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Jewish Journal

Roundtable discusses basis for health, Judaism research

by Ryan e. smith, Contributing Writer

February 2, 2011 | 12:34 pm

Few would deny a connection between spirituality, Judaism and health, but how does it function and how would one prove it?

The Kalsman Institute on Judaism and Health at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) gathered about 30 scholars, rabbis and doctors to plumb these questions as part of its 2011 Roundtable on Judaism and Health Research on Jan. 30 to Feb. 1 at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley.

The goal was to begin creating a more concrete basis for research into the field of health and Judaism.

“So much of our work is done on what I call a kishka level, on an intuitive level. We are here to do just the opposite,” Michele Prince, Kalsman director, told the group.

Topics for the roundtable included pastoral education, Jewish bioethics, the health care system, spirituality and healing, and responses to illness and wellness.

Marc Weigensberg, associate professor of clinical pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, noted it’s not just a patient who can draw something from Jewish traditions. Doctors can, too.

“I realize, as I practice medicine more and more, that separating out the person’s spirituality from the physical practice of medicine leaves me feeling not quite whole and not quite satisfied,” he said. “I’m really eagerly exploring the ways, the teachings, lessons that Judaism has that can really add to my medical practice.”

Kalsman, which provides pastoral education to students at HUC-JIR in Los Angeles, is nearing the culmination of a two-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation that sparked this conversation about how to expand research efforts focusing explicitly on Jews. Now the institute is applying for a $1.5 million grant to pursue specific research projects on Judaism, health and medicine.

Rabbi Jason Weiner, who serves as Jewish chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said he sees numerous possible benefits from such work, including providing information to hospitals regarding the need to have chaplains and synagogues.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of providing health care, healing and wellness for Jewish patients, and a lot of research that can be helpful to hospitals around the country if we can demonstrate the importance of spiritual care,” he said.

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