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Stealing One’s Health and Wealth; Quacks, Phonies, Charlatans and Fakers

By Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum

Health fraud is an old and very successful business. The reason is simple. When someone is very sick, it’s easy to take advantage of his desperate situation by offering him all sorts of miracle cures. People without hope will grasp onto any straw offered them, no matter how ridiculous it may sound, in the hope that it will provide a cure. They are willing to try herbs and absurd concoctions of all sorts that claim they can cure the incurable. Desperate and gullible people will buy anything offered them, even if it includes spider legs and snake oil. Hopelessness and wishful thinking easily overpower reason and common sense. There are people who have made millions by claiming that they have the special ability to bring about magical cures. Any health claims, no matter how ridiculous, bizarre, and absurd they may be, will be swallowed by enough people to make their producers rich. Voodoo and witch doctors have made alternate medicine a viable option for thousands of people. These modern health quacks are super salesmen, skillfully playing on people’s fears, hopes, and naiveté.

Since many aches, pains, and illnesses will go away even when left untreated, it is easy to collect testimonials from countless people that were  “cured” with their magical formulas. Many testimonials are faked or “enhanced” by clever charlatans. Misleading advertisements and misinformation about foods, nutrition supplements and nonprescription drugs in health magazines are widespread, and often seduce the unsuspecting reader into believing them. Many magazines make money carrying such ads and will certainly not kill the goose laying the golden eggs by publishing articles criticizing them.

And so while science may not have all the answers, quackery has no answers at all, but will take your hard earned money and leave you with an aching heart and an empty pocket. Unfortunately, many promoters of alternate medicine and quackery may even be honest people who truly believe in the products they promote.
Recently, when one very famous Jewish scam artist’s many fraudulent business ventures were closed up by the government, he decided to advertise some of these dubious health claims in order to earn a living. Since “a sucker is born every minute,” he is now doing quite well as he draws countless flies into his net.

A doctor once rented out a special black box, which he claimed could heal people, on the condition that one was not permitted to open it up to see the secret remedy it contained. He made millions renting out his contraption. After he died, people opened the box and to their surprise and chagrin, all they found were some nuts, bolts and tangled wires. “Magnetic healing pouches” are making fantastic claims, but when scientists surreptitiously replaced the magnet inside the pouch with an ordinary stone, they found the results were the same. Unfortunately, quackery is not sold with a warning label.

One of the latest medical scams hitting the Jewish community is the “pendulum” scam. This is when a weight or crystal is suspended at the end of a string or chain and the device is held over the person and is allowed to swing freely as it supposedly answers questions put to it by the direction in which it swings. It’s hard to believe that intelligent people will fall for this irrational and absurd swindle. Some pious Jews are even practicing some of this quackery in their misguided belief that it actually works. How painful and tragic that this hoax has even received the approval and endorsement of a very esteemed rosh yeshivah who has been misled into believing that the “pendulum” actually possesses some mysterious healing powers.  Beside the outright theft involved, raising false hopes for the seriously ill is one of the cruelest and most dangerous forms of quackery since it lures victims away from more effective treatments that can sometimes save lives.

History has shown, (as in the story of Shaul Hamelech) that in times of great desperation, even the greatest of the great can seek the advice of what the Torah clearly forbids. One can read all about these quack devices in a book entitled “Tales of Medical Fraud from the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices” by Bob McCoy. Another very important book on this subject is “The Health Robbers; A Closer Look at Quackery in America” by Dr. Stephen Barrett, and Dr. William Jarvis, Ph.D. who teach us how to tell experts from pretenders and how to get reliable information. Only through proper education can people learn to protect themselves from the unscrupulous money-grubbers and charlatans who fatten their wallet by preying on the sick and infirm, the ignorant, and naïve.

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