Tag Archives: Science

Opioids, pain control and suicide

I want to say a perhaps untimely word on being – on occasion – pro- proper medical use of opioids. Although there is a raging, deadly opioid crisis in the USA, it is due to a huge misuse of science and medicine, but not due to medicine itself.
The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the official halakhic body of Conservative Judaism, published a teshuva on suicide and assisted suicide in the summer 1998 issue of “Conservative Judaism” Vol. L, No.4. The authors hold that there are cases – for instance some cancers, where we do need to proscribe very strong pain killing drugs.
The CJLS teshuva notes that suicide is forbidden by Jewish law: this includes assisted suicide. Yet there’s a trend of Americans and Europeans who are asking their friends/family to help kill themselves. As the Conservative teshuva points out, many people get sick, often with terminal illnesses, but most people don’t try and commit suicide. So why do some people ask for this? If we can find out, we should remove these reasons, so people don’t want to do this.
The author of the teshuva, Elliot Dorff, note that “those who commit suicide and those who aid others in doing so act out of a plethora of motives. Some of these reasons are less than noble, involving, for example, children’s desires to see Mom or Dad die with dispatch so as not to squander their inheritance on “futile” health care, or the desire of insurance companies to spend as little money as possible on the terminally ill.”
Some patients want to die because they are pain, but Rabbi Dorff points out that the proper response to pain is better pain control.
There is a new crisis in medical care of elderly and terminally ill patients : Many doctors are keeping such patients in perpetual, constant pain by refusing to grant them adequate pain killers. Some do this out of ignorance, others because they claim they want to avoid any possibility of the patient becoming a “drug addict”. Others claims that a good patient will grin-and-bear-it with the least amount of pain medication possible. The CJLS teshuva states that such reasoning is “bizarre”, and cruel. With today’s medications, there is no reason for people to be in perpetual torture.
The teshuva outlines theological reasons why Judaism is opposed to suicide. Another section discusses the social and economic forces that conspire to drive many people to this decision. Most importantly, the teshuva investigates the psychological reasons for the hopelessness felt by some patients.
It points out that “Physicians or others asked to assist in dying should recognize that people contemplating suicide are often alone, without anyone taking an interest in their continued living. Rather than assist the patient in dying, the proper response to such circumstances is to provide the patient with a group of people who clearly and repeatedly reaffirm their interest in the pateint’s continued life.”
“Requests to die, then, must be evaluated in the terms of degree of social support the patient has, for such requests are often withdrawn as soon as someone shows an interest in the patient staying alive. In this age of individualism and broken and scattered families, and in the antiseptic environment of hospitals where dying people usually find themselves, the mitzvah of visting the sick (bikkur Holim) becomes all the more crucial in sustaining the will to live”
None of this, of course, is to downplay the serious opiate crisis in the united states. It has affected even those close to me. I know that the producers of opiate drugs have engaged in unethical, possibly criminal activity, in pushing these drugs to doctors for the past 30 years, and doctors themselves pushed these drugs unwisely, helping create the current deadly crisis. So I just am noting that there is a legitimate medical role for such drugs, under clearly defined circumstances.
Elliot N. Dorff, “Assisted Suicide” YD 345.1997a
Statement on Assisted Suicide YD 345.1997b

Drinking and health

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No doubt that it is safe for most people to drink small amounts of alcohol on a regular basis, and have moderate amounts of alcohol, more occasionally. But how much is a safe amount?

Alcoholism and other substance abuse issues certainly run in families, and people who know about this in their own family are wisely advised to avoid alcohol, or keenly monitor their drinking patterns. Some families have a history of certain diseases which alcohol can exacerbate, so the same caution is due here as well.  But what about people without high risk factors? For years medical studies have shown some small benefits of drinking wine, a few other studies showed small benefits from small amounts of any kind of alcohol. And we all know of family members or community members who had a drink every day, and lived well past 100.

For any person, too much alcohol at once can affect the brain, as such
(source of image unknown; corrections requested)

Alcohol and Brain

But a growing number of studies are showing that that for many people, there are increased health risks at lower levels of alcohol consumption that once thought. For instance:


Moderate alcohol consumption as risk factor for adverse brain outcomes and cognitive decline: longitudinal cohort study

Moderate alcohol consumption as risk factor for adverse brain outcomes and cognitive decline, BMJ June 2017

Higher alcohol consumption over the 30 year follow-up was associated with increased odds of hippocampal atrophy in a dose dependent fashion. While those consuming over 30 units a week were at the highest risk compared with abstainers, even those drinking moderately (14-21 units/week) had three times the odds of right sided hippocampal atrophy. There was no protective effect of light drinking (1-<7 units/week) over abstinence. Higher alcohol use was also associated with differences in corpus callosum microstructure and faster decline in lexical fluency. No association was found with cross sectional cognitive performance or longitudinal changes in semantic fluency or word recall…. Alcohol consumption, even at moderate levels, is associated with adverse brain outcomes including hippocampal atrophy. These results support the recent reduction in alcohol guidance in the UK and question the current limits recommended in the US.

When reading such studies, we first ask, what is a “unit” of alcohol? In the UK we find this definition:

1 unit of alcohol = 10 millilitres (8 grams) of pure alcohol.

Typical drinks may contain 1–3 units of alcohol.

A ten ounce beer (300 ml) at 3.5% ABV contains about one unit;

A medium glass (175 ml) of 12% ABV wine has two units of alcohol

A small glass (50 ml) of sherry or port (20% ABV) contains about one unit.

Most whisky is 40% ABV.
In England, a single pub measure (25 ml) of whisky contains one unit.

