|Vol. I, No. 12
Adar 5604 March 1844
History of the Jewish Physicians, from the French of E. Carmoly, by John R. W. Dunbar, M. D. &c. Baltimore, 8vo. pp. 94.
"Although history has not said positively that Shabtai obtained his medical knowledge at Salernum, it is without doubt, that it was only in this city where the Jews divided with the Greeks and Saracens, the glory of having founded this celebrated school, the duration of which was short, as its origin was ancient. Many languages were used there, and to accommodate the wants of their auditors, Pontus taught in Greek, Abd Alla in Arabic, and Elisha in Hebrew.
"This last professor is only known by the quotation of Clifton, he was probably of Salernum itself, where the Israelites had institutions from time immemorial. They enjoyed freedom and other important privileges under the Ducal protection. It was not until 1086, that the Duchess Siehelgaite, wife of Duke Roger, bequeathed to the church of Notre Dame of Salernum, the revenues of all the Jews who lived in that city, and her husband, the Duke of Punille and son of Robert Guiscard, ceded all the revenue derived from the Jews who lived there, to the Archbishop of Salernum. Nevertheless, the Jews of Salernum, did not abandon their devotion to medicine. We feel confident that it rather formed among them a kind of national education, by which they found the means as by commerce, to amass great riches, and enable them to discharge the thousand and one various taxes imposed upon them, such as the platiacum, the portulaticum, the dationes, the paraverdum, the pulveraticum, the mansionaticum, the coenaticum, &c.
"We shall often have occasion, in the course of this work, to speak of the Jewish physicians, of the Salernum school, and we will only state here, that in a period when they were the sole depositaries of the European medicine, which they communicated from the Arabs to the Christians, they established with the aid of the Greek and Arabic Physicians this ancient school, which during a long period had in Europe no rival, but the University of Montpelier.
"During a long period the Jews successfully cultivated the learning of the Arabians in Spain. They particularly excelled in the study of astronomy and medicine. Among those learned in this last science, Chasdai ben Sprot, deserves the first rank.
"The tenth century was particularly remarkable for the progress of medicine among the Jews. Hippocrates who continually referred to experience, and Galen so profound in his observations, were held in high favour by those doctors; it is nevertheless true, that the works of the doctors would have been more useful to the science if they had observed nature more. On the other hand their regarded the dissection of bodies as a profanity, and surgery as an ignoble profession; which opinion was injurious to the improvement of medicine.
"From whatever cause it may be produced, this age witnessed the birth of a great number of celebrated Jewish physicians, viz. Haroun of Cordova, Yehuda Chaioug of Fez, Amram of Toledo, &c."
Although the prejudice against the Jewish religion was great at the commencement of the eleventh century, and the persecutions were both frequent and bitter, the medical skill of the Jews was still greatly admired and generally acknowledged; and Mr. Carmoly speaks thus on the subject:
"Jewish medicine about the commencement of the eleventh century advanced with gigantic steps, and assumed a firm and decided character. This was in consequence of its introduction into the schools of the Rabbis, who became almost the sole physicians of Europe, 'The Oriental languages,' said the learned Cabanis, 'were familiar to them, and at a time when Galen, Hippocrates, and the other fathers of medicine were only known in the west through the medium of Syriac and Arabic translations; the Jews were almost the only persons who knew how to treat diseases with some system, from the advantages derived from the works of antiquity.'
"In fact they then devoted themselves so much to medicine, that this science became one of the principal objects of their labour. Each prince, each prelate, had his Israelite physician, who was more than once involved in religious controversies.
"However this may be, the superiority of the Jewish physicians over other physicians, was so generally recognised, that Huarte, one of the best minds that the Spanish nation has produced, has endeavoured to prove, that, by the Galenical theories, their temperament is that which was most adapted to medicine. The subtilties on which he founds his opinion, says Cabanis, fail to convince of its truth, but it is very certain that even at his time, the most sought for, and probably most skilful physicians, were Jews.
"In fact, the Jewish physicians were well received, not only in the palaces of the Mussulman and the Christian princes, but even popes and prelates had them in their service, notwithstanding the canons which declared that no Jew could be permitted to be a physician, or to administer remedies to a Christian, as we will see in a future part of this work."