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Monday, January 09, 2012

Stein: Judaism on Steroids

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.

Stormy JE Posted: January 09, 2012 at 06:56 PM | 14 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: brewers, steroids

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: January 09, 2012 at 08:37 PM (#4032708)
Grrr... can't find the thread where I displayed my deep understanding of the Talmud* to defend Bonds. I recall that as one of my better efforts. Turns out as long as you have enough fiber in your diet, you can get away with darn near anything.

* by Episcopalian standards
   2. willcarrolldoesnotsuk Posted: January 09, 2012 at 08:53 PM (#4032720)
Regardless of talmudic inspiration, cheating is certainly frowned upon in Jewish law.
Jacob cheated his older brother Esau out of receiving their father's deathbed blessing.

This is not, in my opinion, a mere nitpick; their father, Isaac, was the inheritor of the personal covenant that was established between his father (Abraham) and Yahweh himself. The stolen blessing made Jacob the inheritor thereof, rather than Esau (for whom Isaac explicitly intended it). Thus having finagled his way into a personal covenant with the creator of the universe (who either didn't mind the cheating or else was unwilling or unable to penalize it), Jacob became the father of all of the twelve tribes of Israel. In fact, Jacob was later renamed Israel, and the nation was thereafter named after him.

Esau, meanwhile, went on to become the father of the Edomites, who were essentially a vassal state of Israel, and treated by them (and by Yahweh) with contempt.
   3. Walt Davis Posted: January 09, 2012 at 09:28 PM (#4032743)
the creator of the universe (who either didn't mind the cheating or else was unwilling or unable to penalize it),

The BBWAA -- more moral and/or more powerful than the creator of the universe!
   4. willcarrolldoesnotsuk Posted: January 09, 2012 at 09:31 PM (#4032746)
"Thou hast said."

Seriously, have you ever read the thing? "More moral than Yahweh" is damning with faint praise.
   5. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: January 09, 2012 at 10:21 PM (#4032787)
Jacob defeated God in a wrestling match (Genesis 32:24-32:30). You can't tell me Jacob wasn't on the juice.
   6. UCCF Posted: January 10, 2012 at 12:38 AM (#4032887)
Jacob defeated God in a wrestling match (Genesis 32:24-32:30). You can't tell me Jacob wasn't on the juice.

Please, it was all fake. Jacob beat God in Genesis, but God would get his revenge in a "serpent on a pole" match in Leviticus.

(Ironically, that was how Moses McMahon got his start as a promoter. The whole Cain v. Abel thing was wrestling's first swerve.)
   7. Squash Posted: January 10, 2012 at 01:40 AM (#4032907)
This is not, in my opinion, a mere nitpick; their father, Isaac, was the inheritor of the personal covenant that was established between his father (Abraham) and Yahweh himself. The stolen blessing made Jacob the inheritor thereof, rather than Esau (for whom Isaac explicitly intended it). Thus having finagled his way into a personal covenant with the creator of the universe (who either didn't mind the cheating or else was unwilling or unable to penalize it), Jacob became the father of all of the twelve tribes of Israel. In fact, Jacob was later renamed Israel, and the nation was thereafter named after him.

To get metaphorical about it, the idea was that Jacob represented civilized man, who used his wits to make this way through the world, and Esau represented uncivilized man (hairiness, lack of intelligence), from whom the future of mankind had to be literally taken. Storytelling/allegories have clearly changed A LOT in the last 2500 or so years - a lot of what goes on in the bible is awfully roundabout and confusing by today's standards - our fables and allegories today are nice and neat and simple.

Seriously, have you ever read the thing? "More moral than Yahweh" is damning with faint praise.

One thing is for certain, the world of the old testament was the wild wild west. You got away with whatever you could, however you could. There are several different versions of god over time, and while Adonai (who at some point becomes Yahweh who then eventually becomes just "God") may proclaim himself the one true god, he certainly isn't the only power present in the early days - there are the various Baals, gods of other peoples, demons, etc., and Yahweh is in competition with all of them.
   8. Walt Davis Posted: January 10, 2012 at 05:58 AM (#4032936)
Seriously, have you ever read the thing? "More moral than Yahweh" is damning with faint praise.

Isn't it obvious God wass a drunk until he converted to Mormonism?
   9. Downtown Bookie Posted: January 10, 2012 at 07:44 AM (#4032952)
Jacob cheated his older brother Esau out of receiving their father's deathbed blessing.

This is not, in my opinion, a mere nitpick; their father, Isaac, was the inheritor of the personal covenant that was established between his father (Abraham) and Yahweh himself. The stolen blessing made Jacob the inheritor thereof, rather than Esau (for whom Isaac explicitly intended it).


Except that, earlier in the narrative, Esau had sold his birthright to Jacob.

The birthright belonged to Jacob by sale. Jacob needed to resort to trickery to keep Esau from taking back that which was no longer rightfully his.

At least, according to the book which you cited.

DB
   10. Shooty would run in but these bone spurs hurt! Posted: January 10, 2012 at 07:59 AM (#4032963)
This headline made me think this was going to be about some giant, super strong Incredible Hulk like rabbi. Bummer.
   11. Jefferson Manship (Dan Lee) Posted: January 10, 2012 at 08:03 AM (#4032965)
I was sort of thinking it would be about Christianity, which in a way is Judaism on Steroids.
   12. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: January 10, 2012 at 08:59 AM (#4032995)
Christianity, which in a way is Judaism on Steroids.
In what way?

There's an argument that, in antiquity, Christianity's earliest appeal was that it was Judaism lite. The strict monotheism was perfectly in line with elite thinking about the universe, the notion of salvation after death was growing in appeal, and the clear moral code matched to philosophical thinking about the mastery of emotions, considered the basis of the moral life. The problem was, to become a Jew, you have to stop eating pork, shift your entire table fellowship to a new social group, and cut off a piece of your dingle. Into this void steps Paul - he preached to the Gentiles that they could enter into covenant with God through Jesus Christ, rather than through the following of the whole law (they still have to follow most of it - "so then the law is holy, the commandment is holy, just, and good". He doesn't say the law is bad, just that for the Gentiles, it is unnecessary.

So these Greeks and Romans who have been listening to Jewish teachers, considering Judaism, suddenly have an option to join a community which offers most of the benefits of Judaism, but without most of the really difficult stuff. Judaism lite.
   13. willcarrolldoesnotsuk Posted: January 10, 2012 at 09:18 AM (#4033011)
Except that, earlier in the narrative, Esau had sold his birthright to Jacob.
This is both a common rebuttal and painfully oversimplistic.

First of all, that was done under extreme duress; Jacob withheld food from his fainting brother, who felt on the verge of death, unless his brother promised him his birthright.

Second, Esau clearly considered his "birthright" to be the mundane possessions of his father, his (by custom) as first-born. Selling them would not prevent his father in any way from blessing Esau (who in fact did intend to bless Esau, birthright or not). As Esau says, in Genesis 27:36, immediately after Jacob's deception becomes clear to him and his father: "Is not he rightly named Jacob? for he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing."
   14. Jefferson Manship (Dan Lee) Posted: January 10, 2012 at 09:29 AM (#4033019)
Matt, I think that's probably a more apt description and analysis than the perspective from which I saw it. My (admittedly flippant) comment was coming from a place of, as an infomercial would put it, "Christianity! It's a lot like Judaism but comes with a messiah who's already walked the earth! Act now and you'll receive the Son of God performing miracles right before your eyes!"

From a theological and historical standpoint, though, it might indeed have been Judaism Lite.

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