Many doctors shy away from long-distance diagnoses - but not Isaac Schiff. The chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Massachusetts General Hospital has offered a medical opinion spanning thousands of miles and thousands of years on the famed fertility woes of the biblical figure Hannah.
“The eternal had shut her womb,” as the passage from the Book of Samuel puts it.
Schiff says that he read the text in preparation for giving a talk at his local temple. “What caught my eye was the attention to eating,” especially the verse in which her husband asks: “Why do you weep? Why don’t you eat? Why are you so unhappy?”
Fertility experts have long known that women who do not eat, whether in times of famine or because of anorexia, often are unable to conceive. “Poor Hannah thus was caught in a downwardly spiraling syndrome - depression due to not conceiving, leading to anorexia, leading to assured infertility!” Schiff writes in the January 1998 edition of the journal Fertility and Sterility. His brother Morty, a teacher of creative writing at the City University of New York, is the co-author.
Hannah’s story ended happily: After receiving a comforting blessing from Eli, a priest, “she ate, and was downcast no longer,” the Bible says. Soon after, Hannah and her husband conceived a child, who became the prophet Samuel.