Photo Credit: Jodie Maoz

A fine copy of an important first edition that I acquired recently is the sought after Ma’aseh Tuviah, printed in Venice in 1707, considered to be the first Hebrew encyclopedia of the sciences. It was authored by Tobias Kohn, known as Tuvia Harofeh – Tuvia the doctor (1652-1729). Kohn was a third generation practicing doctor who achieved much fame as physician to five successive Ottoman sultans – Mehmed IV, Suleiman II, Ahmed II, Mustafa II, and Ahmed III, moving with the court to Constantinople. The effort to achieve a medical degree in this era for a Jew was extraordinary, he was refused entry to doctoral examinations by the Lutheran college in Frankfurt he attended, and was forced to travel to Padua, Italy, to complete his studies. After retiring, he moved to Jerusalem where he spent his remaining years studying Torah.



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In Ma’aseh Tuviah, Kohn discusses Copernicus’s system but finds it incompatible with Jewish teachings. He embraces the newly discovered system of William Harvey in reference to blood circulation. His understanding of infant care and cleanliness was much advanced for the era. Kohn uses the example of a home to understand the human body, saying that the head was like the roof, the eyes the windows, and the mouth the doorway, the chest was the upper story, the intestines were the middle story, the lungs were water tanks and the legs, foundations. Kohn also notes some interesting historical observations, including a discussion of the effect of Shabtai Zvi and how some of the greatest rabbis of the day had accepting him as the Messiah before his apostasy. The volume contains many illustrations, many of them quite detailed, an extraordinary feat for the printing of the era.

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Israel Mizrahi is the owner of Mizrahi Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY, and He can be reached at [email protected].