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The Wars of the Lord

By Rabbi Bernard Illowy (1814-1875).

The Israelite, vol. II., No. 14, 1855

[Referring to the discussion between Rev. Drs. Guinsburg of Baltimore and Mensor of Dublin, on the question: "Is the Talmud anti-social?"]

To the Editor of the Israelite:

In answer to the call of my most esteemed friend, the venerable Reverend Dr. Guinsburg, through your valuable paper, No. 11, I can state that, in the thirty-five years since the Talmud became the main branch of my studies, I never found in any of the various editions of the Talmud the passage quoted by the Rev. Dr. Mensor, and I suppose the matter of the case to be this:

There is to be seen in the ancient representation of Esculapius, who was the best of the physicians, a serpent lying at his feet. Dr. Mensor by a mere mistake split the head of the doctor and sent the serpent to hell, whereas the contrary is said in the Talmud: "The best of doctors go to hell and the best of serpents smash their heads" but both these sentences have been misunderstood. The first speaks relatively to those considering themselves, and not G-d, as the best physicians, and the second is in my opinion falsely read, and, instead of שבנחשים (the best of serpents) should be read שבלחשים (those who whisper)--those who cure sickness by whispering certain [magic] words in the ear of the patient, as many at that time used to do. (See Talmud Sabb. 14,4)

On this occasion, I can not help communicating to you another explanation of the passage given me by an old Hasid, residing in our city [St. Louis]:

The ancient rabbis, he says, had foreseen that a time will come when there will be no more rabbis; doctors will replace them. Only doctors and no rabbis will reign; doctors who will cure the eyes, and leave the heart and soul sick, and in a burst of passion and jealousy they scolded at these doctors, saying, "The best of the doctors should go to hell".


St. Louis, Mo., October 1, 1855.