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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

ammedans 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


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


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


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.