Cohn, Tobias ben Moses

views updated


COHN, TOBIAS BEN MOSES (1652–1729), physician and Hebrew author. Tobias' father was a rabbi in Metz who died when Tobias was 9 years old. He was then sent to his relatives in Cracow, where he got a traditional Jewish education. Later he went to Frankfurt on the Oder to study medicine. He even got a scholarship from the elector of Brandenburg. He studied at the University of Padua and then went to Turkey where he served as a court physician until the age of 62, when he went to Jerusalem in order to concentrate on the study of Torah.

His main work Ma'aseh Tuviyyah (Venice, 1707) is an encyclopedia dealing with theology, astronomy, cosmography, geography, botany, with medicine taking up about half of the entire work. He describes the system of Copernicus but rejects it on religious grounds. On the other hand, he enthusiastically supports the Harvey system of blood circulation. At the request of friends from Poland, he deals at length with the disease then common in Poland, plica polonica. He stresses the chemical aspect of stomach diseases, in contrast to the then still prevalent system of Galen.

Although Tobias Cohn adhered to the old system of medicine, he was fully conscious of new trends, especially in surgery and in chemistry. He applied exact measurements in his scientific work, especially in thermometry. One of Cohn's innovations was the comparison of the human body to a house. The head was the roof, the eyes the windows, and the mouth, the doorway; the chest was the upper storey, the intestines were the middle storey, the lungs were water tanks and the legs, foundations. His remedies were laxatives, emetics, cupping glasses, and bleeding, but he demolished many superstitions and criticized the anti-Jewish professors of Frankfurt on the Oder as well as Jews who were devoted to Kabbalah and blindly believed in miracles. His theories relating to infant care and pediatrics were advanced for his age.

Ma'aseh Tuviyyah was printed in 5 different editions and is the only Hebrew work on medicine which was profusely illustrated. The work is also rich in historical references, e.g., on Shabbetai Ẓevi, and has considerable significance in the history of science.


D.A. Friedman, Tuviyyah ha-Rofe (1940); A. Levinson, Tuviyyah ha-Rofe ve-Sifro Ma'aseh Tuviyyah (1924); E. Carmoly, Histoire des médecins juifs (1844), 248ff.

[David Margalith]