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The drastic diet of the king of 240 kilos and other remedies of the Sephardic doctors

Although the exact date on which the first Jews arrived in the Iberian Peninsula is not known if we look at what is related in the Bible, its oldest colonies date back to the time of King Solomon. In Book I of the Kings it is said that the ships of this monarch traded with the Phoenicians in distant Tarsis, possibly our Tartessus.

In the 2nd century AD. of C. there were Jewish communities settled in our soil, which were consolidated during the following centuries, first during the Roman domination and, later, with the Visigothic invasion. However, during this last period they suffered an atmosphere of oppression and violence that materialized in the enactment of anti-Semitic laws.

When the peninsula became part of the Dar al-Islam (the house of Islam) the Jews were integrated, at least initially, in a harmonious way in Muslim society, reinforcing cultural and economic ties.

The first successful anti-obesity treatment

From the 10th century onwards, Jewish doctors were present in translators' circles, facilitating the dissemination of Greco-Latin texts contributed by the Arabs.

His linguistic capacity made it possible to enrich the Castilian, Catalan, Provencal and Hebrew libraries with texts from Greek and Arab doctors. But they were not only translators, their work was much more important, since they interpreted and contributed new concepts related to the health field.

Hasday Abu Yusuf ben Yitzhak (915-975) was the most reputable Jaen physician of the time and his popularity made him the personal physician of Abderramán III. His wisdom reached the ears of Queen Toda of Navarra, who recommended her grandson Sancho I el Crasso to travel to Córdoba to undergo a weight loss treatment under her tutelage.

The Jewish doctor accepted the challenge and locked the distinguished patient in a room, there he tied his hands and feet to the bed, taking him out of captivity only to force him to take long walks, in which he was pulled with ropes by slaves. Likewise, he forced him to take steam baths and gave him infusions (Hebrew herbs) that caused terrible diarrhea. The suffering was worth it since, according to the chronicles of the time, after forty long days Sancho I reduced his initial 240 kg of weight by half.

The first artificial insemination

The arrival of the Almohads to Al-Andalus in the 12th century and the imposition of an Islamic fundamentalism caused the diaspora of the Jews by the Christian kingdoms. This was the reason why Moshé ben Maimon (1135-1204), better known as Maimonides, emigrated with his family from his native Cordoba to the Holy Land. There he again suffered religious intolerance, this time at the hands of the Crusaders, for which he had to migrate a second time, this time he took refuge in Egypt, where he became the personal physician of Sultan Saladin.

At that time it was said that “Galen's medicine was only for the body, but Maimonides' remedies were valid for the body and the soul”.

Later, during the splendor of the Nasrid kingdom, the figure of Ibn Al-Khatib (1313-1374) stood out. It is said that during the plague epidemic that ravaged 14th century Europe, he was the first to formulate the notion of “contagion” and recommend the destruction of the sheets of the plagued.

In his “Book of the Plague” one can read: “It is evident that the majority of people who have had contact with a plague victim will die, while those who have not had contact will remain healthy.”

In the rout of the Jewish doctors towards the Christian kingdoms it was found that the laws prohibited Christians to use Sephardic remedies, fortunately this did not prevent them from enjoying enormous prestige and becoming physicians for kings and nobles, even of bishops. And it is that the mosaic physicists were part of the cast of the best medieval health professionals.

In the fourteenth century the doctor Samaya Lubel became the personal physician of Henry IV the Impotent and he is credited with practicing the first artificial insemination in history. He made it to the second wife of the monarch -Juana de Portugal- and thanks to her, Juana la Beltraneja (1462-1530) would be born, a character who does not require introductions.

Pedro Gargantilla is an internist at the Hospital de El Escorial (Madrid) and author of several popularization books.

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