“Nor with an amulet when it is not from an expert.”
After a foray into a dissertation on the wearing of single sandals and favoring the right foot over the left, today’s Daf Yomi portion discusses amulets and when it is permissible to go out in public on Shabbat wearing or even carrying one. Amulets can be worn for ornamentation or for healing. Today’s discussion primarily focusses on those that are worn to heal the wounded and broken-hearted.
Rav Pappa lays the ground rules for how to determine if an amulet is allowed to be worn in public on Shabbat. First, an amulet must be able to effectively heal and be crafted by an expert. The amulet in question is proven effective if it is able to heal someone three times. We are told that this applies to both a written amulet (which I imagine is a locket of some sort with words of healing or faith written inside) or an amulet of herbal roots.
Of course, if an amulet heals a single person three times, the question arises about how effective it is. Why would an unlucky individual lapse into illness again and again if he has been healed? An alternative is offered: an amulet is considered effective if it is written by someone who has healed three different people stricken by illness. Finally, we are provided with a combination of attributes that can give an amulet its superpowers: it cures one person three times and is written by someone who has healed three different people.
There was a lot of disease at the time the Talmud was written and often often with disease comes charlatans and quacks and “false amulets.” There are so many false amulets in the world right now that alleged experts have put forward as protection from COVID-19. These amulets, which have not been proven to cure or protect one person of the disease let alone three, include red soap which is supposed to be more effective than other colors, hand sanitizer made from vodka, vinegar, fabric softener or bleach, inhalation of hydrogen peroxide, gargling with saltwater, exposure to ultra-violet light, and ingestion of disinfectants. Facebook videos are circulated which show people doing breathing exercises in order to diagnose COVID-19 with urgent pleas to pay attention in order to save your life and diagnostic kits are being peddled that have not been proved to proven accurate testing results.
So, what are the healing amulets of today? I would argue that they are the words that are carefully chosen by our experts and leaders who have demonstrated that they are free from partisanship and hidden agendas and have stepped up to offer realistic and difficult analysis of the impact, magnitude and duration of the pandemic. They do not provide false hope. They provide us with amulets filled with trust during these difficult times. Their superpower is telling us what we may not want to hear but telling us anyway through the hard facts of science.