Water vs. Corona? Don’t Try This at Home!

Curing diseases, restoring organs, revitalizing the body and even resurrecting the dead! Rare caricatures from 19th-century England prove that strange folk remedies have been with us for a while…

A common theme: A patient sits naked in the bath, receiving a shower of hot or cold water, "The Sure Water Cure", the Sidney M. Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

Has anyone tried to sell you an anti-coronavirus machine recently? We suggest you pause for a moment before you hit that “Buy Now!” button…This isn’t the first time that our society has been inundated with promises of miracle cures of one type or another. Perhaps you’ve heard of something known as “Hydropathy”? Well, a series of lithograph postcards preserved in the National Library of Israel’s Sidney M. Edelstein Collection, which were printed in the satirical book, The Sure Water Cure, (Messrs Fores, London, 1843) tells us of a series of weird and cruel attempts at healing, alongside a thriving and criminal water-treatment industry. Perhaps the logic used here was something along the lines of, “If these methods don’t kill you, congratulations – no silly virus will stand a chance…”

Nowadays, we’re familiar with modern water-based therapies and their great contribution to the field of orthopedics, the development of motor skills, as well as emotional development. This modern method of treatment is known as ‘hydrotherapy’. In the past, more than a century ago, water medicine was referred to as ‘hydropathy’ or ‘water cure’. This school of thought gained momentum and became extremely popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It even spawned an entire field of alternative medical literature.

Doctors estimated that water might have healing properties that could be harnessed, for example, by manipulating water temperature or water pressure, or transferring water through an assortment of odd contraptions. In general, their observation was correct: water can indeed be used effectively in certain situations for healing purposes. For example, water treatments were found to be successful in reducing fevers and high blood pressure, and scientists hurriedly assumed that they had found the new miracle cure. It wasn’t long before charlatans caught wind of the startling revelation, and “holy” and “miraculous” solutions to various ailments began appearing by the dozen.

Among promises made to anyone willing to listen, were the far-fetched assurances that various methods of water treatment were capable of rejuvenating one’s youth and restoring missing limbs. There were even claims that special, secret treatments could bring a person back from the dead. The postcard here displays a real advertisement, with the head of a water pump shaped as a cross, alluding to the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The advertisement declares:

The Sure Water Cure – Amputations restored the dead revived and age hydropathicalized into youth.”

The Sure Water Cure, the Sidney M. Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

In the late 19th century, it wasn’t uncommon to see amputees and elderly people standing in line for ridiculous, unreasonable treatments. Gradually, and in order to increase revenue, the practitioners promised that water therapy could cure mental and spiritual illnesses, such as insomnia, suicidal tendencies, manic-depressive disorders, as well as severe physical illnesses such as paralysis or arthritis. Toward the end of the 19th-century, the phenomenon was so popular and widespread, that a series of medical caricatures were printed in England, warning the public of the false “miracle cure” and poking fun at the trend.

Hydropathy was based on external and internal water treatments. One of the treatments the public was warned about came to be known as “The Mummy State”. The below illustration shows a patient lying in his bed (probably suffering from the flu, a fever, or some other malaise), tightly wrapped up in blankets like a mummy, as a machine pumps generous quantities of water into his body through a tube.

“…those who thus expect to be cured, will suck in any thing, any quantity, and at any price!” – The Sure Water Cure, the Sidney M. Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

The process is described on the back of the caricature, in words that serve as biting criticism of a gullible public:

“The Mummy State

The patient […] is tightly enveloped in blankets to perspire, if he lives long enough he is usually made a Mummy of or cured, the chances are equal. The hands being confined. Water is given plentifully through a tube, obviously those who thus expect to be cured, will suck in any thing, any quantity, and at any price!”

Or in other words: When in a panic, you’ll buy whatever you’re told works.

Many of the caricatures show a patient sitting naked in a bathtub receiving a shower of hot or cold water (depending on the treatment) in the hopes of curing some mental illness. The skeptics continued to cast doubt, and instead of recommending the treatment to the public – suggested it be used on members of the British Parliament. The back of the postcard reads: “…a Douche is in preparation expressly adapted for the use of M.Ps. as it will be found extremely efficacious in clearing the intellectual depository and in supplying the said vacuum!”

