Vivek Murthy, Obama's Surgeon General Nominee, Is a Very Jewish Non-Jewish Doctor.
In the literature of the Haskalah, the early-modern Jewish Enlightenment movement, the Jewish doctor was a stock heroic character. His presence persisted into the 20th-century Yiddish literature that I study, where the most idealized doctors were intellectuals with a common touch, broad-minded humanists whose ready empathy was channeled into liberal political and social engagement.
They all owe a debt to Maimonides, the paragon of Jewish doctorsa thinker who scaled the heights of esoteric philosophy but also considered it worthwhile to instruct his readers on how to avoid the evils of constipation. But the transition he makes in his legal code from behavioral to digestive wellness isn't haphazard; it pivots on the observation that without a sound body, one cannot properly contemplate the Divine. Who can study philosophy with a toothache?
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