Posted on December 24th, 2014 by Rachel
We’ve collected the questions our visitors have submitted to the question box at the end of The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen exhibit. We hope these answers satisfy your curiosity!
1. Even though he did not marry, did Mendes Cohen have an active social life?
Mendes certainly attended many social events both at home in Baltimore and during his travels abroad. We don’t have any evidence that Mendes “dated” anyone beyond a single reference to going out with a young woman he met in Europe whom he mentioned in a letter home.
2. What was his middle name?
His middle initial I is for Israel which was his father’s name. His other brothers had the same middle name.
3. Why did he go to all these places?
Mendes traveled to some places for business (including London and France where he conducted business with the Rothschilds), other places to meet family (Bristol, England), but for the most part, he visited places because of an interest in what was happening (e.g. the student revolts in Paris) or a sense of adventure (Egypt). His visit to Palestine was motivated by a fascination with exploring places that he had learned about through his studies of the Bible.
4. Did he have kids?
He did not have any children.
5. What languages did Mendes speak besides English and Hebrew?
We know from references in his letters that Mendes had some command of French and German and possibly Italian, but we don’t know how fluent he was in any of them. We are also unsure of how Mendes communicated when he traveled through the Ottoman Empire. Did he use a translator exclusively? Did he pick up some Turkish or Arabic?
6. How many people survived in the shipwreck?
Everyone survived the shipwreck that he mentions in his letter to his mother.
What questions were still burning in your mind when you got to the end of the maze?
Let us know!
Posted on December 17th, 2014 by Rachel
This month, we made a small change to The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen exhibit: We switched out Mendes’ passports.
Your friendly neighborhood Collections Manager opens up the secured exhibit case.
Why? Well, for starters, because the lender – the Maryland Historical Society – asked us to. They loaned us eight passports, with the caveat that each be on display for only three months. Before the exhibit opened, we planned out which passports would go out together, based on the space available in the exhibit case. The first visitors to the exhibit saw Italian, Greek, and Russian travel documents from the 1830s; now, from the same time period, you’ll see documents in Russian and Arabic. In March, we’ll make another change.
Each document rests on a sheet of acid-free paper, as a barrier between the exhibit case surface (and other documents). These passports will go into storage, with others taking their place on display.
Paper, like many historic materials, is very susceptible to light. Light damage is cumulative and irreversible; it fades inks, alters colors, and weakens the structural integrity of the paper itself. Museums and libraries have to maintain a delicate balance between making items available for research, display, and enjoyment . . . and keeping them safely tucked away for posterity in a nice dark, climate-controlled, secure environment. We often compromise by restricting the length of time certain items can be on display, and by lighting the space with a minimum of foot-candles – this translates to short, dimly lit exhibits. Perhaps you’ve visited exhibits of textiles, books, or photographs, and wondered, “Why did they make it so dark in here?” Now you know!
Why the blue gloves? They’re made of nitrile rubber, an inert material, and prevent the natural oils etc. on your skin from transferring to the document.
Want to learn more? Check out this article on protecting paper on exhibit, from the Northeast Document Conservation Center.
A blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts from Joanna click HERE.
Posted on November 13th, 2014 by Rachel
“Oh God of faithfulness, place in the heart of the sick trust in me and my work, and an ear to listen to my advice. Remove from their bedside every quack [and all] heralds and saviors who come forth regularly… [and] dare to rise up and criticize the work of a doctor.” –Physician’s Prayer, written by Marcus Herz, 1789
I am indebted for the substance of this post to John M. Efron’s Medicine and the German Jews: A History (2001)
Title page, Uber die fruhe Beerdigung der Juden (On the Premature Burial of the Jews), by Marcus Herz, 1787. Courtesy of The National Library of Israel, Jerusalem.
Among Dr. Harry Friedenwald’s magnificent collection of books and manuscripts documenting the activities of Jewish physicians through the ages (selections of which will be displayed in our upcoming exhibition on Jews and medicine in America, scheduled to open in fall 2015) is a sixty-page pamphlet titled Uber die fruhe Beerdigung der Juden, On the Premature Burial of the Jews. Its riveting cover illustration cries out for explanation from the world of the author, Dr. Marcus Herz (1747-1803).
Marcus Herz, c. 1790s at the height of his reputation. Painted by Friedrich Georg Weitsch.
