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Great Jewish Physicians






Any account of Old-Time Makers of Medicine without a chapter on the
Jewish Physicians would indeed be incomplete. They are among the most
important factors in medieval medicine, representing one of the most
significant elements of medical progress. In spite of the disadvantages
under which their race labored because of the popular feeling against
them on the part of the Christians in the earlier centuries and of the
Mohammedans later, men of genius from the race succeeded in making their
influence felt not only on their own times, but accomplished so much in
making and writing medicine as to influence many subsequent generations.
Living the segregated life that as a rule they had to, from the earliest
times (the Ghettos have only disappeared in the nineteenth century), it
would seem almost impossible for them to have done great intellectual
work. It is one of the very common illusions, however, that great
intellectual work is accomplished mainly in the midst of comfortable
circumstances and as the result of encouraging conditions. Most of our
great makers of medicine at all times, and never more so than during the
past century, have been the sons of the poor, who have had to earn their
own living, as a rule, before they reached manhood, and who have always
had the spur of that necessity which has been so well called the mother
of invention. Their hard living conditions probably rather favored than
hampered their intellectual accomplishments.

It is not unlikely that the difficult personal circumstances in which
the Jews were placed had a good deal to do at all times with stimulating
their ambitions and making them accomplish all that was in them. Certain
it is that at all times we find a wonderful power in the people to rise
above their conditions. With them, however, as with other peoples,
luxury, riches, comfort, bring a surfeit to initiative and the race does
not accomplish so much. At various times in the early Middle Ages,
particularly, we find Jewish physicians doing great work and obtaining
precious acknowledgment for it in spite of the most discouraging
conditions. Later it is not unusual to find that there has been a
degeneration into mere money-making as the result of opportunity and
consequent ease and luxury. At a number of times, however, both in
Christian and in Mohammedan countries, great Jewish physicians arose
whose names have come to us and with whom every student of medicine who
wants to know something about the details of the course of medical
history must be familiar. There are men among them who must be
considered among the great lights of medicine, significant makers always
of the art and also in nearly all cases of the science of medicine.

A little consideration of the history of the Jewish people and their
great documents eliminates any surprise there may be with regard to
their interest in medicine and successful pursuit of it during the
Middle Ages. The two great collections of Hebrew documents, the Old
Testament and the Talmud, contain an immense amount of material with
reference to medical problems of many kinds. Both of these works are
especially interesting because of what they have to say of preventive
medicine and with regard to the recognition of disease. Our prophylaxis
and diagnosis are important scientific departments of medicine dependent
on observation rather than on theory. While therapeutics has wandered
into all sorts of absurdities, the advances made in prophylaxis and in
diagnosis have always remained valuable, and though at times they have
been forgotten, re-discovery only emphasizes the value of preceding
work. It is because of what they contain with regard to these two
important medical subjects that the Old Testament and the Talmud are
landmarks in the history of medicine as well as of religion.

Baas, in his Outlines of the History of Medicine, says: It
corresponds to the reality in both the actual and chronological point of
view to consider the books of Moses as the foundation of sanitary
science. The more we have learned about sanitation in the prophylaxis of
disease and in the prevention of contagion in the modern time, the more
have we come to appreciate highly the teachings of these old times on
such subjects. Moses made a masterly exposition of the knowledge
necessary to prevent contagious disease when he laid down the rules with
regard to leprosy, first as to careful differentiation, then as to
isolation, and finally as to disinfection after it had come to be sure
that cure had taken place. The great lawgiver could insist emphatically
that the keeping of the laws of God not only was good for a man's soul
but also for his body.

With this tradition familiarly known and deeply studied by the mass of
the Hebrew people, it is no surprise to find that when the next great
Hebrew development of religious writing came in the Talmud during the
earlier Middle Ages, that also contains much with regard to medicine,
not a little of which is so close to absolute truth as never to be out
of date. Friedenwald, in his Jewish Physicians and the Contributions of
the Jews to the Science of Medicine, a lecture delivered before the
Gratz College of Philadelphia fifteen years ago, summed up from Baas'
History of Medicine the instructions in the Talmud with regard to
health and disease. The summary represents so much more of genuine
knowledge of medicine and surgery than might be expected at the early
period at which it was written, during the first and second century of
our era, that it seems well to quote it at some length.

