In sickness and in health

A new, permanent exhibit at Shaare Zedek hospital celebrates mediacl history in Jerusalem.

shaare 1900 88.298 (photo credit: )
shaare 1900 88.298
(photo credit: )
Shaare Zedek Hospital, founded 104 years ago, has a reputation as the oldest Jerusalem medical center still in operation. It is also the site of a unique permanent exhibition on Medicines and Medical Equipment Throughout the Ages. The English title is "For Good, For Blessing, For Healing and For Life." The exhibition has three "fathers": the hospital, Yad Ben Zvi and Bar Ilan University. Several months ago the director general of Shaare Zedek, Prof. Jonathan HaLevi met Mr. Zvi Zameret, the director of Yad Ben Zvi who suggested organizing a project to commemorate the way medicine has been practiced in Jerusalem throughout the city's history. The very next day HaLevi happened upon Dr. Zohar Amar's material on traditional cures in the Holy City. Dr. Amar, who heads the Institute of Medical History at Bar-Ilan (there are similar departments at the other major universities in Israel), and who has written several books on the subject, seemed the perfect man to realize such a project. Thus the exhibit idea was born. Together with professional experts from Yad Ben Zvi, Dr. Amar started to gather plants, minerals and biological material from which medicines were culled. He found some still being used and available, especially in east Jerusalem. One good source was the Shuk HaBesamim. He also collected appropriate texts from each period which described the use of such medicines. His exhibition includes displays from Biblical times, down through the 2nd Temple Period, the Byzantine, Arab, Crusader, Mameluke and Turkish periods, up until modern medicine emerged sometime in the latter l9th century. Using quotes from Isiah Zohar, Amar depicts the medicine used to cure King Hezekiah's sores. A letter found in the Cairo Geniza (and replicated for the exhibit) describes galena crystals that were recommended to a patient for ophthalmic treatment. "There has always been a need for medical care," explains Dr. Amar. The doctors of yore treated patients of every background and religion, he states. "While I've been working on this exhibition in Shaare Zedek, I've noted that people from every walk of life still come in for treatment. The historian includes in the fascinating displays a signet ring found in the City of David excavations from the 6th century B.C. with the inscription: Tov Shalem HaRofeh, which was probably the property of a doctor called Shalem who treated the elite of ancient Jerusalem, and maybe signed his prescriptions with this "bulla." Similarly he has traced the history of a Jerusalem-born Jewish doctor Rabbi David De-Silva who went to Europe in the l7th century to study medicine, returned to his birth place and made a career of saving lives. A separate display cabinet contains medical equipment from the early years of Shaare Zedek's existence. The apparatus include antique means of taking blood samples, blood pressure, pulverizing medicines, glass syringes, a specially designed Zeiss Cystoscope which removed crushed bladder stones, or that basic piece of essential equipment in our grandmother's medicine chest, the enema. The official opening of the exhibit last month hosted opening remarks by all of its three "fathers." Observing the historical development of medicine and medical equipment over the centuries, one has the feeling that though we have advanced and know quite a lot about curing people, one day our descendants may look back at our healing methods and mutter, "How quaint!"