Jerusalem’s Medical Tradition

From biblical balms to 21st century medical research, the evolution of medicine in Jerusalem is the topic of a fascinating exhibit at the Tower of David Museum.

For thousands of years, Jerusalem has been a center for Middle Eastern traditions of medicine. Jerusalem: A Medical Diagnosis, an exhibition now on at the Tower of David Museum, examines the history of medicine in the city over millennia, from the time of Kings David and Hezekiah to the modern day Shaare Zedek and Hadassah medical centers (founded in 1902 and 1939, respectively).

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Photo: Oded Antman

Objects have been brought from around the world and many are being shown to the public for the first time. Among the artifacts are photo albums from the Rothschild Archive in England, an x-ray machine dating back to the 1920s, the door knocker from the Order of St John’s Eye Hospital — on loan from the Order of St John, London – which according to belief came from the original Crusader hospital. There are also record books from Shaare Zedek  — including a newly digitized record book of the wounded during the 1948 War of Independence.

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To view the entire book, click here.

Curator Dr. Nirit Shalev-Khalif writes, “The exhibition recounts the cures that have survived from Biblical times and reports on how sickness and plague have changed the fate of history. It shows how the holiness and status of Jerusalem brought streams of pilgrims, priests, scholars and travelers to its gates. Many of them needed medical services while others provided medical relief. It focuses on the remedies that were invented along with wonder drugs and potions.

“It also narrates the wars of faith and missionary activity in the 19th century and early 20th century which ironically led to the establishment of hospitals and clinics: a sanatorium established by the London Society for promoting Christianity Among the Jews, Marienstift Children’s Hospital, Meyer Rothschild Hospital – the first Jewish hospital outside the Old City, Bikur Holim, English Mission Hospital and the Italian Hospital.”

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Image: St. John’s Eye Hospital, Jerusalem (circa 1890s). Courtesy Wikipedia.

“The positive outcome was the establishment of hospitals that made Jerusalem a center of advanced medicine. In a city that has always been divided by religions, today doctors and nurses of different faiths work side by side treating patients from all backgrounds.”

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Image: Shaarei Zedek hospital

The exhibition was funded by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, which was founded in Jerusalem in 1901 and has since become one of the largest generic drug companies in the world. Exhibit advisors were Prof. Zohar Amar of Bar Ilan University whose specialties include natural history in ancient times and the history of medicine and ethno-pharmacology; Dr. Estée Dvorjetski of the Department of Archeology at Haifa University whose research includes medicine and public health during the Greek, Roman and Byzantine Periods; Prof Eran Dolev, Associate Professor of Medicine at Tel Aviv University and former Surgeon-General of the Israeli Defense Forces, an expert in military medicine in pre-State Israel; and medical adviser Prof. Rephael Udassin, head of the Department of Pediatric Surgery at Hadassah University Hospital, Ein-Karem.

The Museum has also put out a special request regarding the Shaarei Zedek record book of the 1948 wounded, asking the public to provide stories, photographs and memorabilia of those events. “You are welcome to browse, research, be touched by the stories and respond. If you can identify anyone from the pages of the journal, please share it with us exh@tower.org.il or on  our Facebook page.”

Jerusalem: A Medical Diagnosis runs through April 2015. For more information, visit the Tower of David Museum website.

A permanent exhibit of the history of medicine in Jerusalem is on display at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

About Rachel Neiman

A veteran media professional who has lived in Israel since 1984, Rachel has been part of the ISRAEL21c organization since 2008. Prior to that, she served as managing editor of Globes Online, the English-language edition of Israel’s leading business daily, and before that, at The Jerusalem Post, as a business reporter, feature writer, and consumer columnist. Rachel began writing about Israeli technology companies at LINK Israel’s Business and Technology Magazine and is a professional Hebrew to English translator. In her spare time, she is an active member of the Havurat Tel Aviv congregation, and the Holyland Hash House Harriers, part of an international running and drinking disorganization.