Fever was regarded as nature's effort to expel morbific
matter and restore health; which is a much safer
interpretation of fever, from a practical point of view, than
most of the theories bearing on this point that have been
taught up to a very recent period. They attributed the halting
in the hind legs of a lamb to a callosity formed around the
spinal cord. This was a great advance in the knowledge of the
physiology of the nervous system. An emetic was recommended as
the best remedy for nausea. In many cases no better remedy is
known to-day. They taught that a sudden change in diet was
injurious, even if the quality brought by the change was
better. That milk fresh from the udder was the best. The
Talmud describes jaundice and correctly ascribes it to the
retention of bile, and speaks of dropsy as due to the
retention of urine. It teaches that atrophy or rupture of the
kidneys is fatal. Induration of the lungs (tuberculosis) was
regarded as incurable. Suppuration of the spinal cord had an
early, grave meaning. Rabies was known. The following is a
description given of the dog's condition: 'His mouth is open,
the saliva issues from his mouth; his ears drop; his tail
hangs between his legs; he runs sideways, and the dogs bark at
him; others say that he barks himself, and that his voice is
very weak. No man has appeared who could say that he has seen
a man live who was bitten by a mad dog.' The description is
good, and this prognosis as to hydrophobia in man has remained
unaltered till in our day when Pasteur published his startling
revelation. The anatomical knowledge of the Talmudists was
derived chiefly from dissection of the animals. As a very
remarkable piece of practical anatomy for its very early date
is the procuring of the skeleton from the body of a
prostitute by the process of boiling, by Rabbi Ishmael, a
physician, at the close of the first century. He gives the
number of bones as 252 instead of 232. The Talmudists knew the
origin of the spinal cord at the foramen magnum and its form
of termination; they described the oesophagus as being
composed of two coats; they speak of the pleura as the double
covering of the lungs; and mention the special coat of fat
about the kidneys. They had made progress in obstetrics;
described monstrosities and congenital deformities; practised
version, evisceration, and Caesarian section upon the dead and
upon the living mother. A.H. Israels has clearly shown in his
'Dissertatio Historico-Medica Inauguralis' that Caesarian
section, according to the Talmud, was performed among the Jews
with safety to mother and child. The surgery of the Talmud
includes a knowledge of dislocation of the thigh bone,
contusions of the skull, perforation of the lungs,
oesophagus, stomach, small intestines, and gall bladder;
wounds of the spinal cord, windpipe, of fractures of the ribs,
etc. They described imperforate anus and how it was to be
relieved by operation. Chanina Ben Chania inserted natural and
wooden teeth as early as the second century, C.E.

There is a famous summing up of the possibilities of life and happiness
in the Talmud that has been often quoted--its possible wanting in
gallantry being set down to the times in which it was written. Life is
compatible with any disease, provided the bowels remain open; any kind
of pain, provided the heart remain unaffected; any kind of uneasiness,
provided the head is not attacked; all manner of evils, except it be a
bad woman.

There are many other interesting suggestions in the Talmud. Sometimes
they have come to be generally accepted in the modern time, sometimes
they are only curious notions that have not, however, lost all their
interest. The crucial incision for carbuncle is a typical example of the
first class and the suggestion of the removal of superfluous fat from
within the abdomen or in the abdominal wall itself by operation is
another. That they had some idea of the danger of sepsis may be gathered
from the fact that they suspected iron surgical instruments and advised
the use of others of less enduring character.

The Talmud itself was indeed a sort of encyclopedia in which was
gathered knowledge of all kinds from many sources. It was not
particularly a book of medicine, though it contains so many medical
ideas. In many parts of it the authors' regard for science is
emphatically expressed. Landau, in his History of Jewish Physicians,
closes his account of the Talmud with this paragraph:

I conclude this brief review of Talmudic medicine with some
reference to how high the worth of science was valued in this
much misunderstood work. In one place we have the expression
'occupation with science means more than sacrifice.' In
another 'science is more than priesthood and kingly
dignity.'[4]

After all this of national tradition in medicine before and after
Christ, it is only what we might quite naturally expect to find, that
there is scarcely a century of the Middle Ages which does not contain at
least one great Jewish physician and sometimes there are more. Many of
these men made distinct contributions to medical science and their names
have been held in high estimation ever since. Perhaps I should say that
they were held in high estimation until that neglect of historical
studies which characterized the eighteenth century developed, and that
there has been a reawakening of interest in our time. We forget this
curious decadence of the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
which did so much to obscure history and especially the history of the
sciences. Fortunately the scholars of the sixteenth and early
seventeenth centuries accomplished successfully the task of printing
many of the books of these old-time physicians and secured their
publication in magnificent editions. These were bought eagerly by
scholars and libraries all over Europe in spite of the high price they
commanded in that era of slow, laborious printing. The Renaissance
exhibits some of its most admirable qualities in its reverence for these
old workers in science and above all for the careful preparation by its
scholars of the text of these first editions of old-time physicians. The
works have often been thus literally preserved for us, for some of them
at least would have disappeared among the vicissitudes of the
intervening time, most of which was anything but favorable to the
preservation of old-time works, no matter what their content or value.

