Narrative Medicine

Clinical Empathy and Narrative Competence: The Relevance of Reading Talmudic Legends as Literary Fiction

John H. Davidson


The “curative potential” in almost any clinical setting depends on a caregiver establishing and maintaining an empathic connection with patients so as to achieve “narrative competence” in discerning and acting in accord with their preferences and best interests. The “narrative medicine” model of shared “close reading of literature and reflective writing” among clinicians as a means of fostering a capacity for clinical empathy has gained validation with recent empirical studies demonstrating the enhancement of theory of mind (ToM), broadly conceived as empathy, in readers of literary fiction. Talmudic legends, like that of Rabbi Judah’s death, are under-appreciated, relevant sources of literary fiction for these efforts. The limitations of narrative medicine are readily counterbalanced by simultaneously practiced attention to traditional bioethical principles, including—especially—beneficence, non-maleficence, and autonomy.

Rambam Maimonides Med J 2015;6(2):e0014