Friday, March 31, 2006

Does my Prayer help another ? - Empirical Evidence.

From The New York Times today:

Prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people who were undergoing heart surgery, a large and long-awaited study has found.

And patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications like abnormal heart rhythms, perhaps because of the expectations the prayers created, the researchers suggested.

Because it is the most scientifically rigorous investigation of whether prayer can heal illness, the study, begun almost a decade ago and involving more than 1,800 patients, has for years been the subject of speculation.

The question has been a contentious one among researchers. Proponents have argued that prayer is perhaps the most deeply human response to disease, and that it may relieve suffering by some mechanism that is not yet understood. Skeptics have contended that studying prayer is a waste of money and that it presupposes supernatural intervention, putting it by definition beyond the reach of science.

At least 10 studies of the effects of prayer have been carried out in the last six years, with mixed results. The new study was intended to overcome flaws in the earlier investigations. The report was scheduled to appear in The American Heart Journal next week, but the journal's publisher released it online yesterday.

In a hurriedly convened news conference, the study's authors, led by Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and director of the Mind/Body Medical Institute near Boston, said that the findings were not the last word on the effects of so-called intercessory prayer. But the results, they said, raised questions about how and whether patients should be told that prayers were being offered for them.

"One conclusion from this is that the role of awareness of prayer should be studied further," said Dr. Charles Bethea, a cardiologist at Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City and a co-author of the study.

Other experts said the study underscored the question of whether prayer was an appropriate subject for scientific study.

And further on in the article:

Dean Marek, a chaplain at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and a co-author of the report, said the study said nothing about the power of personal prayer or about prayers for family members and friends.

How does Judaism look at it? After all "Shehem Mishtachavim Lahevel Varik Umispallelim el El lo Yoshia" (although with Islam especially and Christianity according to the Ba'alei Hatosafos - here Meiri agrees with them - they are not considered idolaters) :

Meiri in his Chibur Hateshuvah addresses this issue (page 502) and basically questions how would prayer by one person help another. See my post on this issue here
and here

Good Shabbos.


  1. Yediah
    I forget if i commented on this already on your blog, but if not, What do you make of my take on prayer (see my blog).
    Its not my view (its my rabbis)

  2. I just saw that you did reply on on another post.
    If kol yisroel areivim, then the idea of hashem wanted a collecting continuous improvement in jews certainly is not superstition.

    Giving tzedaka as a zchus works the same way.
    I argue its meaningless to say words that you dont care about.

  3. >I argue its meaningless to say words that you dont care about.

    What do you mean?

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. david
    i mean to mutter words in tehilim without making a roishem on you is meaningless.

    How many times are we exhorted to daven with kavanah. What is kavanah?

  6. >What is kavanah?

    Moreh 3:51
    Turn your thoughts away from everything while you read Shema. or during the Tefillat, and do not content yourself with being devout when you read the first verse of Shema, or the first paragraph of the prayer. When you have successfully practised this for many years, try in reading the Law or listening to it, to have all your heart and all your thought occupied with understanding what you read or hear. After some time when you have mastered this, accustom yourself to have your mind free from all other thoughts when you read any portion of the other books of the prophets, or when you say any blessing; and to have your attention directed exclusively to the perception and the understanding of what you utter. When you have succeeded in properly performing these acts of divine service, and you have your thought, during their performance, entirely abstracted from worldly affairs, take then care that your thought be not disturbed by thinking of your wants or of superfluous things. In short, think of worldly matters when you eat, drink, bathe, talk with your wife and little children, or when you converse with other people. These times, which are frequent and long, I think must suffice to you for reflecting on everything that is necessary as regards business, household, and health. But when you are engaged in the performance of religious duties, have your mind exclusively directed to what you are doing

  7. I applaud your skepticism. G-d cannot be ordered around by human beings. He might allow a different outcome for things if He finds it fitting, but clearly, we shouldn't expect to always get what we want when we pray. To assume we will always get what we want would be to assume G-d to be our servant, not the other way around.