During the second and third centuries of our era, while the Talmudic
writings were taking shape, three great Jewish physicians came into
prominence. The first of them, Chanina, was a contemporary of Galen.
According to tradition, as we have said, he inserted both natural and
artificial teeth before the close of the second century. The two others
were Rab or Raw and Samuel. Rab has the distinction of having studied
his anatomy from the human body. According to tradition he did not
hesitate to spend large sums of money in order to procure subjects for
dissection. At this time it is very doubtful whether Galen, though only
of the preceding generation, ever had the opportunity to study more than
animals or, at most, a few human bodies. Samuel, the third of the group,
was an intimate friend of Rab's, perhaps a disciple, and his fame
depends rather on his practice of medicine than of research in medical
science. He was noted for his practical development of two specialties
that cannot but seem to us rather distant from each other. His
reputation as a skilful obstetrician was only surpassed by the
estimation in which he was held as an oculist. He seems to have turned
to astronomy as a hobby, and was highly honored for his knowledge of
this science. Probably there is nothing commoner in the story of great
Jewish physicians than their successful pursuit of some scientific
subject as a hobby and reaching distinction in it. Their surplus
intellectual energy needed an outlet besides their vocation, and they
got a rest by turning to some other interest, often accomplishing
excellent results in it. Like most great students with a hobby, the
majority of them were long-lived. Their lives are a lesson to a
generation that fears intellectual overwork.

During the fourth century we have a number of very interesting
traditions with regard to a great Jewish physician, Abba Oumna, to whom
patients flocked from all over the world. He seems particularly to have
been anxious to make his services available to the scholars of his time.
He looked upon them as brothers in spirit, fellow-laborers whose
investigations were as important as his own and whose labors for mankind
he hoped to extend by the helpfulness of his profession. In order that
it might be easy for them to come to him without feeling abashed by
their poverty, and yet so that they might pay him anything that they
thought they were able to, he hung up a box in his anteroom in which
each patient might deposit whatever he felt able to give. His kindliness
towards men became the foundation for many legends. Needless to say he
was often imposed upon, but that seems to have made no difference to
him, and he went on straightforwardly doing what he thought he ought to
do, regardless of the devious ways of men, even those whom he was
generously assisting. While we do not know much of his scientific
medicine, we do know that he was a fine example of a practitioner of
medicine on the highest professional lines.

With the foundation of the school at Djondisabour in Arabistan or
Khusistan by the Persian monarch Chosroes, some Jewish physicians come
into prominence as teachers, and this is one of the first important
occasions in history when they teach side by side with Christian
colleagues. Djondisabour seems distant from us now, lying as it does in
the province just above the head of the Persian Gulf, and it is a little
hard to understand its becoming a centre of culture and education, yet
according to well-grounded historical traditions students flocked here
from all parts of the world, and its medical instruction particularly
became famous. According to the documents and traditions that we
possess, clinical teaching was the most significant feature of the
school work and made it famous. As a consequence graduates from here
were deemed fully qualified to become professors in other institutions
and were eagerly sought by various medical schools in the East.

With the rise of the strong political power of the Mohammedans enough of
peace came to the East at least to permit the cultivation of arts and
sciences to some extent again, and then at once the eminence of Jewish
physicians, both as teachers and practitioners of medicine, once more
becomes manifest. The first of the race who comes into prominence is
Maser Djawah Ebn Djeldjal, of Basra. To him we owe probably more than to
anyone else the preservation of old scientific writings and the
cultivation of arts and sciences by the Mohammedans. He prevailed on
Caliph Moawia I, whose physician he had become, to cause many foreign
works, and especially those written in Greek, to be translated into
Arabic. He seems to have taken a large share of the labor of the
translation on himself and prevailed upon his pupil, the son of Moawia,
to translate some works on chemistry. The translation for which Maser
Djawah is best known is that of the Pandects of Haroun, a physician of
Alexandria. The translation of this work was made toward the end of the
seventh century. Unfortunately the Pandects has not come down to us,
either in original or translation, but we have fragments of the
translation preserved by Rhazes, the distinguished Arabian medical
writer and physician of the ninth century, and there seems no doubt that
it contained the first good description of smallpox, a chapter in
medicine that is often--though incorrectly--attributed to Rhazes
himself. Rhazes quoted Maser Djawah freely and evidently trusted his
declarations implicitly.

