (incantations, etc) may be forbidden due to darkhei emori.

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