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Literary Notices.

(Continued from No. 2 vol. II)

History of the Jewish Physicians, From the French of E. Carmoly, by John R. W. Dunbar, M.D. &c. Baltimore, 8vo, pp. 94.

We have too long neglected to communicate to our readers the most important portions of the lives of our ancient physicians, chiefly owing to the many topics which claimed an insertion; and when we broke off in our second number of the current year in the midst of the life of Aben Ezra, we had no idea of being separated so long from our subject. We therefore now lay aside several matters, which also demand discussion, merely to continue with the present article, which we are sure must be of considerable interest to our readers; and we sincerely regret that we are not always able to furnish literary pieces, as our own occupation does not permit us to devote much time for reading and reviewing, and our valued correspondents have hitherto not turned their attention to furnishing us with articles of this kind. Still, we hope that if our work should live long enough, we may be enabled, through the kindness of our friends, to give it occasionally a more literary turn than we have been able to do hitherto. The truth is, we have in this country but few literary men of leisure, for all are engaged in some active pursuit to gain a livelihood, and literature is here a recreation only, not a steady employment, as it is with many Israelites in Germany and the other parts of continental Europe. Much as this fact is to be deplored, it is, nevertheless, one which has its rise in the peculiar circumstances of this country, and some years must elapse, and education and wealth must become more diffused among us, before the pursuit of knowledge can become the exclusive occupation of our people. But we are straying from our subject, we meant to write an apology for our apparent neglect, and not an essay; so let us proceed with our task.

“For a long period the reputation of the writings of this great man (Aben Ezra) has been established. We notice among them an unpublished work upon Theoretical and Practical Medicine, divided into nine parts. This work, which appears to have been composed in Arabic, is found in the Hebrew tongue, with other medical manuscripts, in the Royal Library of Paris, ancien fonds, No. 381. It is entitled Sefer ha Nisionot, book of proofs, because the author only treats of remedies which have been tried and approved. We should not confound this writing with a treatise of Judicial Astrology, which bears the same name, and is found in MS. in the library of Oppenheimer, at Oxford.

“With regard to the period of the death of our Aben Ezra, so contradictorily reported by his biographers, behold what we have read at the end of the Commentary on the Pentateuch, an old MS. in the Royal Library of Paris:—‘On Monday, the first day of the month, Adar, in the year 4927, (February, 1167,) the wise master, Abraham Aben Ezra, died.’ He was about sixty-five years of age, but when he perceived the approach of death, he composed for himself an epitaph, in which he took for a text, a part of the fourth verse of the 12th chap. of Genesis: Abraham was sixty and five years of age when he departed from Haran, as much to make an allusion to his own age as to give another sense to the word mé Haran, of Haran.

“He changed it into mé Haron, and added to it the word of, which signifies full of grief; as much as to say, he, Abraham, was sixty and five years of age, when he left this sad and miserable world.”

There is a good deal of confusion in the duration of Aben Ezra’s life, as given above. For, taking the date of his birth, as given by Mr. Carmoly, at 1092, and that of his death, 1167, he would have lived seventy-five and not sixty-five years; besides the verse which he applied to himself is: “Abraham was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran,” (mé Haran); consequently both quotation and date prove that there is an error, probably in the translation of Dr. Dunbar, by inadvertently taking the French mode of numbering sixty and fifteen for sixty and five. But according to De Rossi’s Lexicon of Jewish writers, there is a great uncertainty regarding the dates of Aben Ezra’s birth and death, though but little respecting the duration of his life, which he gives as conceded to have been seventy-five years. De Rossi, after discussing the probability of the conflicting dates of his death, which range from 1148, entirely improbable, to 1194, at length settles upon 1168, and his birth consequently took place in 1093, both dates a year later than Carmoly’s assumption. The place of his demise is said to be the island of Rhodes. This confusion in regard to the facts of the life of so great a man as Aben Ezra, must prove how great the difficulty to obtain the correct data for the lives of eminent Israelites must be. They were wanderers, like the subject of our present remarks, who was successively in 1145 in Mantua, 1156 in Rhodes, 1159 in England, and 1167 in Rome, from all of which places he published one of his books; and neither their contemporaries nor their immediate successors thought it worth while to gather up the floating fragments of the doings and sayings of their departed friends and teachers. The gentiles were most intent upon persecuting the Jews, and many times in destroying their works; hence from the neglect of their friends and enemies our great names are mere shadows upon the page of history; we know they lived and their works prove that they lived well; but their acts, their joys, their sufferings, are inscribed upon a sandy beach, which each wave, as it rolls in, effaces for ever. Is not this the sad lot of our race? But we must not dwell too long, as we have to proceed farther.

