Jerusalem in the early 19th century was nothing more than a squalid hole in the wall. Animal carcasses lay in the road, gnawed upon by stray dogs, and sewage flowed through the streets. Lacking any kind of proper sanitation, it was no surprise that disease was rampant in the city. Indeed, in the 1860s a cholera epidemic killed off one-third of the population.

Yet there was nary a doctor or a medical facility to be found in Jerusalem. Patients were “treated” by shamans and butchers using spells, talismans and special herbs. Moses Montefiore, on one of his trips to the Holy City, was aghast at the sight, but his idea for a hospital was vehemently opposed by the old-guard Ashkenazi establishment both in the Land of Israel and abroad. After all, a physician would naturally bring modern ideas to the city, and that was anathema to the ultra-Orthodox of the times.

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