The Mind/Body Connection & Jewish Law

Moshe Ben-Chaim

Bryan: Talmud Sabbath 66b discusses the Sabbath prohibition for women to carry the "Evven Takumah" [miscarriage prevention stone]. I wanted to know if there is more info on it. 

Thank you,


Rabbi: Bryan, let’s analyze the source you cited. Bear in mind that stones are not typically permitted for use, transport or carrying on Sabbath:

“The Rabbis learned: a woman may go outside carrying an Evven Takumah on the Shabbos. Rabbi Meir said, “She may go outside even with an object of identical weight of the Evven Takumah.”  

The permission to carry the stone extends not only to a woman who previously miscarried, but also to women who had not yet miscarried. And the permission extends not only to pregnant women, but also to non-pregnant women, lest they become pregnant and miscarry. 

Rabbi Yaymar bar Shalmai in Abbaye’s name said, “The object of identical weight refers only to an object that is 'naturally' of identical weight, and not that one added or subtracted [to its mass].” (Rashi)

Abbaye asked whether an object that equaled the weight to the second weight may be used, and the question was left unanswered.”

We are struck by this Torah law that seemingly contradicts all known medical knowledge: “How does a stone carried by pregnant and even non-pregnant women guard against miscarriages? We can almost hear the defiant Jews and Torah critics blasting our “archaic and outdated sages” for such laws. But not so fast… 

What the non-religious Jews, anti-religious Jews, and Torah critics don’t know, is the sophisticated and deep science behind Talmud and Torah study. 

How could they know it? They didn’t spend the decades required to master these areas. They think one reads the Torah and Talmud like any other book...and it's only as deep as the plain meaning. But there’s an immense difference: man didn’t originate the ideas in Torah and Talmud: God did. 

The Torah critics’ minimization of Torah is equal to an infant criticizing Einstein. 

The Rabbis teach that one who studies an area 100 times, is incomparable to one who studies it 101 times. Amazing. And yes, there IS that much Divine wisdom waiting for human discovery. The treasure we have as Jews is deep, bountiful and in Kind David's words, "It is perfect and refreshes the soul". (Psalms 19:8) We are fortunate beyond belief. Torah critics should have been humble enough to ask themselves why geniuses like King David, Maimonides and so many others found the deepest profundities in Torah and Talmud. They should have asked this before taking up their positions. I’d like to show you just how intelligent this Talmudic portion truly is…

We understand a mother’s concern not to lose even one, precious child. This is a tragedy beyond compare. And just so we are clear, Evven Takumah is simply a stone. Nothing more. Women used to carry a stone when pregnant. Normally, a stone cannot be carried on the Sabbath, but it permitted in this case. We understand the apparent oddity of such a practice, but let’s line up the questions:

How does carrying a stone (Evven Takumah) guard against miscarriage?

How can it do so, even before a woman is pregnant?

How does the stone's weight play a significant role, that another object of equal weight is also permitted?

And why must that secondary, replacement object "naturally" equal the weight of the primary Evven Takumah?

Finally, what was Abbaye getting at with the Talmud's last question, whether a replacement for the replacement stone was also permitted?

How do we approach such questions? Sure, one can quickly say, "The Rabbis erred by believing in the science of their times". And this might be have happened. For one cannot be fluent in all areas: he or she must rely on current-day knowledge of others just as we do today, as we rely on a doctor's knowledge of the body, allowing him to perform surgery on us. The Rabbis even admitted the Greeks were correct in one case. But we need not apply here this simplified explanation of Rabbinical error, without first examining this case and finding justification to claim they erred. Perhaps there are true ideas that explain this phenomenon. 

What's the first step? We must gather all the facts. Referring to its design, the human interactivity, and appreciating that it is not of Torah origin (not located in the verses) what can we derive from Evven Takumah?

We note that the central issue here is that women "carried" something. The CARRYING somehow guarded against misCARRIAGE. (Do you see where we're going?)  In fact, the object is not essential, since we learn that a replacement object – of identical weight – was also used, and hence, also permitted. This is significant. 

