Medicine and the German Jews

Medicine and the German Jews: A History

JOHN M. EFRON
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1npf0k
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    Medicine and the German Jews
    Book Description:

    Medicine played an important role in the early secularization and eventual modernization of German Jewish culture. And as both physicians and patients Jews exerted a great influence on the formation of modern medical discourse and practice. This fascinating book investigates the relationship between German Jews and medicine from medieval times until its demise under the Nazis.John Efron examines the rise of the German Jewish physician in the Middle Ages and his emergence as a new kind of secular, Jewish intellectual in the early modern period and beyond. The author shows how nineteenth-century medicine regarded Jews as possessing distinct physical and mental pathologies, which in turn led to the emergence in modern Germany of the "Jewish body" as a cultural and scientific idea. He demonstrates why Jews flocked to the medical profession in Germany and Austria, noting that by 1933, 50 percent of Berlin's and 60 percent of Vienna's physicians were Jewish. He discusses the impact of this on Jewish and German culture, concluding with the fate of Jewish doctors under the Nazis, whose assault on them was designed to eliminate whatever intimacy had been built up between Germans and their Jewish doctors over the centuries.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13359-2
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-12)

    We live in a medicalized world. In the West, health, beauty, fitness, weight, diets, miracle drugs, alternative medicine, and breakthrough surgical procedures all animate a considerable portion of late twentieth-century conversation. And if this is the liturgy of contemporary discourse, then health clubs and gymnasiums are our culture’s secularized sites of worship.

    Medicine is also big business. Health care costs continue to skyrocket, pharmaceutical giants rake in enormous profits, and people spend vast sums of money on “doctor-recommended” items that range from painkillers to athletic footwear, all in the quest to make the body function or just look better. The...

  5. CHAPTER 1 THE EMERGENCE OF THE MEDIEVAL JEWISH PHYSICIAN
    (pp. 13-33)

    The social link between the Jews and medicine dates to the Middle Ages, for it was then that medicine began to be practiced by significant numbers of Jews. One reason for the profession’s popularity among Jews was that from the medieval period until the eighteenth century, physician-rabbis were highly visible figures on the Jewish social landscape. This had a decided effect on the culture and value system of the Jews, bolstering the prestige of medicine, securing its image as a noble undertaking, validating medicine’s compatibility with traditional Judaism, and helping its more illustrious practitioners become beloved within their communities. In...

  6. CHAPTER 2 JEWISH PHYSICIANS: IN AND OUT OF THE GERMAN GHETTO
    (pp. 34-63)

    For 1,140 years, from the first mention of an anonymous Jewish doctor in the service of Archbishop Arno of Salzburg in 798 CE to the decertification of Jewish doctors under the Nazis in September 1938, the presence of Jewish medical practitioners in German-speaking Europe had been constant.¹ While their story is less well documented than that of their co-religionists in Southern Europe, Jewish doctors were also prevalent throughout German lands during the course of the Middle Ages. Like their medieval Spanish and Italian contemporaries, with whom they were in contact, Jewish doctors in Germany were trained in an apprenticeship system,...

  7. CHAPTER 3 HASKALAH AND HEALING: JEWISH MEDICINE IN THE AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT
    (pp. 64-104)

    The modern Jewish doctor, that is, the physician who expressed Jewish concerns in the course of his medical practice, first appeared in Germany in the eighteenth century. These were men who took up the cause of Jewish health, their aim being to alleviate the medical lot of the Jewish people. Emerging in this era of heightened social and political expectations, these Jewish physicians were infused with the intellectual energy of the Enlightenment. They were ideologically optimistic, faithful to science, and dedicated to serving their people as loyally as their predecessors had once treated royalty and clergy.

    One of the important...

  8. CHAPTER 4 THE JEWISH BODY DEGENERATE?
    (pp. 105-150)

    While the Haskalah formally ushered in the modern discursive critique of the Jews’ body, such sensibilities continued to enjoy wide currency long after the Age of Enlightenment had passed. What began in the eighteenth century as an internal assessment by a handful of Central European Jewish doctors about the pathological condition of Jews developed into a widespread theme in European and American culture in the modern period.

    In the nineteenth century, the age of empire, robustness and virility were seen as the true hallmarks of national greatness. Yet bereft of the normative and most basic attributes of nationhood—a common...

  9. CHAPTER 5 THE PSYCHOPATHOLOGY OF EVERYDAY JEWISH LIFE
    (pp. 151-185)

    Karl Kraus, the Viennese Jewish satirist and cultural critic, once quipped, “Psycho-analysis is the disease of emancipated Jews; the religious ones are satisfied with diabetes.” Kraus’ biting remark, which implies that religiosity and ritual observance are incompatible with political and civic freedom, goes to the heart of much of the fin-de-siècle’s medical representations of Jews. Whether implicit or explicit, that discourse established firm links between ethnicity and disease, between varieties of Judaism and various pathological states. So, as surprising as Kraus’ remark may appear today, it would have resonated with familiarity to his contemporaries, for such notions were commonplace expressions...

  10. CHAPTER 6 IN PRAISE OF JEWISH RITUAL: MODERN MEDICINE AND THE DEFENSE OF ANCIENT TRADITIONS
    (pp. 186-233)

    To most Jews in modern Western Europe, science, and this includes medicine, did not pose a mortal danger to Judaism, notwithstanding the fear of rabbinical authorities in cases such as the burial controversy of 1772. Rather, science and Judaism have enjoyed a complementary relationship with each other. The Jewish scientist was not swayed by the nineteenth-century French philosopher Auguste Comte, who proclaimed that in the coming positivist order, scientists, rather than priests, would be canonized. Few Jewish scientists have ever suggested that a man in a lab coat would or should replace the rabbi in his long, black coat. On...

  11. CHAPTER 7 BEFORE THE STORM: JEWISH DOCTORS IN THE KAISERREICH AND WEIMAR REPUBLIC
    (pp. 234-264)

    At the close of the nineteenth century, coterminous with the antisemitic claims and counterclaims about the Jews’ body and the influences of Jewish ritual on it, attacks and polemics against the Jewish doctor were revived in Germany. Resuscitating many of the identical claims to those of the early modern period, the new ones added novel, modern twists but retained a pre-modern quality that is striking. One of the elements that distinguish the older campaign from the modern one is that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Jewish doctor was vilified as a medical outsider. He was denounced for his...

  12. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 265-270)

    As part of their war of extermination against European Jewry, the Nazis obliterated the prolonged and intense German Jewish involvement with medicine. Never to be recaptured, the historical moment had passed, and the intimate relationship, once so intense, had come to an end. Stretching from the Middle Ages to the Holocaust, the Jewish engagement with medicine was truly reflective of Jewish life and values. Because Judaism regards the physical and mental well-being of its adherents as a sine qua non of a religiously fulfilled and fulfilling experience, the sages of antiquity saw the doctor as playing a vital role. For...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 271-338)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 339-344)