Off the Pulpit

Jewish Doctors!

In the 12th century the great sage Maimonides wrote, “One who is ill has not only the right but the obligation to seek medical aid.” Jews have long been overrepresented in the medical field. To take one statistic quoted by Sherwin Nuland (a Jewish Doctor) in his short biography of Maimonides (a Jewish doctor): In the beginning of the fourteenth century, Jews comprised only 5% of the population of Marseilles. Almost half of the city’s doctors were Jewish.

This connection endured over time. In Vienna before the second World War, close to three quarters of the doctors were of Jewish origin.

While some religious traditions forbade medical treatment (Saint Bernard famously declared that monks who took medicine violated the principles of the church), Judaism has long insisted on human healing in addition to Divine mercy.

That danger to life justifies violating the Torah is a principle held by the greatest Jewish authorities (R. Yosef Karo Shulhan Aruch: Orah Hayyim 329:2; R. Meir Kagan, Mishna Berurah, ad. loc., s.v. kemehtza; R. Moshe Feinstein, Igros Moshe: Orah Hayyim I: 132).

Those who have the knowledge and power to save the sick are called upon to do so whenever they can, and medical knowledge is a great blessing. As Maimonides wrote, “Our love of God is commensurate with our knowledge of God’s ways.”