Page 192 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

Basic HTML Version

lenged, how interesting it would have been to learn of similar
Friedenwald also wrote a great deal about medieval medicine.
Not unexpectedly, he mentioned Maimonides much more than
once. But, rather than confining himself to the great Cordovan
physician-philosopher of the twelfth century, Friedenwald also
held a readily apparent appreciation of Italian-Jewish doctors. It is
possible, if not probable, that the voluminous writings of remark­
able Rambam would have completely overshadowed and even ob­
scured the historical significance of these Italian Jews, were it not
for Friedenwald’s research on the subject.
Yet Friedenwald’s works were not simply apologia. For in­
stance, his portrayal of Doctor Zahalom in 17th century Rome is
hardly a positive portrait. Friedenwald tells us how Zahalom, and
other doctors, fled the plague-ridden city, leaving their dying pa­
tients behind. But, by providing us with all this detail, he paints a
complete picture of the black plague, from medical minutiae to so­
cial consequences to legal concerns, both within the Jewish ghetto
and throughout the broader city confines.
Friedenwald also wrote about syphilis, and about accusations
that it was a Jewish plague, spread by “Maranno” (Converso) doc­
tors in the fifteenth century. Reading Friedenwald, we realize that
the “great masquerader,” as syphilis is still known in medical text­
books, was known not just as the Spanish disease, or the Gallic dis­
ease, but also, at times, as the “Jewish disease.” In other words, it
was “everyone else’s” disease, just as AIDS is today, in a way. For
anyone naive enough to think that conspiratorial causes of conta­
gion are invented by modern paranoia, or the American mass me­
dia, or public distrust of “corrupt” government institutions, we can
look to Friedenwald to remind us how mercilessly the human mind
manufactures explanations of disease causation, whatever the time
or place.
Another chapter in
The Jews and Medicine
concerns the diseases
of the Jews in Eastern Europe, and is about the way that nutritional
deficiencies and cramped ghetto quarters and the tailoring trade
affected residents of the Russian city of Kiev before 1900. We read