Abraham de Balmes ben Meir, Jewish Italian physician and polymath
Tel Aviv, Israel
Abraham de Balmes ben Meir (c. 1460–1523) was a Jewish physician and polymath from the baroque Italian city of Lecce in the south of Italy, where his grandfather had served as personal physician to King Ferdinand I of Naples. He studied medicine in Naples but left in 1510 when Jewish people were expelled from that city. He practiced medicine in Padua and was appointed physician to the cardinal Dominico Grimani. His lectures as professor at the University of Padua were attended by Jews as well as by Christians. Philosopher and grammarian, he translated the works of Averroes from Arabic into Latin and complied an important book of Hebrew grammar, as well as wrote treatises on philosophy and astronomy. He lived at a time when the study of literature was revolutionized by the printing press, and he had some of his works printed in Hebrew in Italy, Egypt, and Constantinople.
De Balmes was a student of Judah ben Jehiel (c. 1420–1498; also called Judah Messer Leon), a Jewish Italian physician, rabbi, teacher, and philosopher who assimilated the best of the Italian culture and the Jewish tradition. He is remembered for including the study of rhetoric into medical school curricula.
- Ohry A and Eljashev-Shimshon R. “Abraham de Balmes ben Meir (D. 1523): A Physician-Translator from Padua.” In: Societas Internationalis Historiæ Medicinæ. 43rd Congress of the International Society for the History of Medicine: The Development of Medical Sciences Between Past and Future. Program. September 12-16, 2012, 33, Session 3-2. https://www.biusante.parisdescartes.fr/ishm/ishm_congress_padova2012.pdf.
- “Judah Messer Leon.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judah_Messer_Leon.
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- Eljashev-Shimshon R and Ohry A. “The Physician as Printer/Publisher: A rare, but not unsurprising combination.” Vesalius 2012;18(2):89-92.
- “Abraham de Balmes.” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_de_Balmes.
- Singer, I. “Abraham de Balmes ben Meir.” The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901. https://studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/a/abraham-de-balmes-ben-meir.html.
- Di Donato S. “Abraham de Balmes.” In: Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE, Kate Fleet et al, eds. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1573-3912_ei3_COM_22606.
- “Hebrew: Hebrew Linguistic Literature.” Jewish Virtual Library. https://jewishvirtuallibrary.org/hebrew-linguistic-literature.
- Ben Meir de Balmes, Abraham. Mikneh Avram. 1523. Archived at: https://archive.org/details/miknehavrampecul00balm.
AVI OHRY, MD, is married with two daughters. He is Emeritus Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at Tel Aviv University, the former director of Rehabilitation Medicine at Reuth Medical and Rehabilitation Center in Tel Aviv, and a member of The Lancet‘s Commission on Medicine & the Holocaust. He conducts award-winning research in neurological rehabilitation, bioethics, medical humanities and history, and on long-term effects of disability and captivity. He plays the drums with three jazz bands.
Winter 2023 | Sections | Physicians of Note