Herz was a sought-after physician, philosopher and friend of Immanuel Kant, and wealthy socialite who, together with his brilliant and beautiful wife Henriette, opened his home to the literati of his time, Jewish and Christian. Son of a poor sofer (Torah scribe), the precocious Herz first studied for the rabbinate, then became a clerk in a commercial concern, and at age 19 began to attend lectures at the University of Koenigsberg. He could not then afford to continue his studies, but made such an impression while there that Kant asked Herz to act as his “advocate” in the defense of his dissertation. Several years later, having acquired a patron among the Jewish reformers of the city to support him, he completed degrees in medicine and philosophy. While his education and social contacts led him to abandon ritual observance (and his persuasively rationalist lectures caused, in the words of a contemporary, “many an orthodox Jew…to doubt the teachings on miracles”), Herz remained proudly Jewish, a pioneer in a model of Jewish communal leadership and philanthropy we would recognize today. A proponent of the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment), his sincere concern was to lead his Jewish brethren out of the ghettoes and into European citizenship.
With all the authority of his position in the community and status as a physician, Herz stepped into a raging controversy of the day: the medical uncertainty in determining the death of an individual and the resulting fear of premature burial that scholars have described as “pathological” and “a vast anxiety [which took] hold of the collective consciousness” (Ingrid Stoessel and Philippe Aries, quoted in Efron). Having learned how to resuscitate a drowning victim, scientists of the day began to question formerly agreed upon signs of death: lack of respiration and pulse, skin pallor, rigor mortis. Many insisted one could be sure death had occurred only with the onset of decay. As scientists argued and public feeling ran high, the state began to weigh in with legislation requiring burial be delayed until that point.
Henriette De Lemos Herz, 1778 around the time of her marriage to Marcus at age 15. Painted by Anna Dorothea Lisiewska. For more information about this interesting and independent woman, see the entry on her in the Jewish Women’s Archive’s online encyclopedia http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/herz-henriette
Among Christians burial several days after death was normal custom, but Jews are enjoined by Torah (Deuteronomy 21:22-3) to bury the dead within twenty-four hours. The first official action affecting Jewish burial customs came in 1772 when the Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin decreed that Jews be required to wait three days before burying their dead. Moses Mendelssohn, the great interpreter of secular and Jewish culture, interceded for the community by suggesting that a physician be required to certify death before burial, a solution uneasily accepted by both sides of the controversy. The issue created lasting rifts within the Jewish community because physicians of the haskalah such as Herz, for reasons articulated in his 1787 pamphlet, tended to side with the state, while traditional authorities maintained that burial society members were quite expert in recognizing death.
Detail, Uber die fruhe Beerdigung der Juden. You may need to enlarge this image to see how the man’s entire upper body seems to be emerging from the mound of dirt on his grave in the background. Courtesy of The National Library of Israel, Jerusalem.
The cover of Herz’s pamphlet is macabre. An engraving by Wilhelm Chodwiecki shows a mourner contemplating Moses Mendelssohn’s headstone while behind him in the moonlight, hands reach out, begging for liberation from a newly covered grave. Herz, at least partially motivated by a near-death illness of his own, gives passionate voice to the scene depicted on the cover: “My brothers, you simply can never have imagined the true horror of what it must be like for someone to awake in the grave!…He opens his eyes, around him everything is dark and desolate….He groans, cries, pleads with all the powers that he has struggled so hard to regain: to no avail, he languishes unheard.”
Herz proposed that Jews wait two to three days before burying their dead, with the alleged deceased resting in a mortuary and visited by a physician trained to recognize the signs of returning life or of decay. In the interim, the body was not to be considered a corpse or prepared for burial. In this he was opposed, as one might expect, by traditional Jewish authorities. But Herz was also challenged by conservative members of his own movement, who saw things differently. These opponents, also medically trained, argued—with some justification—that premature burial was not only a Jewish problem, that to single out Jewish practice for legislation was an act of discrimination by the state, and that, in fact, early burial was more hygienic than delayed burial, a claim backed by a Berlin College of Medicine study of victims of smallpox and other contagious diseases.
Is this story an example of official discrimination against the Jews, or of the struggle between Jewish traditionalists and reformers? In either case, it is a powerful demonstration of the ways in which medical arguments were mustered by those on both sides of the debate, suggesting the complexity of the relationships between medicine and the Jews.
A blog post by Curator Karen Falk. To read more posts from Karen click HERE.