The succeeding Caliphs of the first Arabian dynasty did not exhibit the
same interest in education, and above all in science, that characterized
Moawia. Political ambition and the desire for military glory seem to
have filled up their thoughts and perhaps they had not the good fortune
to fall under the influence of physicians so wise and learned as Maser
Djawah. More probably, however, they themselves lacked interest. Toward
the end of the seventh century they were succeeded by the Abbassides.
Almansor, the second Caliph of this dynasty, was attacked by a dangerous
disease and sent for a physician of the Nestorian school. After his
restoration to health he became a liberal patron of science and
especially medical science. The new city of Bagdad, which had become the
capital of the realm of the Abbassides, was enriched by him with a large
number of works on medicine, which he caused to be translated from the
Greek. He did not confine himself to medicine, however, but also brought
about translations of works with regard to other sciences. One of these,
astronomy, was a favorite. He made it a particular point to search out
and encourage the translation of such books as had not previously been
translated from Greek into Arabic. While he provided a translation of
Ptolemy he also had translations made of Aristotle and Galen.

It is not surprising, then, that the school of Bagdad became celebrated.
Jewish physicians seem to have been most prominent in its foundation,
and the most distinguished product of it is Isaac Ben Emran, almost as
celebrated as a philosopher as he is as a physician. One of his
expressions with regard to the danger of a patient having two physicians
whose opinions disagree with regard to his illness has been deservedly
preserved for us. Zeid, an Emir of one of the chief cities of the Arabs
in Barbary, fell ill of a tertian fever and called Isaac and another
physician in consultation. Their opinions were so widely in disaccord
that Isaac refused to prescribe anything, and when the Emir, who had
great confidence in him, demanded the reason, he replied, disagreement
of two physicians is more deadly than a tertian fever. This Isaac, who
is said to have died in 799, is the great Jewish physician, one of the
most important members of the profession in the eighth century. His
principal work was with regard to poisons and the symptoms caused by
them. This is often quoted by medical writers in the after time.

The prominent Jewish physician of the ninth century was Joshua Ben Nun.
Haroun al-Raschid, whose attempts to secure justice for his people are
the subject of so much legendary lore, and whose place in history may be
best recalled by the fact that he is a contemporary of Charlemagne, was
particularly interested in medicine. He founded the city of Tauris as a
memorial of the cure of his wife. He was a generous patron of the school
of Djondisabour and established a medical school also at Bagdad. He
provided good salaries for the professors, insisted on careful
examinations, and raised the standard of medical education for a time to
a noteworthy degree. The greatest teacher of this school at Bagdad was
Joshua Ben Nun, sometimes known as the Rabbi of Seleucia. His teaching
attracted many students to Bagdad and his fame as one of the great
practitioners of medicine of this time brought many patients. Among his
disciples was John Masuee, whose Arabian name is so different, Yahia Ben
Masoviah, that in order to avoid confusion in reading it is important to
know both. Almost better known, perhaps, at this time was Abu Joseph
Jacob Ben Isaac Kendi. Fortunately for the after time, these men devoted
themselves not only to their own observations and writings but made a
series of valuable translations. Joshua Ben Nun seems to have been
particularly zealous in this matter, following the example of Maser
Djawah of Basra.

Bagdad then became a centre for Arabian culture. Mahmoud, one of
Haroun's successors, provided in Bagdad a refuge for the learned men of
the East who were disturbed by the wars and troubles of the time. He
became a liberal patron of literature and education. When the Emperor
Michael III of Constantinople was conquered in battle, one of the
obligations imposed upon him was to send many camel loads of books to
Bagdad, and Aristotle and Plato were studied devotedly and translated
into Arabic. The era of culture affected not only the capital but all
the cities, and everywhere throughout the Arabian empire schools and
academies sprang up. We have records of them at Basra, Samarcand,
Ispahan. From here the thirst for education spread to the other cities
ruled by the Mohammedans, and each town became affected by it.
Alexandria, the cities of the Barbary States, those of Sicily and
Provence, where Moorish influences were prominent, and of distant Spain,
Cordova, Seville, Toledo, Granada, Saragossa, all took up the rivalry
for culture which made this a glorious period in the history of the
intellectual life.