“The fall of the Ommiades, and the wars between the Mahommedans and the Christians, drove many of the learned Jews of Spain into the middle provinces of France, where they carried their science and knowledge into the Jewish schools, which were already distinguished. We place at the head of these learned emigrants, Jehuda Aben Tybbon and Joseph ben Kimchi.

“Jehuda ben Saul Aben Tybbon, was born at Grenada, or as this city is called in the Hebrew, Rimon (pomegranate). He has received the merited title of Abi he Maatikin, the father of interpreters, from his ability in translating the Arabic writings into Hebrew. He translated, very satisfactorily, the works on Grammar of Eben Djanah, the philosophic books of Saadia Gaon and Jehuda ha-Levy, the moral writings of Solomon ben-Gabirol and of Bechai ben-Joseph.

“These excellent translations were made at Lunel, where this learned man lived in retirement, and where he still lived as late as 1199, the period at which he finished the work of Bechai. He was himself the author of various works, among which we notice two literary epistles, the manuscripts of which are found in our library.

“One of these, entitled Igheret ha-Mussar, addressed to his son Samuel, who was also a physician, and of whom we shall speak again, contains many particulars on the condition of medicine. Among other things, he recommended one day in each week to be devoted to the study of pharmacy, to study botany thoroughly, and to make use of no remedy of whose virtue he was not well acquainted. From which it resulted, that at that period, in France, the physician was likewise a pharmaceutist, as was the practice then, and still is among the Arabs.

“Benjamin of Tudela, makes mention of our physician in the first chapter of his voyages, also of Joseph ben-Isaac ben-Kimchi, who was established at Narbonne, when this traveller visited that place about the year 1160. He was like his countryman Aben Tybbon, a translator and physician, who quotes him in the preface of his translation of the book of Bechai. Joseph Kimchi is better known as a poet, grammarian and commentator, than as a translator and physician. He has written numerous works upon various subjects, but none of them up to our day, have been honoured by being printed. We could cite, as the more remarkable, his Commentaries on the Bible, his Polemical works against Christianity, his Hebrew Grammar, and his Moral and Sacred Poems. Many of these writings which we have seen in manuscript, deserve to be better known, particularly his works on grammar, which are often quoted by his son, the celebrated David Kimchi.

With regard to the school of Montpelier, Benjamin of Tudela, who visited it when on his tour in France, in speaking of the Rabbis of that city, does not mention any one of them as being a physician; probably at that period the practice of this art was interdicted by the intrigues of the priests. It is not until 1180, that William VIII, Lord of Montpelier, passed an edict for their protection; by which, privileges were granted to all persons without exception, to profess the sciences of medicine in the university of Montpelier. Therefore, from that period, Jewish physicians became numerous in that city, as we shall see in the following paragraphs.

“We have just spoken of Benjamin of Tudela, and his travels, in reference to the physicians of France. As this traveller mentions other Jewish physicians, we shall follow him into Italy and Greece. In Italy he first visited Ponzoles, where there are warm baths. ‘Whoever bathes there,’ says he, ‘will find himself cured or relieved; therefore, all the sick of Lombardy came thither during the summer.’ He then went to Salernum, where he visited the celebrated medical school. He found many learned Rabbis in that city; but none of them, as far as he could discern, taught medicine any longer.

“It was only at Amalfi, a half day’s journey from Salernum, that he met with a Rabbi who practised medicine, named Chananel. Benjamin, (while he presents him to us as the only Rabbi professing the healing art in Italy at that period,) preserves silence in reference to the works of which he is the reputed author. Not does he give us more copious details in reference to the literary works of Solomon ha Mizri, physician of the Emperor Manual Comnena; all that he tells us is, that this physician was in great favor with the emperor, and that owing to his influence, the Jews of Constantinople enjoyed a great amelioration in their servitude, which was then very severe, particularly in Greece. For example, no Jew dared to mount a horse, except the imperial physician.

“Another physician of Constantinople, of the time of Benjamin of Tudela, was Elias ben Jehuda, chief of the Karaite community of that city. He is probably the son of the celebrated Jehuda ben Elias Hadassi, author of a great work, written at Constantinople in 1140, on the Precepts of the Karaites.

“The Karaite sect has produced many distinguished physicians, principally during the third and fourth century. Their doctors imitated in that respect the Rabbis, who were frequently in the habit of uniting to their rabbinical duties the practice of medicine, because the profession of a Rabbi did not afford them any means of support.”

(To be Continued.)