“…extremely efficacious in clearing the intellectual depository…” – The Sure Water Cure, the Sidney M. Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

The mentally-ill population suffered in particular from these aquatic “miracle cures,” which were especially prevalent in London’s horrific 19th-century psychiatric institutions. In order to extract the disease from one’s head, treatment methods sometimes included plunging the patient’s head into a bucket of water, while he or she was held upside down, using ropes and pulleys. The torturous method, which harkens back to medieval times, proved itself ineffective in treating diseases of the mind. However, over the years, various intelligence agencies have controversially used similar methods, involving the simulation of a sensation of drowning, while attempting to extract secrets from people who weren’t interested in disclosing them.

Dunking the head of the patient in water: not so useful in treating mental illness; similar methods would be used in interrogations, The Sure Water Cure, the Sidney M. Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

Water therapy treatments were a hit more than a century ago. At the beginning of the 20th century and with the establishment of modern medicine, the cruel treatments were abandoned. But if anything can be learned from the past, it’s that people will always take advantage of humankind’s desire for health, and sell all kinds of tricks, instruments, and concoctions, which will “guarantee” quick cures or a miracle. So the next time you hear about an anti-corona device or an all-curing wonder-bath which fits in your own living room, don’t be quick to order that special delivery – go to a doctor. Stay safe.


Many thanks to Chaya Meier Herr of  the Sidney M. Edelstein Center for the History and Philosophy of Science, Technology and Medicine for her assistance in preparing this article.


If you liked this article, try these:

The Last Resort: The Man Who Saved the World from Two Pandemics

When the Spanish Flu Arrived in the Land of Israel

Prayers, Amulets and Spells to Ward off Plague


When the ‘Jerusalem of Austria’ Burned to the Ground (on Lag B’Omer)

A look back at the disaster which befell the city of Brody in 1867, and how Europe's Jews came together to help the victims

“There is no way to estimate, no way to tell or describe the great catastrophe that occurred in our city that day…  All the houses were completely consumed by fire, all that people had worked for came to nothing, everyone’s faces became disconsolate from the flames, holy books flew into the air, utterly sparks of light. The new and old synagogues, the houses of study, and the hospital went up to heaven in fiery smoke.”

Brody was a commercial and intellectual center. Since at least the 1500s, it was home to a thriving Jewish community and notable figures from different streams of Jewish thought and life had called it home – Kabbalists, Hassidim, proponents of the Enlightenment, even famous writers and entertainers.

The Fortress Synagogue in Brody, late 19th century. From the Folklore Research Center at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

It was known as the “Jerusalem of Austria”.

By 1867, Brody’s population had reached about 20,000, some 75% of whom were Jewish. In March of that year, the Kaiser himself granted the Jews of Brody the exceptional right to hold up to half of the seats on the municipal council as opposed to the one-third generally permitted.

On Lag B’Omer, just two months later, the “great catastrophe” described above by newspaper editor Baruch Werber, destroyed much of Austria’s Jerusalem.

Brody had suffered fires in its history, even as recently as 1859. Just a generation before that, a massive blaze in the village inspired noted Hebrew scholar, poet and Brody native Marcus Strelisker, to publish “The Cup of Poison“, a raw lamentation on the destruction of his hometown, which included these words:

“Poor turbulent Brody! She almost turned into a wasteland
Soon a moon will have passed, and she is not yet consoled
The fury has not yet subsided, the wrath has not yet abated!”

From a copy of Marcus Stelisker’s “The Cup of Poison“, the National Library of Israel

The city had just a few poorly outfitted firemen. Nearly all of the homes and roofs were made of wood.

Besides the destruction of central institutions, two major synagogues and a hospital, according to one account no less than 32 batei midrash (Jewish houses of study) were destroyed in the 1867 blaze, alongside between  800 and 1300 homes (sources vary). The wooden homes served as ready kindling. Some roofs were made of zinc, which turned into molten streams running down the collapsing walls of what had once been homes, oozing into the streets.

“I saw  masses of people running and not getting tired, their eyes  turned to the heavens, towards clouds of smoke rising higher and higher. Before I knew it I was among the runners… I became one of the terrified ones lifting my legs to run towards home, and before I even got to my doorstep, ha! Fire stood over me, and every place I went there was a pillar of fire before me…” wrote Baruch Werber, the editor of local newspaper Jbri Anochi, a week after the blaze.