A typical American miniature bottle is 50 ml -> 2 units.

A typical American pour at a bar is 2 ounces -> 60 ml -> 2.4 units


Possible health benefits of moderate whiskey consumption



moderate alcohol usage and increased antioxidant intake decrease the risk of coronary heart disease.

Odds of dementia are lower among adults who consumed moderate alcohol, rather than none at all



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Reincarnation and pseudoscience

A few rabbis have been trying to tie together kabbalah, “scientific proof of reincarnation”, “scientific proof of the afterlife”, etc, like this one here.


Rabbi Alon Anava, a proponent of educating people about the potential threat of Nibiru, said last week that the dwarf star some believe is poised to destroy two-thirds of the world’s population in anticipation of the End of Days is the cause of recent extreme weather events. End of Days blogger Menachem Robinson told Breaking Israel News that Nibiru will “make its closest approach” to earth within the next few weeks. Following a recent lecture about the arrival of Moshiach (Messiah), Rabbi Anava ascribed the dramatic uptick in monsoons, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes and other extreme weather events to the approach of Nibiru…. According to Rabbi Anava, Nibiru is merely one End of Days scenario that God could potentially implement. “It’s one of the surprises Hashem (God) can pull out of His pocket. It might not do anything. There are clear prophecies talking about rocks of fire, but any bad prophecy can be reversed. HaKadosh Baruch Hu (The Holy One, Blessed Be He) prepared it. “You know how HaKadosh Baruch Hu did the flood in the time of Noach (Noah)?” Rabbi Anava asked his audience. “He moved one of the planets a little bit. That caused the flood to happen.


There is zero scientific proof of reincarnation of the afterlife. The smarter fundamentalist preachers know this, but believe that it is valid to lie in order to gain new adherents. The less smart ones… actually believe their own claims.

Kabbalah itself is problematic, but we see here what happens when they tie pseudo-science with Kabbalah – they end up aligning themselves with conspiracy theorists, about all sorts of topics.

When you see a preacher (of any faith) talk about “scientific proof” which doesn’t exist, that’s a red flag.

Here are some articles examining holes in the claims that reincarnation and the afterlife were scientifically proven.

Ian Stevenson: The Skeptic’s Dictionary

Also Book Review of “Children who remember previous lives, A question of reincarnation”

Smilodon’s Retreat: Analysis of claims about reincarnation


While little known to most Jewish people today, many classical texts of rabbinic Judaism taught the ancient view that the Earth is the center of the universe, and that the Sun, other planets, and stars all revolve around the Earth. This idea is called geocentrism.  Ever since Copernicus in the 1400s, and especially since galileo in the 1500s, we have known that this idea is false.


Geocentrism today is rejected by all non-Orthodox Jewish groups, and one would imagine most if not all of Modern Orthodoxy. However, some Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) groups still teach geocentrism. Here are Chabad Lubavitch essays teaching that the earth is the center of the universe:




This belief can be found in other Hasidic and non-Hasidic Orthodox groups. According to the survey a large percent of college-attending Orthodox Jews believe that the earth is the center of the universe, and that the Sun and other planets revolve around us.

“Of particular interest was the item “Which is true? The Sun revolves around the Earth [or] the Earth revolves around the Sun (Figure 8). Only 22 of 173 answered that the Sun revolves around the Earth. Geocentrism is fast returning as a centrist Orthodox belief, so the paucity of geocentrists among these college students is a strong indication of their (relatively) modern Orthodox status”

“…The Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists is largest organization of its type with over 1500 members. Its website is http://www.aojs.org. Dr. Avi Rabinowitz, a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from New York University, who defended geocentrism in “Geocentrism” in B’Or‑Ha’Torah Volume 5E 1986 spoke at its convention in August 19–21, 2005. See Rabinowitz’s article, Egocentrism & Geocentrism; Human Significance & Existential Despair; Fundamentalism and Skepticalism.”


It has been scientifically proven that geocentrism is wrong in many ways. First, within our own solar system, it is our Sun which is the center: planets, comets and asteroids revolve around it. This is called heliocentrism. Secondly, our solar system is just one of a billion star systems in the Milky Way galaxy, all of which are slowly rotating around our galaxy’s center. Beyond that our galaxy is merely one of billions of other galaxies, most of which also contain billions of stars each.

Here is a well written article from Discover Magazine about why geocentrism is wrong, and the fundamental flaw in logic that geo centrists make

Geocentrism? Seriously? Discover Magazine

It is a common error to misunderstand Einstein’s special theory of relativity. Many people believe it proves that we can never prove that the earth goes around the Sun. Therefore the ancient statements in the Bible and Talmud implying that the earth is the center of the universe are still justified.

But this is wrong on two counts. One, it contains a fundamental misunderstanding of what choosing a frame of reference means. For further discussion of this point, see the link to the essay on Discover Magazine that I posted separately. Secondly, it’s not just a matter of choosing coordinate systems. We have direct observation evidence that it is the earth revolving around the Sun, and not the other way around.

These are subtle effects that were not measured until the 1800s, but they have been confirmed time and again. Direct measurement showing what is the center, and what is not, has been possible for close to 200 years now. This is a well written summary of the evidence for Heliocentrism: Is there a proof that the Earth moves? Ask An Astronomer

From the Union of Orthodox Congregations (Modern Orthodox), see book reviews on

New Heavens and a New Earth: The Jewish Reception of Copernican Thought, By Jeremy Brown, Oxford University Press, and Torah, Chazal and Science, By Moshe Meiselman. Israel Bookshop Publications