Already, in the chapter on Great Physicians in Early Christian Times,
I have pointed out that many of the teachers of the Arabs were Christian
physicians. Here it is proper to emphasize the other important factor in
Arabian medicine, the Jewish physicians, who influenced the great
Arabian rulers, and were the teachers of the Arabs in medicine and
science generally. These Christian and Jewish physicians particularly
encouraged the translation of the works of the great Greek physicians
and thus kept the Greek medical tradition from dying out. It is not
until the end of the ninth, or even the beginning of the tenth, century
that we begin to have important contributors to medicine from among the
Arabs themselves. Even at this time they have distinguished rivals among
Jewish physicians. Indeed these acquired such a reputation that they
became the physicians to monarchs and even high ecclesiastics, and we
find them nearly everywhere throughout Europe. Their success was so
great that it is not surprising that after a time the vogue of the
Jewish physicians should have led to jealousy of them and to the passage
of laws and decrees limiting their sphere of activity.

The great Jewish physician of the ninth century was Isaac Ben Soliman,
better known as Isaac el Israili, and who is sometimes spoken of as
d'Israeli. He was a pupil of Isaac Ben Amram the younger, probably a
grandson of another Isaac Ben Amram, who, after having become famous in
Bagdad, went to Cairo and became the physician of the Emir Zijadeth III.
The younger Isaac established a school, and it was with him that Israeli
obtained his introduction to medicine. He practised first as an oculist
and then became body-physician to the Sultan of Morocco. Because of the
sympathy of his character and his unselfishness he acquired great
popularity. Hyrtl refers to him respectfully as that scholarly son of
Israel. Curiously enough, considering racial feeling in the matter, he
never married, and when asked why he had not, and whether he did not
think that he might regret it, he replied, I have written four books
through which my memory will be better preserved than it would be by
descendants. The four books are his Treatise on Fevers, his Treatise
on Simple Medicines and Ailments, a treatise on the Elements, and a
treatise On the Urine. Besides these, we have from him shorter works,
On the Pulse, On Melancholy, and On Dropsy. His hope with regard
to his fame from these works was fulfilled, for they were printed as
late as 1515 at Leyden, and Sprengel declared them the best compendium
of simple remedies and diet that we have from the Arabian times. One of
his translators into Latin has called him the monarch of physicians.

Some of his maxims are extremely interesting in the light of modern
notions on the same subjects. He declared emphatically that the most
important duty of the physician is to prevent illness. Most patients
get better without much help from the physician by the power of nature.
He emphasized his distrust of using many medicines at the same time in
the hope that some of them would do good. He laid it down as a rule:
Employ only one medicine at a time in all your cases and note its
effects carefully. He was as wise with regard to medical ethics as

therapeutics. He advised a young physician, Never speak unfavorably of
other physicians. Every one of us has his lucky and unlucky hours. It
is pleasant to learn that the old gentleman lived to fill out a full
hundred years of life, and that in his declining years he was
surrounded by the good will and the affection of many who had learned to
know his precious qualities of heart and mind. More than of any other
class of physicians do we find the large human sympathies of the Jewish
physicians of the Middle Ages praised by their contemporaries and
succeeding generations.

During the next centuries a number of Jewish physicians became
prominent, though none of them until Maimonides impressed themselves
deeply upon the medical life of their own and succeeding centuries. Very
frequently they were the physicians to royal personages. Zedkias, for
instance, was the physician to Louis the Pious and later to his son
Charles the Bald. His reputation as a physician was great enough to give
him the popular estimation of a magician, but it did not save him from
the accusation of having poisoned Charles when that monarch died
suddenly. There seem to be no good grounds, however, for the accusation.
There were a number of schools of medicine, in Sicily and the southern
part of Italy, in which Jewish, Arabian, and Christian physicians taught
side by side. One of these teachers was Jude Sabatai Ben Abraham,
usually known by the name of Donolo, who was famous both as a writer on
medicine and on astronomy. Donolo studied and probably taught at
Tarentum, and there were similar schools at Palermo, at Bari, and then
later on the mainland at Salerno. The foundation of Salerno, in which
Jewish physicians also took part, we shall discuss later in the special
chapter devoted to that subject.

