United in Scholarship, Divided in Practice: (Re)Translating Smallpox and Measles for Seventeenth-Century Jews
This essay investigates the translatability of experience in seventeenth-century medical practica. It reconstructs the translation and the retranslation of the chapter on smallpox and measles taken from the immensely popular Praxis medica of Lazare Rivière. This text was adapted by two Jewish physicians: Jacob Zahalon, who translated it into Hebrew; and Abraham Wallich, who then modified it further. Both presented this work as their own. Reconstructing the decision making that went into their work, the essay argues that the erasure of some practical and experiential content does not constitute a failure of translation but, rather, a reevaluation of the content’s applicability in a new context. The essay, dealing with Jewish learned physicians, also examines how different environments were reflected in these physicians’ writing. It therefore shows how physicians of comparable expertise resorted to dissimilar practices.