Lecture: "When bloodletting is dangerous: Medieval jews between Talmudic heritage and latin dies aegri’"


Professor Sacha Stern
The Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies
University College London, London, UK


01 January 2024, 18:00 
Room 449, Gillman Building 

Professor Sacha Stern is the ​2023/2024 Lowy Distinguished Guest Professor of the Mortimer and Raymond Sackler Institute of Advanced Studies.


Bloodletting was a common medical practice in Antiquity and the Middle Ages, but it was important to do it at the right times. Working out the best times for bloodletting involved the disciplines of medicine, astrology and calendar science. A list of bad days for bloodletting is found in the Babylonian Talmud, and is clearly of Jewish origin. This Talmudic text had no impact on bloodletting practices in the Cairo Genizah, but it was very influential among medieval European Jews. However, between the 12th and 15th centuries, European Jews gradually adopted Christian bloodletting hemerological traditions, such as the Latin lists of dies aegri (‘bad days’). These Christian borrowings underwent a process of Judaization, with Julian calendar dates being replaced with equivalent dates in the Jewish calendar. A careful balance was thus maintained by Jews, between deferring to the authority of Christian medicine and asserting their Jewish identity. This tells us something important about transfer of knowledge from Christians to Jews in medieval Europe, but also about how social groups differentiated themselves through temporal structures and daily schedules.



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