One of the great translators whose work meant very much for the medical
science of his own and succeeding generations was the distinguished
Jewish physician, Faradj Ben Salim, sometimes spoken of as Farachi
Faragut or Ferrarius, who was born at Girgenti in Sicily. He made his
medical studies in Salerno and did his work under the patronage of
Charles of Anjou towards the end of the thirteenth century. His greatest
work is the translation of the whole of the Continens of Rhazes. The
translation is praised as probably the best of its time made in the
Middle Ages. Faradj came at the end of a great century, when the
intellectual life of Europe had reached a high power of expression, and
it is not surprising that he should have proved equal to his
environment. This translation has also some additions made by Faradj
himself, notably a glossary of Arabian names.

In Spain also Jewish physicians rose to distinction. The most
distinguished in the tenth century was Chasdai Ben Schaprut. Like many
other of the great physicians of this time, he had studied astronomy as
well as the medical sciences. He became the physician of the Caliph
Abd-er-Rahman III of Cordova. He seems also to have exercised some of
the functions of Prime Minister to the Caliph, and took advantage of
diplomatic relations between his sovereign and the Byzantine Emperor to
obtain some works of Dioscorides. These he translated into Arabian with
the help of a Greek monk, whom he seems also to have secured through the
diplomatic relations. Undoubtedly he did much to usher in that
enthusiasm for education and study which characterized the next
centuries, the eleventh and twelfth, at Cordova in Spain, when such men
as Avenzoar, Avicenna, and Averroes attracted the attention of the
educational world of the time. Jewish writers have sometimes claimed one
of the most distinguished of these, Avenzoar himself, as a Jew, but
Hyrtl and other good authorities consider him of Arabic extraction and
point to the fact that his ancestors bore the name of Mohammed. This is
not absolutely conclusive evidence, but because of it I have preferred
to class Avenzoar among the Arabian physicians.

The one historical fact of importance for us is that everywhere in
Europe at that time Jews were being accorded opportunities for the study
and practice of medicine. There are local incidents of persecution, but
we are not so far away from the feelings that brought these about as to
misunderstand them or to think that they were anything more than local,
popular manifestations. The more we know about the details of the
medical history of these times the deeper is the impression of academic
freedom and of opportunities for liberal education.

Much has been said about the intolerance of ecclesiastical authorities
toward the Jews, and of Church decrees that either absolutely forbade
their practice of the medical profession and their devotion to
scientific study, or at least made these pursuits much more difficult
for them than for others. Of course it has to be conceded, even by those
who most insistently urge the existence of formal legislation in the
matter, that in spite of these decrees and intolerance and opposition,
Jews continued to practise medicine and to be the chosen physicians of
kings and even of high ecclesiastical dignitaries, as well indeed of
the Popes themselves. This, it is usually declared, must be attributed
to the surpassing skill of the Jewish physicians, causing men to
overcome their prejudices and override even their own legal regulations.
There is no doubt at all about the skill of Jewish physicians at many
times during the Middle Ages. There is no doubt also of the sentiment of
opposition that often developed between the Christian peoples and the
Jews. Any excuse is good enough to justify men, to themselves at least,
in putting obstacles in the paths of those who are more successful than
they are themselves. Religion often became a cloak for ill-will and
persecution.

The state of affairs that has been presumed however, according to which
laws and decrees were being constantly issued forbidding the practice of
medicine to Jews by the ecclesiastical authorities, while at the same
time they themselves and those who were nearest to them were employing
Jewish physicians, is an absurdity that on the face of it calls for
investigation of the conditions and from its very appearance would
indicate that the ordinary historical assumption in the matter must be
wrong.

