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NLM Lends Books and Images to Jewish Museum of Maryland Exhibition

March 14, 2016

Items to be Included in “Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America”

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) is pleased to have selected items from its collection included in a new exhibition, Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America, which opened March 13, 2016 and will run through January 16, 2017 at the Jewish Museum of Maryland in Baltimore.

Beyond Chicken Soup uncovers the often-overlooked cultural history embedded in a scientific enterprise. It probes 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.

As historian John M. Efron and others have explained through their research, for centuries Jews considered medicine a calling, an occupation of learning and good deeds. Their enthusiasm for the profession was legendary: a source of folklore, entertainment, and pride.

In America, which promised immigrants equality and opportunity yet often showed them bigotry and discrimination, Jews found the pursuit of a medical career especially compelling: it offered both upward mobility and societal respect. Moreover, their conspicuous presence in medicine reflected well on the Jewish people—a fact that was not lost on the proud parents of countless Jewish doctors.

But the Jewish doctor is only part of the story. Whether striving to live up to American ideals of health, contributing to the broader community through their hospitals, or looking inward to their genetic code, Jews have used medicine to express identity. A century ago, medicine defined Jews and other minorities as inferior; decades of social and scientific change transformed how medicine defined Jewishness and how Jews defined themselves.

Focusing on the Jewish experience in the United States, Beyond Chicken Soup demonstrates how the field of medicine has been a vehicle, by turns, for discrimination, acculturation, and strengthening Jewish identity. 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.

Among the NLM collection items featured in Beyond Chicken Soup are:

  • Ma’aseh Tuviyah, [The Acts of Tobias], by Tobias Kats (1652?–1729), published in Italy, likely Venice, in 1708 and representing one of the earliest attempts to compare graphically the healthy human body to a well-functioning physical structure: in this case, a properly-run house;
  • Sefer otzar hahayim [Book of the Treasures of Life], by Jacob ben Isaac Zahalon (1630–1693), published in Venice in 1693, and
  • Ueber das Lehren und Lernen der medicinischen Wissenschaften an den Universitäten der deutschen Nation [On the teaching and learning of the medical sciences at the universities of the German nation], by the famous surgeon Theodor Billroth (1829–1894), published in Vienna in 1876.

NLM will also be providing the museum with selected images from its collection, including an image from Isaac ben Solomon’s Opera Omnia [Complete Works], published in 1515, and from the Zwerdling Collection of Postcards on the History of Nursing.

NLM joins a number of prominent organizations in loaning items to the Jewish Museum of Maryland for this important exhibition, including the American Philosophical Society, National Library of Israel, and Peabody Museum of Archeology & Ethnology at Harvard Univeristy.

Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America is made possible through the generous support of The Herbert Bearman Foundation; National Endowment for the Humanities; Institute for Museum and Library Services; Peter and Georgia Angelos Foundation; and LifeBridge Health, along with many others.

NLM loans items from its history of medicine collections for display in public exhibitions to qualifying institutions on a case by case basis. Details about this loan program, and loans which the NLM has arranged since 2012, are available here.


An illustration comparing the dissected torso of a bearded man with an elevation of a building, cutaway to show the interior; a scroll in Hebrew is rolled out between them.

“The Human Body as a House,” from
Tobias Kats, Ma’aseh Tuviyah [The Acts of Tobias], 1708
Courtesy National Library of Medicine

An illustration shows three men seated at a hexagonal table surrounded by greenery, the men are labeled Halvabbas, Ysaac, and Constantinus.

The early Jewish physician Isaac ben Solomon, consulting with two colleagues,
from Isaac ben Solomon’s Opera Omnia [Complete Works], 1515
Courtesy National Library of Medicine

The Jewish Museum of Maryland, America’s leading museum of regional Jewish history, culture and community, is located in downtown Baltimore. The Museum interprets the Jewish experience in America, with special attention to Jewish life in the state of Maryland. The Museum was founded in 1960 to rescue and restore the historic Lloyd Street Synagogue, and has become a cultural center for the Jewish community and for those interested in Jewish history and traditions.


The National Library of Medicine (NLM) is a leader in research in biomedical informatics and data science and the world’s largest biomedical library. NLM conducts and supports research in methods for recording, storing, retrieving, preserving, and communicating health information. NLM creates resources and tools that are used billions of times each year by millions of people to access and analyze molecular biology, biotechnology, toxicology, environmental health, and health services information. Additional information is available at

Last Reviewed: March 14, 2016