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Sickness /hygiene /plague

The biblical laws, which are explained in detail in the Talmud, include very extensive regulations on the daily conduct of life. The diet and purity laws, which Jews in the Middle Ages followed closely as divine commandments, helped promote hygiene.
The diet laws ensured that food was safe and included detailed regulations on dealing with sickness. Isolation for sufferers from contagious diseases and disinfection of the objects patients had touched reduced for example the spread of plague. The strict rules on sexual activity, the required ritual bath (mikve) the law on circumcision and the regulations on caring for infants all promoted hygiene. In addition, medical care was always available from Jewish doctors.
With a few fundamental exceptions, religious laws could be broken to save life, such as the diet laws or keeping the Sabbath. This demonstrates the high priority Judaism gives to health.
When the Black Death was raging in Europe between 1347 and 1350 and a third of the population died of the plague, the Jews were accused of poisoning wells, although they drank from the same wells and also died. As the ravages of the Plague grew worse, this accusation led to the eradication of a number of Jewish communities in central Europe including Frankfurt, where a pogrom took place in 1349. Nearly 300 Jewish communities in Germany were totally annihilated.
Smaller outbreaks of plague occurred subsequently, and the Judengasse in Frankfurt suffered its share of victims.


© Jüd. Museum Frankfurt 1992-2002 /  Sources