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Jews and Medicine: An Epic Saga

This book is in print and available directly from the publisher Ktav. Click on the link below this page to visit their website


For more than a millennium, in so many lands, under all varieties of circumstances, and even in the most intolerant surroundings, Jewish physicians have been the medical superstars of society at large. And their less renowned brethren have been as much as fifty times – 5,000 percent – overrepresented in the profession compared to their gentile colleagues.


In this 600-page book, unique in its scope, I endeavored to tell the whole sweeping panorama of Jews in medicine. We begin with pre-historic practices and believes about health and illness, then move to the Biblical era and the Mosaic rules. We see how in the Diaspora, Jewish physicians became the masters of the rational Greco-Roman medical theories of Hippocrates and Galen, which reached their zenith in the Islamic Golden Age in the centuries around the turn of the second millennium. We trace the role of Jews in the transmission of this classical medical knowledge back to Europe as Italy, Spain, and France awakened from the Dark Ages and transitioned into the Renaissance.


After a brief detour to the Orient and the Chinese Jewish physicians, we follow the shift from southern to northern Europe, beginning with the development of microscopy in Netherlands, as medical knowledge evolved into a true science. We see the pivotal role of Jewish medical men in the enormous breakthroughs in, particularly, the Germanic lands in the course of the nineteenth century and the triumph over infectious disease. We follow the great triumphs and tragedies of the twentieth century, among which, the development of psychoanalysis in Austria, chemotherapy in Germany, antibiotics in England, and how great advances by Jews in hematology and genetics were perversely used against them during the Third Reich. We consider the development of medicine in Israel and conclude with the role of Jews, beginning in colonial times, in the rise of America as the predominant medical superpower in the twentieth century.


Most chapters highlight the life and work of prominent Jewish medical men – Maimonides, Nostradamus, Paul Ehrlich, Sigmund Freud, Selman Waksman, to name just a few. But these are always told against the broader backdrop of the scientific, social, and political circumstances of the respective times and places.


Jews and Medicine was reviewed very positively in some 20 journals, magazines, and newspapers, including The New England Journal of Medicine.