Thursday 23 October 2014

044) All I Want...Are My Two Front Teeth

I always believed that we humans have 32 teeth. I do understand that from time to time there may be variations in the number, and that there is a dental condition known as ‘hyperdontia’, but as a general rule we have 32 teeth.

I read with great interest a responsum from one of the most revered leaders of a significant segment of the contemporary Torah world (Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky), in which the following astounding statement is made:
“A non-Jew has 31 teeth while a Jew has 32…” 1
This, he says, is based on the Midrash Talpiyot2, from which he quotes. However, upon examination of this source, while it does say that Jews have 32 teeth, it mentions that non-Jews actually have 33 teeth (and not 31 as he quoted above3). Furthermore the Midrash Talpiyot says this is a tradition it received, but also mentions a different view that there is no physical difference between Jews and non-Jews (except of course for the Bris which is a man made distinction).

The actual question that spawned this responsum was whether Jews are more susceptible to healing than non-Jews4 - to which came the reply “Nachon” (correct). And then a further difference between Jews and non-Jews was pointed out – that concerning the number of teeth5.
Forgive my irreverence but the question begs; if someone converts to Judaism, do they or their children grow or lose a tooth?

It is well known that often our mystical tradition draws parallels between the human form and energies or channels these forms are said to represent. For example, the right hand represents Chessed or kindness, while the left represents Gevurah or restriction. Similarly in our case, the 32 teeth may represent the 32 roots of wisdom6. The problem with this responsum is that the author is not referring to an esoteric allusion or mystical parallel. He is stating a ‘physiological fact’.

This is strange because often our rabbis tell us to consult with experts in the various secular disciplines particularly when it concerns medical matters. What’s even more disturbing is that he chose this particular view from his source, as opposed to the other demonstrably verifiable view (from that very same source) that all people do have an equal number of teeth. He also seems to believe that Jews are, empirically, more prone to recovery from illness than non-Jews7.

The Kotzker Rebbe writes that indiscriminate quoting, without logical analysis, is tantamount to a ‘gift’ to those who are waiting to make fun us.
“[Yaakov] took whatever came into his hands as a gift to Esau…” – If a person takes ‘whatever comes into his hands’ and does not ascertain if it is good or bad, while he may think he is doing a mitzvah, he is simply feeding the ‘other side’. A pious person needs to constantly be aware of how he is going to be perceived.” 
(Emet VeEmunah p 28 par 2)
The point is this: For at least the last two thousand years we have known that Homo sapiens have 32 teeth.8  Every school child knows this. So how does a modern day Gadol and leader of multitudes stand up and tell us that Jews and non-Jews have a different number of teeth?

The answer is simple. We allow it to happen.

1. Derech Sicha, p 227. Bnei Brak 5764 (2004)
2. By R Eliyahu ben Shlomo Avraham, published around the 17th century
3. In another place (Asiach p 396), he ‘corrects’ this by saying that non-Jews do indeed have 33 teeth
4. Because of the expression in Shmonei Esrei: ‘Rofeh cholei Amo Yisrael - G-d heals the sick of His people’
5. Incidentally, there is also ‘anecdotal evidence’ allegedly attesting to a different number of teeth in the mouths of Jews and non-Jews, and it’s based on rather devious Gematriyos or numerology. One example gleaned from the verse; “They are a nation that shall dwell alone [LEVadad – LEV =32] and not be [LO=31] counted among the nations”. Another example from; “He did not [LO=31] do so for any nation, such judgements they know not [BAL=32]’
6. This kabbalistic concept is actually the catalyst for the discussion in the Midrash Talpiyot
7. I did, however, find it fascinating to discover that during the Black Death of the 14th C, which annihilated nearly half the population, Jews were indeed less affected than the rest of the population. This was possibly due to their laws of hygiene and their isolation in ghettos. Sadly the price they paid for surviving, was further persecution after being accused of poisoning the wells
8. See the writings of Galen 129-199CE

1 comment:

  1. that jews are more prone to healing.. YES absolutly, I have no pb with that. Even ashkenazim live longer and also have a hiher IQ, then the japanese, etc. This is not a problem at all! maybe the neshama of the jew that affects the body translates into better healing, etc.. no pb.

    But the 32 teeht, thats a pb!!! we all have 32!!! generally speaking.
    On the case that someone converts to Jew; I have no pb neither that he remains with (the suppoused) one teeth less. Cause he is different in the sense that he is not a born jew.. so we can say 32 teeth only applies to born jews.. etc