We discover the fundamental issue: carrying an object was associated with carrying the embryo: carrying prevented miscarriage – the same phenomenon. However, since there is no physical association between carrying a stone, and carrying one's embryo, the connection can exist in only one other area: the psyche.

What this means is that when a woman would carry a stone – the Evven Takumah – this activity would affect her psychologically. Just as when we are psychologically uptight or tense, we experience a tightening of our muscles in the form of cramps, this rule applies in other cases. But let's clarify this rule: the body can express our psychological state. When uptight, our muscles tighten. When relaxed, we find relaxing our bowels much easier. And again, when one carries something, the body too will carry what's inside and not expel the embryo. 

Dr. John E. Sarno has published a number of books explaining how many people with chronic back/body pain can learn to eliminate that pain through use of the mind. I know a number of cases first hand...including myself. 

There are many other mind/body correlations, not only tightness and carrying. 

When one is nervous about doing something, many times the body starts trembling. We've heard the phrase "tremble in fear". The person is in great conflict about the matter at hand, and then expresses the inability to move on it in the form of an incapacitating trembling. When people are highly emotionally motivated, they can achieve feats requiring great strength. Meaning, the powerful desire to act actually invigorates the person with additional "power" to do what he or she could not do prior. Martial artists use their psychological focus in a manner that enables them to manipulate objects others cannot. Placebos are fake pills (no medicinal value) that fool the body into healing itself. And we learned that Joseph died before his older brothers, because he experienced more stress as Egypt's ruler. The weariness of mind, tired out his body.

We now understand how carrying a stone can help a woman carry her child with success. We also understand that since this is a psychological phenomenon, the effects can be protracted and assist women not currently pregnant. Now let's answer the other questions.

Perhaps the Rabbis permitted the replacement object, thereby indicating that the effect was not caused by this specific object. Any object will do. And since it is the act of "carrying" that was effective, "weight" was highlighted as the essential factor. Thus, a replacement object must weigh the same as the primary Evven Takumah.

Now, why was it required that this replacement weight equal the Evven's weight "naturally" without adding to or subtracting from the replacement? Perhaps here, we learn more of the Rabbis' keen knowledge of psychology. The rabbis understood what psychological principle was at work here: identification. The (expecting) mother psychosomatically carried her embryo successfully because she identified her baby with the other object she carried – the Evven Takumah. But in order that the identification be complete, the carried object could not be a manufactured item, but it must be a "natural" object, just as her embryo is a product of nature, without manipulation. Thus, the Rabbis permitted only a replacement stone that was "naturally" equal in weight to the Evven Takumah. Only then would the mother's psyche and bodily functions duplicate the carrying of the stone. And this health benefit was permitted on Sabbath. 

It is important to note that without any correlation between a practice and a result, the Rabbis would forbid such acts. Torah endorses what nature says is a truth. Rabbeinu Nissim quotes Rabbi Yonah who suspected as heathen (prohibited) any unproven device. For example, it is heathen and prohibited to gauge one's actions based on unrelated phenomena, like avoiding business deals when black cats cross our paths, or if we break a mirror. In contrast, Evven Takumah is permitted since a natural principle explains the phenomenon.

Finally, Abbaye asked whether a replacement for the replacement stone was also permitted. I feel he was questioning the nature of the Rabbinic ruling: i.e., Must the primary Evven Takumah be in one's mind to be effective, or not? Meaning, when a replacement for the replacement is allowed, is that too far removed from the Evven Takumah to be effective. Or, perhaps any number of replacement stones would be permitted, if the we opine otherwise, that the affect is not due to close association to the Evven, but to the weight alone. In that case, any number of replacement stones would be permitted. This was unanswered in the Talmud.

Having come this far, let's ask one final question regarding amulets. Talmud Sabbath 61a-61b discusses vegetation and writings that were used to heal. Many cures are medicinal or derivatives of plants; others were psychologically easing – writings that people contemplated and cured them. Both were permitted....provided they worked three times. The question is why the Rabbis required that an amulet or its writer be proven effective three times before it was permitted. We don’t read that this Evven Takumah required three successes in order to be permitted. It was permitted from the outset. Why then do amulets require proof, while Evven Takumah's do not?