The historical influence of Spain’s Sephardic doctors on the development of modern medicine

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The presence of Jews in the Iberian Peninsula, known as Sepharad in Hebrew, dates back to the second migration in the 1st century AD. Of C., following the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem by the Roman Empire. This diaspora, unlike the previous one, was caused by Nebuchadnezzar II in the sixth century BC. BC, was a turning point in the history of the Jewish people, leading to their spread throughout the Roman Empire.

Roman Hispania, considered the “end of the world” (Sefarad in Hebrew), became one of the most distant destinations for the exiled Jews. There they settled and created a prosperous community with a deep cultural and religious identity.

The historical influence of Spain’s Sephardic doctors on the development of modern medicine. Photo: iStock

Under Roman rule, the Jews enjoyed a certain tolerance, although not without tension. However, the arrival of the Visigoths in the 5th century ushered in a period of persecution and religious intolerance.

The Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula in the year 711 brought about a revolutionary change for the Sephardic community., And under Arab rule, the Jews experienced a time of prosperity and prosperity, marked by religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence between the two cultures.

Córdoba: birthplace and cultural flourishing of Maimonides

The coexistence between Jews, Arabs and Christians in the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages left an invaluable cultural heritage, Sephardic influence can be seen in a variety of fields, from architecture and gastronomy to literature and science.

The coexistence between Jews, Arabs and Christians in the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages left an invaluable cultural heritage. Photo: iStock

This period of glory reached its peak in the city of Córdoba, where a vibrant Sephardic culture developed. figures like moses maimonides (1135–1204), one of the most important Jewish philosophers and theologians in history, was born and trained in this atmosphere of tolerance and scholarship.

The character’s extensive intellectual training in medicine, philosophy, and theology, as well as his deep spirituality, shaped him as a humanist doctor. His rational and selfless approach towards patient care made him a benchmark in his time.

His medical and humanistic knowledge allowed him to see the patient as a human being suffering from a disease, not merely a “disease existing in man”., This comprehensive vision of health led him to write ten medical treatises covering such diverse subjects as mental health, nutrition, and hygiene.

excellent work

Among the most notable works of Maimonides we find:

  • Extract from Galen: Synthesis of the teachings of the Roman doctor
  • Medical Formula: A collection of medical principles and advice
  • Treatise on Piles: A study on this medical condition
  • asthma treatise
  • Treatise on sexual intercourse: Compendium on Sexuality and Reproduction
  • Treatise on Poisons and their Antidotes: Studies on poisons and their treatment

In his work “Commentary on the Mishnah”Explains his view of medical ethics. He says that a doctor is like a criminal if he refuses to take care of a needy patient or if he practices medicine without proper study. It also highlights the importance of starting with simple treatments like diet before turning to medications.

A legacy that still endures

Maimonides expressed the qualities to which every doctor should aspire: humanism, intellectualism, and dedication. His philosophical thought was disseminated in a line dominated by Platonism and Aristotelianism (with the predominance of the latter) that tries to reconcile religion with philosophy. His work would have an extraordinary influence on the great scholars of the 13th century.

Recreation of life in al-Andalus. Dionisio Baixeras/Wikimedia

in theiraphorismsargued that “if a person is emotionally disturbed or in a state of mental excitement, their physical well-being is affected and their body may eventually become ill.” With this statement, the World Health Organization’s concept of health moves forward by more than eight hundred years, understood as a state of physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of health.

Maimonides also addressed the doctor-patient relationship in which he tried to empathize with patients to gain their trust and motivate them to follow his prescriptions. Thus in his writings we can read: “My patients must trust me and my art; That they follow my prescriptions and instructions. Throw away from me all the healers and the crowd of “advising” and “wise” relatives. Make me humble in everything, but not in great art.”

He became known as the “second Moses” because of his profound influence on medicine. The inscription on his tomb, “From Moses (Bible) to Moses (Maimonides), there was none like Moses,” summarizes his immense importance to the Jewish world.


  • Simon S. Moses Maimonides. Medieval physician and scholar. Arch Intern Med 1999; 159: 1841-5.
  • Castle MT, Castle M. Eight centuries to the death of a great physician: ‘Maimonides el Español’ Enferm Infect Microbiol Clin 2004; 22:660-2.
  • Rosner F. The life of Moses Maimonides, a prominent medieval physician. Einstein Quart J Biol Med 2002; 19: 125-8.
  • Rosner F. Moses Maimonides and chest diseases. Chest 1971; 60:68-72.

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