Shortlisted for the Folklore Society's Katharine Briggs Award 2021
Jews have been active participants in shaping the healing practices of the communities of eastern Europe. Their approach largely combined the ideas of traditional Ashkenazi culture with the heritage of medieval and early modern medicine. Holy rabbis and faith healers, as well as Jewish barbers, innkeepers, and pedlars, all dispensed cures, purveyed folk remedies for different ailments, and gave hope to the sick and their families based on kabbalah, numerology, prayer, and magical Hebrew formulas. Nevertheless, as new sources of knowledge penetrated the traditional world, modern medical ideas gained widespread support. Jews became court physicians to the nobility, and when the universities were opened up to them many also qualified as doctors. At every stage, medicine proved an important field for cross-cultural contacts.
Jewish historians and scholars of folk medicine alike will discover here fascinating sources never previously explored—manuscripts, printed publications, and memoirs in Yiddish and Hebrew but also in Polish, English, German, Russian, and Ukrainian. Marek Tuszewicki's careful study of these documents has teased out therapeutic advice, recipes, magical incantations, kabbalistic methods, and practical techniques, together with the ethical considerations that such approaches entailed. His research fills a gap in the study of folk medicine in eastern Europe, shedding light on little-known aspects of Ashkenazi culture, and on how the need to treat sickness brought Jews and their neighbours together.
Reviews'A brilliant resource and an inevitable point of reference for further studies of Jewish medical customs and beliefs in late Ashkenaz. The author has compiled a wide range of material and presents it as an enthralling story about a world that is no more . . . a fascinating book, certainly a recommended read not only for academics but for anyone with an interest in eastern European Jewry.'
Agata Paluch, The Polish Review
'Marek Tuszewicki’s book is impressive in its broad scope and ambition . . . written in an engaging manner, it offers a synthetic picture while not stinting on detail.'
Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska, Central Europe
'When people's health is on the line, what people do is a very good indication of what they think. Behaviour related to health gives exceptional insights into the thought world of otherwise inarticulate, 'simple' Jews, as well of the more educated strata of society. The cures Jews used in nineteenth-century eastern Europe demonstrate how they understood the material world, while the frequent exchange of ideas and methods with non-Jews shows their openness to different perspectives when they felt it was necessary to achieve vital goals. Marek Tuszewicki's study should be required reading for anyone dealing seriously with east European Jewish social history and the history of modernization, especially the relations between Jews and non-Jews and how world-views change. By the way, it is also fascinating.'
Shaul Stampfer, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
'This is a meticulous study of the traditional Jewish medical practices of eastern Europe. The source base in Polish and Yiddish is impressive, as is the comprehensive survey of secondary literature. The approach is very original, combining nineteenth-century ethnography with modern anthropological interpretative methods. This makes the book rich with material, but analytical and interpretative at the same time.'
Marcin Wodziński, University of Wrocław