I have been at some pains, then, to try to find out just what were the
conditions in Europe with regard to the practice of medicine by the
Jews. There is no doubt that at Salerno, where the influence of the
Benedictines was very strong and where the influence of the Popes and
the ecclesiastical authorities was always dominant, full liberty of
studying and teaching was from the earliest days allowed to the Jews.
Down at Montpellier it seems clear that Jewish physicians had a large
part in the foundation of the medical school, and continued for several
centuries to be most important factors in the maintenance of its
reputation and the upbuilding of that fame which draw students from even
distant parts of Europe to this medical school of the south of France.
During the ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries Jewish
physicians were frequently in attendance on kings and the higher
nobility, on bishops and archbishops, cardinals, and even Popes. Every
now and then the spirit of intolerance among the populace was aroused,
and occasionally the death of some distinguished patient while in a
Jewish physician's hands was made the occasion for persecution. We must
not forget, after all, that even as late as Elizabeth's time, when
Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice, he was taking advantage of
the popular sentiment aroused by the execution of Lopez, the Queen's
physician, for a real or supposed participation in a plot against her
Majesty's life. Shylock was presented the next season for the sake of
adventitious popularity that would thus accrue to the piece. The
character was played so as to depict all the worst traits of the Jew,
and was scornfully laughed at at every representation. This is an index
of the popular feeling of the time. Bitter intolerance of the Jew has
continued. Down almost to our own time the Ghettos have existed in
Europe, and popular tumults against them continue to occur. Quite
needless to say, these do not depend on Christianity, but on defective
human nature.

During the Middle Ages the best possible criterion of the attitude of
the Church authorities towards the Jews is to be found in the
legislation of Pope Innocent III. He is the greatest of the Popes of the
Middle Ages; he shaped the policy of the Church more than any other; his
influence was felt for many generations after his own time. His famous
edict with regard to them was well known: Let no Christian by violence
compel them to come dissenting or unwilling to Baptism. Further, let no
Christian venture maliciously to harm their persons without a judgment
of the civil power or to carry off their property or change their good
customs which they have hitherto in that district which they inhabit.
Innocent himself and several of his predecessors and successors are
known to have had Jewish physicians. Example speaks even louder than
precept, and the example of such men must have been a wonderful
advertisement for the Jewish physicians of the time.

Besides Innocent III, many of the Popes of the twelfth and thirteenth
centuries issued similar decrees as to the Jews. It may be recalled that
this was the time when the Papacy was most powerful in Europe and when
its decrees had most weight in all countries. Alexander II, Gregory IX,
and Innocent IV all issued formal documents demanding the protection of
the Jews, and especially insisting that they must not be forced to
receive Baptism nor disturbed in the celebration of their festivals.
Clement VI did the same thing in the next century, and even offered them
a refuge from persecution throughout the rest of France at Avignon.
Distinguished Jewish scholars, who know the whole story from careful
study, have given due credit to the Popes for all that they did for
their people. They have even declared that if the Jews were not
exterminated in many of the European countries it was because of the
protection afforded by the Church. We have come to realize in recent
years that persecution of the Jews is not at all a religious matter, but
is due to racial prejudice and jealousy of their success by the peoples
among whom they settle. All sorts of pretexts are given for this
persecution at all times. Formal Church documents and the personal
activities of the responsible Church officials show that during the
Middle Ages the Church was a protector and not a persecutor of the Jews.

There is abundant historical authority for the statement that the Popes
were uniformly beneficent in their treatment of the Jews. In order to
demonstrate this there is no need to quote Catholic historians, for
non-Catholics have been rather emphatic in bringing it out. Neander, the
German Protestant historian, for instance, said:

It was a ruling principle with the Popes after the example of
their great predecessor, Gregory the Great, to protect the
Jews in the rights which had been conceded to them. When the
banished Popes of the twelfth century returned to Rome, the
Jews went forth in their holiday garments to meet them,
bearing before them the 'thora,' and Innocent II, on an
occasion of this sort, blessed them.

English non-Catholic historians can be quoted to the same effect. The
Anglican Dean Milman, for instance, said: Of all European sovereigns,
the Popes, with some exceptions, have pursued the most humane policy
towards the Jews. In Italy, and even in Rome, they have been more rarely
molested than in the other countries.

Hallam has expressed himself to the same effect, especially as regards
the protection afforded to the Jew by the laws of the Church from the
injustice of those around him. Laws sometimes fail of their purpose and
the persecuting spirit of the populace is often hard to control, but
everything that the central authority could do to afford protection was
done and essential justice was enshrined in the Church laws.

Prominent ecclesiastics would naturally follow the lines laid down by
their Papal superiors. The attitude of those whose lives mark epochs in
the history of Christianity and who had more to do almost with the
shaping of the policy of the Church at many times than the Popes
themselves, can be quoted readily to this same effect. Neander has
called particular attention to St. Bernard's declarations with regard to
the evils that would follow any tolerance of such an abuse as the
persecution of the Jews.

