BABSKI REFUES ("Babski" [Polish], old-womanish; "refues" [Hebrew], remedies):
The name applied in Yiddish to domestic and superstitious medicine. Common folk among the Jews in Russia and Poland believe in peculiar remedies for diseases and maladies, some of the remedies consisting of drugs or physics and some of magic agencies. Especially peculiar are the latter, which are generally prescribed or administered by a practical cabalist called "ba'al-shem" (master of [God's] name) or "guter Yid" (good Jew), to whom superstitious men and women apply for the conjuration of toothaches, of wounds, or of an evil eye ("'ayyin ha-ra'"), or for the exorcism of an evil spirit ("dibbuḳ").
Of the "segulot" (superstitious remedies) among these folk, particularly curious are those intended for the relief of pregnant women and that of children. For instance, a well-known practise among them is "Bleigiessen," or what may be termed "plumbomancy," which is divination from the forms assumed by molten lead dropped into water. This is resorted to in cases in which illness of pregnant women or that of children is due to fright, to find out what object was the cause of the alarm. A medicine-woman, muttering a psalm or an incantation, throws molten lead into a vessel full of water, and from the resemblance of the form thus assumed by the metal to a particular animal, she divines that the cause of fright was a cat, a dog, a horse, etc.
The popular guides of domestic and superstitious medicine among the Russian and Polish Jews are the "Sefer Zekirah" (Book of Remembrance), by Rabbi Zechariah of Plungyan, and the "Mif'alot Elohim" (Works of God), which latter is a collection of remedies prescribed by Rabbis Yoel Ba'al-Shem, Naphtali of Posen, and others.
Here follow a few items contained in the two treatises: To alleviate pain of dentition, suspend upon the neck of the child a tooth of a horse or of a dog, and smear the throat of the child with butter or chicken-fat ("Zekirah," p. 80, Warsaw, 1875). To protect a child from an "evil eye," let it wear a copper or silver tablet with the letter ה engraved upon it (ib. p. 84). In case of measles or small-pox, take ten peas, throw them upon the patient, and say: ("As many peas as have been thrown upon the child, so many pocks shall it have, not more"; "Mif'alot Elohim," p. 94, Lemberg, 1872).
Among other treatises containing similar prescriptions is: "Toledot Adam," a collection of remedies by several cabalists, edited by Joel Heilprin (Ba'al Shem), Wilmersdorf, 1784. See
- S. Rubin, Ma'ase Ta'atu'im, § v., 120-142, Vienna, 1887.