Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America

Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America


Mar 13 2016 - Jan 16 2017
, 10AM- 5PM

JMM Original Exhibit on view March 13, 2016 – January 16, 2017

For centuries, Jews have considered medicine a calling—an occupation of learning and good deeds, vital to all communities and worthy of high respect. Historians point out that “few occupations are as immediately linked to a group as medicine is to the Jews,” a connection that has become “the stuff of legend and stereotype, both positive and negative, and a source of pride, amusement, entertainment, and folklore.”  At the same time, Jewish bodies and behaviors have been the subject of medical scrutiny and debate. The exhibit examined how medicine has shaped the way Jews are seen, and see themselves. Focusing on the Jewish experience in the US, Jews and Medicine in America showed how the field of medicine has been a vehicle, by turns, for discrimination, acculturation, and strengthening Jewish identity.

Jews and Medicine in America contributed to the contemporary conversation about health and medicine by illuminating the social meanings and values intrinsic to medical interactions. The exhibit surprised diverse audiences by uncovering the often-overlooked cultural history embedded in a scientific enterprise. It probed questions important to all Americans: how do medical categories shape identity; what are the impacts of medical authority; where did our current health care institutions come from; and how does culture influence the medical construction of biological difference. The experiences of Jews, as both practitioners and patients, offer a case study in the formative impact of medicine on cultural and social identity, as well as the impact of cultural values on medicine.

Each section of our immersive exhibit explored an aspect of American Jews’ experience with medicine, as well as the broader relationships between medicine and identity: the use of admissions quotas to regulate who enters medical school; the ritualized roles of patient and practitioner in the office visit; the sectarian hospital as a refuge from discrimination and a locus of community pride; the search for biological definitions of identity in the laboratory; and presentation of self in the fitness center. 

While the exhibit emphasized the experiences of individuals and institutions operating in the secular world, it also explored Jewish practice and belief.  A series of strategically-placed panels addressed visitors’ curiosity about the interplay between religion and science.  Topics included:  What are the issues in the contemporary debate over circumcision? Why is kosher food thought to be healthful, while the Ashkenazi diet is sometimes called a “heart attack on a plate?” How are religious laws about the body applied to new technologies, such as organ donation? Even: does chicken soup relieve the common cold? Few of these questions have definitive answers, but they serve as intriguing entry points for deeper engagement.

Learn more at!

Photos of Exhibit (by Will Kirk)

Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America was made possible thanks to:

The Herbert Bearman Foundation (lead sponsor)

National Endowment for the Humanities
Institute for Museum and Library Services
Peter and Georgia Angelos Foundation
LifeBridge Health
Sue and Dr. David Liebman
CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield
GBMC HealthCare
Sheldon and Saralynn Glass
Lowell and Harriet Glazer Family Foundation
Benno and Elayne Hurwitz Family Foundation
Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System
Carol and Robert Keehn Family Philanthropic Fund
MedStar Health*
Mercy Health Services
PSA Insurance & Financial Services, Inc.**
The University of Maryland Medical System Foundation & The University of Maryland School of Medicine
Carroll and Charlotte Weinberg Charitable Foundation
The Harry L. Gladding Foundation and Neal and Winifred Borden
Dr. Ira and Leslie Papel
In Memory of Hugo Dalsheimer from his Family
Nurses’ Alumnae Association of Sinai, Myra Framm, and Phyllis Neuman
The Taylor Foundation

*MedStar Health is pleased to support the Jewish Museum of Maryland and its special look at Jews and Medicine in America
**Made possible with the support of PSA Insurance & Financial Services, Inc.


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