The most influential men of the Church protested against such
un-Christian fanaticism. When the Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux
was rousing up the spirit of the nations to embark in the
second crusade, and issued for this purpose, in the year 1146,
his letters to the Germans (East Franks), he at the same time
warned them against the influence of those enthusiasts who
strove to inflame the fanaticism of the people. He declaimed
against the false zeal, without knowledge, which impelled them
to murder the Jews, a people who ought to be allowed to live
in peace in the country.

But it has been said that there are decrees against Jewish physicians,
issued especially in the south of France, by various councils and
synods of the Church. Attention needs to be called at once to the fact
that these are entirely local regulations and have nothing to do with
the attitude of the Church as a whole, but represent what the
ecclesiastical authorities of a particular part of the country deem
necessary for some special reason in order to meet local conditions.
Indeed at the end of the thirteenth and the early fourteenth century,
when these decrees were being issued in France, full liberty was allowed
in Italy, and there were no restrictions either as to medical practice
or education founded on adhesion to Judaism.

What need to be realized in order to understand the issuance of certain
local ecclesiastical regulations forbidding Jews to practise medicine
are the special conditions which developed in France at this time. Many
Jews had emigrated from Spain to France, and the reputation acquired by
Jewish physicians at Montpellier led to a number of the race taking up
the practice of medicine without any further qualification than the fact
that they were Jews. That gave them a reputation for curative powers of
itself because of the fame of some Jewish doctors and their employment
by the nobility and the highest ecclesiastics. It was hard to regulate
these wandering physicians. As a consequence of this, the faculty at
Paris, always jealous of its own rights and those of its students, at
the beginning of the fourteenth century absolutely forbade Jews from
practising on Christian patients within its jurisdiction. Of course the
faculty of the University of Paris was dominated by ecclesiastical
authorities. The medical school was, however, almost entirely
independent of ecclesiastical influence, and was besides largely
responsible for this decree. It was felt that something had to be done
to stop the evil that had arisen and the charlatanry and quackery which
was being practised. This was, however, rather an attempt to regulate
the practice of medicine and keep it in the hands of medical school
graduates than an example of intolerance towards the Jews. Practically
no Jews had graduated at its university, Montpellier being their
favorite school, and Paris was not a little jealous of its rights to
provide for physicians from the northern part of France. We have not got
away from manifestations of that spirit even yet, as our
non-reciprocating state medical laws show.

During the next quarter of a century decrees not unlike those of the
University of Paris were issued in the south of France, especially in
Provence and Avignon. Anyone who knows the conditions which existed in
the south of France at this time with regard to medical practice will be
aware that a number of attempts were made by the ecclesiastical
authorities just at this time to regulate the practice of medicine.
Great abuses had crept in. Almost anyone who wished could set up as a
physician, and those who were least fitted were often best able to
secure a large number of patients by their cleverness, their knowledge
of men, and their smooth tongues. The bishops of various dioceses met,
and issued decrees forbidding anyone from practising medicine unless he
was a graduate of the medical school of the neighboring University of
Montpellier. After a time it was found that the greatest number of
violators of these decrees were Jews. Accordingly special regulations
were made against them. They happen to be ecclesiastical regulations,
because no other authority at that time claimed the right to regulate
medical education and the practice of medicine.

What is sure is that many Jewish physicians reached distinction under
Christian as well as Arabian rulers at all times during the Middle Ages.
It would be quite impossible in the limited space at command here to
give any adequate mention of what was accomplished by these Jewish
physicians, whose names we have scarcely been able to more than
catalogue, nor of the place they hold in their times. As the physicians
of rulers, their influence for culture and the cultivation of science
was extensive, and as a rule they stood for what was best and highest in
education. The story of one of them, who is generally known in the
Christian world at least, Maimonides, given in some detail, may serve as
a type of these Jewish physicians of the Middle Ages. He lived just
before the flourishing period of university life in the thirteenth
century brought about that wonderful development of medicine and surgery
in the west of Europe that meant so much for the final centuries of the
Middle Ages. His works influenced not a little the great thinkers and
teachers whose own writings were to be the foundations of education for
several centuries after their time. Maimonides was well known in the
Western universities. Though his life had been mainly spent in the East,
and he died there, there was scarcely a distinguished scholar of Europe
who was not acquainted directly or indirectly with his works, and the
greater the reputation of the scholar, as a rule, the more he knew of
Maimonides, Moses AEgyptaeus, as he was called, and the more frequently he
referred to his writings.






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Previous: Arabian Christian Physicians



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