The widespread use of PEDs in baseball is nearly as old as the game itself. In 1889, pitcher Pud Galvin of the Pittsburgh Burghers began endorsing a testosterone supplement made from dog testicles. He won 23 games that season. Anecdotal evidence indicates that baseball legends Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Babe Ruth experimented with testosterone, amphetamines, and sheep testicle extract, respectively. By the 1970s, amphetamine use was rampant, and an increasing number of ballplayers soon began experimenting with anabolic steroids and human growth hormone. Cocaine reached epidemic levels in the 1980s.
Jewish sources confirm this human desire for self-improvement, but also discuss the potential moral and medical drawbacks. The most comprehensive study of medicine in the Bible and Talmud remains Biblisch-Talmudische Medizin (Biblical and Talmudic Medicine), published by Julius Preuss in 1911. Preuss, who was a doctor and Hebraic scholar, utilized a rigorous, analytical approach in studying the ancient texts, and this extensive volume reflects a lifetime of serious medical and Judaic scholarship.
Over 18 chapters, Preuss covers anatomy, neurology, psychology, obstetrics, sexual health, Jewish medical rituals, dermatology, and a range of obscure and familiar maladies as discussed in talmudic and biblical writings. He also chronicles ancient remedies, some fantastical, others familiar. For an earache: pour lukewarm kidney fluids in the ear (though melted chicken fat works in a pinch). A fever calls for radishes; a cold for beets; and cabbage works across the board. Wine, small fish, and leeks were known to aid digestion. Fred Rosner, who translated Preuss’s tome in 1978, summed up the general health and nutrition advice of the Talmud: “Eat moderately, eat simply, eat slowly, and eat regularly.”
However, the advice is not merely gastronomical. Rabbis throughout Jewish history also experimented with a range of concoctions meant to increase strength and stamina—kosher PEDs.
In tractate Gittin, the sage Abaye recommends a mixture of ground safflower boiled with wine to promote vascular and sexual health. Rabbi Yohanon appears to have been a fan of the formula and offers an emphatic endorsement: “This restored me to my youthful vigor!” Maimonides, in his treatise “The Regimen of Health,” mentions oxymel, refined syrup of roses, and infusion of tamarind as effective means to increase strength and ward off disease.
Of course, Braun was not busted for high levels of tamarind in his system. Regardless of talmudic inspiration, cheating is certainly frowned upon in Jewish law. At the least, steroid use represents a violation of gneivat da’at, deceit; at most, it is downright theft. If steroids influenced Braun’s on-field performance (which, I understand, is kind of the point), then he effectively robbed another worthy ballplayer of the MVP trophy, a spot on the All-Star team, and perhaps a lucrative spot on the Brewers’ roster.
PEDs also violate the biblical prohibition of self-endangerment. Based on the verse “you shall guard yourself rigorously,” rabbis derived a series of laws prohibiting physical or spiritual self-harm. Steroids may qualify as both: Physical consequences of steroid abuse include liver tumors and cancer, jaundice, high blood pressure and increased cholesterol, kidney tumors, fluid retention, and severe acne; men may experience shrinking of the testicles, reduced sperm count, infertility, baldness, breast development, and increased risk of prostate cancer. Psychologically, steroid abuse can lead to increased aggression, anxiety, and depression.
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