In addition to his discovery of disease causing microbes, Dr. Louis Pasteur made another momentous discovery that has saved many millions of lives around the world, and is undoubtedly one of the most important medical finds in history. This is the discovery of vaccines, which are manufactured through the use of a weakened form of the disease-causing bacteria.
Pasteur’s research into immunization and vaccines included work on the disease rabies. When his success far surpassed his expectations, he applied the same methodology to other diseases.
Until today, his discoveries constitute the central basis for all immunization research. (It is worth mentioning here that homeopathy, a natural method of healing, is based on a similar principle: that “like cures like.” In other words, a disease is cured using a remedy that would cause similar symptoms if taken in larger amounts. This form of alternative medicine is becoming increasingly popular in Western societies.)
The book Mevo She’arim, written during Pasteur’s times, provides us with a reliable comment of Pasteur’s friend – Rabbi Dr. Yisrael Michael Rabinowitz – who claimed that the basis for Pasteur’s revolutionary research was the Talmud itself!
This is what happened:
While living in Paris, Rabbi Dr. Rabinowitz began translating the Talmud into French. When his friend, Louis Pasteur, saw a copy of Seder Mo’ed – the tractates dealing primarily with the Jewish holiday cycle – it roused his curiosity. To his amazement, he read there the following statement:(1)
“If someone is bitten by a mad dog [affected with rabies](2), he should be fed the lobe of that dog’s liver.”
The doctor was amazed at this healing method, which used part of the infected animal itself. He concluded that the Sages knew that an infected body produces antibodies, which attack an invading infection. Moreover, it seems that the antibodies, which concentrate in the liver, could actually help heal a person who was bitten by a rabid dog. Dr. Pasteur immediately began a series of experiments that eventually resulted in the saving of millions of human lives.
Thus, the Sages have said:
“Probe into the Torah over and over” – that is, examine it again and again as deeply as possible – “for everything is in it” – for all that you need you will find there.”(3)
Notes and Sources
(1) BT Yoma 84b.
(2) See the comments in the Talmud there (83b): “Five things were said about a mad dog: its mouth hangs open, saliva drips from its open mouth, its ears hang low, its tail is between its legs and it walks along the side of the road.”
(3) Mishnah Avot 5:22.