What Today’s Academic Scholars Can Learn from Their Precursors

Reviewing a recent scholarly monograph on talmudic medicine, Shai Secunda finds it “philologically sloppy, theoretically obtuse, and astonishingly lazy,” while at the same time demonstrating “the chutzpah to dismiss earlier scholars for not having been trained in the fields of knowledge that [the author] never actually puts to work.” Some of those earlier scholars in fact still have quite a lot to offer, and even if their works need updating, they have been spared “the toxic positivity” that, according to Secunda, produces so much mediocre scholarship today:

Julius Preuss was one of the few rabbi-doctors of old-school Jewish studies (Wissenschaft des Judentums) who could actually write prescriptions. Versed in Jewish learning, competent in Semitic philology, and trained in medicine at the University of Berlin, Preuss in 1911 published a 735-page tome called Biblical and Talmudic Medicine that capped a short life of intense research into anatomy, pathology, therapy, pharmacology, and dietetics in classical Jewish literature and especially the Babylonian Talmud, where medical discussions abound. He died two years later at the age of fifty-two, leaving behind a prominent rabbinic and academic family that counts among its ranks a chief rabbi, heads of yeshivas, and university professors. One of the founding fathers of the history of medicine, Karl Friedrich Jakob Sudhoff, eulogized Preuss as no less than a “master of historic criticism.”

Like a good German philologist, Preuss discerned better readings in medieval rabbinic manuscripts and sniffed out cognates of the original Hebrew and Aramaic medical terminology in Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Persian, and Arabic. A comprehensive encyclopedia rather than a thesis-driven monograph, Biblical and Talmudic Medicine still affords a dizzying view of a late antique world seething with disease and teeming with medical experts, local doctors, accepted practices, and indigenous therapies, including those discussed, debated, collated, and collected in the Babylonian Talmud. If nothing else, the sheer scope, ambition, and seriousness of Biblical and Talmudic Medicine conveys something of the consequence of the history of medicine. We won’t be visiting the bloodletter anytime soon, nor will we be consuming honey-soaked wheat cakes in the event of heart palpitations (two therapies recorded in the Talmud). Yet, studying how our forebearers dwelled in their mortal bodies, struggled to care for the infirm, and even flourished, to the best of their abilities, against a world of pain gives us a precious view of how they understood themselves and the cosmos, how they navigated situations of life and death, and how far we’ve come.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Academia, Jewish studies, Medicine, Talmud


Universities Are in Thrall to a Constituency That Sees Israel as an Affront to Its Identity

Commenting on the hearings of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday about anti-Semitism on college campuses, and the dismaying testimony of three university presidents, Jonah Goldberg writes:

If some retrograde poltroon called for lynching black people or, heck, if they simply used the wrong adjective to describe black people, the all-seeing panopticon would spot it and deploy whatever resources were required to deal with the problem. If the spark of intolerance flickered even for a moment and offended the transgendered, the Muslim, the neurodivergent, or whomever, the fire-suppression systems would rain down the retardant foams of justice and enlightenment. But calls for liquidating the Jews? Those reside outside the sensory spectrum of the system.

It’s ironic that the term colorblind is “problematic” for these institutions such that the monitoring systems will spot any hint of it, in or out of the classroom (or admissions!). But actual intolerance for Jews is lathered with a kind of stealth paint that renders the same systems Jew-blind.

I can understand the predicament. The receptors on the Islamophobia sensors have been set to 11 for so long, a constituency has built up around it. This constituency—which is multi-ethnic, non-denominational, and well entrenched among students, administrators, and faculty alike—sees Israel and the non-Israeli Jews who tolerate its existence as an affront to their worldview and Muslim “identity.” . . . Blaming the Jews for all manner of evils, including the shortcomings of the people who scapegoat Jews, is protected because, at minimum, it’s a “personal truth,” and for some just the plain truth. But taking offense at such things is evidence of a mulish inability to understand the “context.”

Shocking as all that is, Goldberg goes on to argue, the anti-Semitism is merely a “symptom” of the insidious ideology that has taken over much of the universities as well as an important segment of the hard left. And Jews make the easiest targets.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, University