Thursday, June 02, 2005


I just came across an article titled "The Healing Power of the Hebrew Tongue", by Mark Zier. It focuses on one of the few Hebrew manuscripts written in medieval England - MS Oxford Bodl. Laud Or. 174, a Psalter (according to Malachi Beit-Arie, it was written in the 13th century, perhaps in France).

In ultra-violet light, a paragraph in Latin was revealed with instructions on using different Psalms for various medical purposes. This is his translation from the Latin:

Concerning the most famous medicine and celestial latitudes, begin at folio 28
at the sign פ; medicine for a tumour of the bowel, folio 25; for bleariness
of the eyes, folio 41; for chronic illnesses, folio 30.

Zier goes on to discuss these instructions, which refer to specific Psalms (88, 79, 48, 77). And from there on to the history of English Jewry and English medicine. But he seems unaware that this practice, of utilizing Psalms for specific medical ailments, is a well-known Jewish custom - Shimmush Tehillim. It is found in plenty of Genizah fragments, and continues to thrive to this day.

As I said, there are very few surviving Hebrew manuscripts from England. They were recently described exhaustively by Judith Olszowy-Schlanger, in a special publication by the REJ titled Les Manuscrits Hebreux dans l'Angleterre Medievale: Etude Historique et Paleographique. She describes this manuscript on pages 266-270, but seems to be unaware of Zier's article and the passage he described.

A testimony to the importance of reading outside of your field. Just like the Latin-speaking scribe who used the Jewish healing tradition for his own purposes.


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