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The Efficacy of Healing and Prayer

The Efficacy of Healing and Prayer

(Printed in the Press Telegram 4/30/06)

The medical world recently reported that prayer has no positive effect on the sick and, if anything, prayer may cause sick people to become sicker.  The $2.4 million study, by the John Templeton Foundation, smacks of bias, ignorance and downright arrogance. 

If prayer has no influence on the sick, why did the sick get sicker?  Another point, those praying for the sick, to whom did they pray to?  Is a Christian prayer for a non-Christian acceptable?  Can a Buddhist pray for a Jew?  For that matter can you pray for an atheist?  Maybe people prayed for the wrong things. 

Lastly, maybe G‑d, the healer of all flesh, said no!  G‑d may have an agenda where He wants the sick to return their souls to spirit.  He accepts the prayers but has other plans that we cannot fathom.

In a new book “The Heart Speaks,” Dr. Mimi Guarneri describes the importance of prayer.  She offers a study to prove her point:  150 patients at Duke University and Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center entered a pilot study to test the idea that spiritual influences could have a measurable impact. 

Angioplasty patients were prayed for simultaneously by different religious sects around the world from Buddhists in Nepal to Carmelite nuns in Baltimore to Baptists in North Carolina.  The parishioners were asked to pray for the patients who were assigned to them, according to their normal customs. 

The researchers utilized a monitoring technique to follow patients from pre-catheterization to post-angioplasty, tracking such items as stroke, heart attack incidence, and mortality. 

Those patients who were prayed for had fewer adverse outcomes than patients in the standard therapy group.  All these studies were double-blind, meaning that neither the staff nor the patients knew of their treatment.  Because of this, it’s difficult for skeptics to invalidate them by stating that any observed result of prayer must be due to the subject’s expectations or the power of his or her beliefs.

And then there was the early research by Dr. Franklin Loehr, a Presbyterian minister and scientist, who even documented the tangible effects of payer on microorganisms and plants.

In experiments conducted on germinating seeds, Loehr used three pans of various kinds of seeds.  One served as the control; another received positive prayer and another negative prayer.  The results regularly showed that positive prayer helped speed the germination of seeds and produced more vigorous plants, while negative prayer halted the germination of certain plants and suppressed growth in others.”  This to me is a very clear proof of the efficacy of prayer.

Dating back to the Old Testament we are told of the great Jewish prophet Moses who prayed for a plague to strike the Egyptian nation and then he prayed to end the plagues.  His prayers were successful and should be an example for us all. 

In the history of religion you see the efficacy of payer, how prayer brings comfort, and heals the sick.  No matter what the Templeton Foundation claims, prayer has been in the hearts and minds of all mankind.

I believe that Dr. Viktor Frankl, the psychiatrist and founder of logotherapy, had it right.  In his book “The Doctor and the Soul” he asks “Is it permissible for (a doctor) to interfere with a patient’s decisions?  Does that not involve interfering in a private, personal area of the human spirit?  Will not such interference lead to his thoughtlessly or arbitrarily imposing his own personal outlook on the patient?” 

This problem does not arise for the minister, priest, or rabbi, whose function it is to discuss questions of belief and outlook and who is authorized to hand down guiding doctrines.”  Frankl makes it very clear that the physician is to realize his limits.  His role is to stick to healing the body and not comment on the soul.

On the same note it has been said that when Rabbis play doctors congregations become sick. 

But nowhere, until now, do we have physicians speaking against prayer.  True, we need to respect our medical profession and count on them for healing but remember it is in G‑d we trust!

Rabbi Eli Hecht is vice–president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America and past–president of the Rabbinical Council of California. He is the director of Chabad of South Bay in Lomita, CA, which houses a synagogue, day school, nursery school and chaplaincy programs.