From time immemorial, humans have looked to the natural world, which we always have been a part of, in order to heal ourselves. In this respect the Jews of Eastern Europe were no different from any other people. If anything, what set many Eastern European Jewish communities apart by the twentieth century was a reluctance to embrace the modern era and all the advantages promised by its technologies, including medicine. Had the Second World War not destroyed their communities, the natural healing traditions that had kept Eastern European Jews resilient for centuries would still be known today. Instead, this essential part of their history has been long obscured and, consequently, utterly forgotten by posterity. But who were the Eastern European Jews, and what evidence remains of their traditional healing practices?
To attempt to answer the latter question, we offer a brief sketch of folk medicine, Eastern European Jewry, the communities in which Eastern European Jews lived, and what the written historical record reveals about their health practices and beliefs, in both “official” medicine (whether religious or secular) and folk medicine. We describe and discuss the different Jewish healers who treated Eastern European Jews (and their non- Jewish neighbors). And we contrast the worlds of men and women healers (again, whether religious or secular, and in official or folk medicine). ... "Herbal medicine" refers to healing through the application of plants, herbs, and other natural substances found locally. It’s self-evident that human beings all over the world have discovered, through direct experience and knowledge transmitted over thousands of years, the healing powers of the natural world around us.
Below, a few of the plants and herbs from the first materia medica of its kind: