JEWS IN THE MEDICAL & LIFE SCIENCES

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Prior to presenting his appeal to Oliver Cromwell for the readmission of the Jews, who had been expelled from England in 1290, Manasseh ben Israel wrote in The Hope of Israel 1: "Hence it may be seen that God hath not left us; for if one persecutes us, another receives us civilly and courteously; and if this prince treats us ill, another treats us well; if one banisheth us out of his country, another invites us with a thousand privileges ... and do we not see that those Republiques do flourish and much increase in trade who admit the Israelites?"  But it was not for their economic prowess alone that the Jews were valued, it was for a whole host of skills, not the least of which was their expertise in the medical arts.

Winston Churchill, writing of the expulsion referred to above, states: "The Jews, held up to universal hatred, were pillaged, maltreated, and finally expelled from the realm.  Exception was made for certain physicians without whose skill persons of consequence might have lacked due attention."2  Indeed, more often than not, the chief court physicians of the rulers of Europe were Jews or crypto-Jews.  To cite but a few examples, Frederick III of the Holy Roman Empire, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, Elizabeth I of England, Louis XIV of France, Catherine de Medici, and Catherine the Great of Russia all at one time or another employed Jewish personal physicians.3  Nor was it only the secular rulers of Christendom that depended on Jewish medical skills.  As the Spanish philosopher and theologian Ramon Lull (Raymond Lully) complained in the thirteenth century: "Jews are universally entrusted by the great with the care of their health.  Nor is the Church free from this abomination, for nearly every monastery has its Jewish physician."4  Among the many Popes who maintained Jewish personal physicians were Martin IV, Nicholas IV,  Boniface VIII, Alexander VI, Julius II, Leo X, Clement VII, Paul III, Gregory XV, Urban VIII, and Innocent X.5

Much the same situation prevailed in Dar al-Islam, where, e.g., Maimonides served as court physician to Saladin the Great's Vizier Al-Fadhil and later to Saladin's son and successor.  Jews also figured prominently as translators and transmitters to the Moslem world of the medical scholarship of the ancient Greeks, and would later play a similar role in transmitting to Europe the scholarship of Moslem physicians such as Avicenna.  In the late Middle Ages, the Jews, numbering only about 1% of Europe's population, constituted roughly half of its physicians.6  During the last of the great European Jewish expulsions in the 1930s, the medical centers of Vienna and Berlin lost nearly half of their physicians and the majority of their medical school faculties.7  Many fled to America, helping to fuel its meteoric rise to preeminence in biomedical research; Jews have accounted for some 40% of US Nobel Prizes in medicine and constitute over one-third of the combined membership of the life sciences divisions of the US National Academy of Sciences and its affiliated Institute of Medicine.

The following links contain lists of prominent Jewish scientists and recipients of major international awards in the biomedical field.

Some of the more notable Jewish contributions to the medical and biological sciences in the modern era are listed below.  (The names of non-Jewish scientists mentioned in the accompanying discussion have been denoted with the superscript "+" in order to avoid confusion.)

NOTES
1. Manasseh ben Israel, The Hope of Israel (London, 1652), reprinted in Manasseh ben Israel's Mission to Oliver Cromwell, edited by Lucien Wolf (London, 1901, pp. 50-51).
2. Winston Churchill, History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Vol. 1 (Cassell, London, 1956).
3. Frank Heynick, Jews and Medicine: An Epic Saga (KTAV, Hoboken, NJ, 2002).
4. Ibid., p. 123.
5. Ibid., pp. 124,130-131.
6. Ibid., p. 13.
7. For statistics on Vienna, see Vienna and the Jews, 1867-1938: A Cultural History, by Steven Beller (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1989, pp. 36-37); on Berlin, see Germany Without Jews, by Bernt Engelmann (Bantam, New York, 1984, pp. 59-60).
8. Billy Woodward et al., Scientists Greater than Einstein: The Biggest Lifesavers of the Twentieth Century (Linden, Chicago, 2009, pp. 315, 321).
9. Heynick,
Jews and Medicine: An Epic Saga, p.461.
10. See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1119266.
11. See profile of Michael S. Levine by Karen Hopkin in The Scientist  (Vol. 21, No. 3, 2007, p. 58).
12. Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo, by Sean Carroll (W.W. Norton, New York, 2005, p. 9).
13. See Discovering the RNA Double Helix and Hybridization, by Alexander Varshavsky in Cell (Vol. 127, 29 Deceember 2006, pp. 1295-1297).
14. The image reconstruction algorithm employed in all tomographic imaging is based on the Radon transform, which was invented by the Austrian mathematician Johann Radon+ in 1917.  In his paper, Radon+ states that his result is based on the prior work of Hermann Minkowski and Paul Funk.  Minkowski was the younger brother of the above-mentioned physiologist Oskar Minkowski.  Paul Funk was a Czech-Jewish mathematician who survived internment in the Nazi  concentration camp at Terezín (Theresienstadt).  Gábor Frank obtained the first patents for x-ray tomographic scanning (1938 patents in both Hungary and Germany).  Unlike Funk, he did not return from the camps.  See Made in Hungary, by Andrew Simon (Simon Publications, Safety Harbor, FL, 1999, p. 266).

* Metchnikoff had a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father; Sarett, Vane, and Warburg had Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers.

+ Non-Jewish.


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