Baruch Werber’s son Jakob, pictured here as a young man, survived the fire as a child. He would follow in his father’s footsteps as editor of Jbri Anochi. From the National Library of Israel archives

Thousands like Werber fled, gathering their loved ones and most valued possessions and running to the fields.

Then something kind of beautiful happened.

As the flames continued dancing in the sky and the smoke billowed on, people began to arrive from the surrounding villages. Some had seen the fire and smoke, while others had heard the fast-spreading rumors of Brody’s fate. They came from places like Radyvyliv, Dubno, and Tarnopol, and brought with them clothes, blankets and bread.

As the fires retreated and the embers sizzled into ash over the coming days, many of those fortunate enough to still have a bit of roof over their homes invited the less  fortunate into their homes until the devastation could be better assessed, and the reconstruction could begin.

In the coming weeks, accounts of the carnage, accompanied by pleas for assistance, and words of gratitude to those who had already sent aid cluttered newspaper pages. Donations came in from near and far as simple peasants, synagogues and communities heard the plight of their neighbors and availed themselves to help. Donations were listed in Werber’s Jbri Anochi newspaper, even spurring complaints that he had not included them all.

Leon Ephrussi, one of the richest men in the world, a “King of Wheat” described in Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes, even spearheaded a campaign to raise funds for the decimated shtetl, where his wife Minna had grown up.

Headline in the Hamelitz newspaper on June 6, 1867 imploring its readership: “Turn your hearts to mercy!”
“Wake Up Call!” in the Hamagid newspaper on June 12, 1867, asking readers to help the victims of the Brody fire


According to a first-hand account from Adela Landau Misis, who was a child at the time, the fire prompted the creation of a well-equipped volunteer fire department. Wood shingles were banned.

All of the homes in Brody were re-built with better materials and iron roofs, and “The Jerusalem of Austria” never again saw a fire like the one kindled that Lag B’Omer.

Postcard showing a rebuilt Brody in the late 19th century. From the Folklore Research Center at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem


This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to connect with people, institutions and communities in Europe and beyond.


If you liked this article, try these:

The Brothers Polyakov: From the Shtetls of Poland to Russian Nobility

The Vilna Gaon Makes a Surprise Appearance

An Invitation to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Wedding

The Jewish Heroes and Heroines of Victory Day

These Jewish soldiers took part in the liberation of Europe from the clutches of Nazi Germany

During the Soviet era, the 9th of May – Victory Day – became the main national holiday of the U.S.S.R., celebrating the great motherland’s victorious triumph in the war against Nazi Germany. It is still celebrated today in Russia and other countries, while in Israel, many immigrants from the nations of the former Soviet Union also mark the holiday with various parades and events (many other countries, including the U.S. and U.K., celebrate a variation of the holiday, VE Day – Victory in Europe Day – on the 8th of May).

The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People at the National Library of Israel has revealed rare images of Jewish heroes and heroines of the Red Army during World War II. The images were found thanks to a special documentation project being conducted by the Central Archives, in collaboration with the Eva Jewish Charity Organization based in St. Petersburg, Russia, which provides homecare services and various social and cultural activities for the elderly. In the course of the project, family photo albums are scanned and supplementary documentation is also collected.

Many Jews took part in the war effort against Germany and the Axis nations during World War II, and around 250,000 lost their lives as a result. Their story has been somewhat overlooked because of the dominance of the Holocaust in Jewish collective memory of the war period. Even the “Heroism” ethos of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) emphasizes the role of the Jewish rebels in the ghettos and the Jewish partisans. The contributions of the many Jews who took part in the war itself are often forgotten.

In these family photo albums, the place of Jewish soldiers in the Red Army is emphasized. Sometimes the fallen family member is a father of the album’s owner, and sometimes it is a long-lost aunt.


The Photographs

Israel Danilovich Stackelberg was severely wounded in battle in 1942. In the first photo he appears alongside the nurse who saved his life. In the second photo, he is seen with the soldiers of his company, holding a machine gun, and in the third he is wearing a medal. Captain Stackelberg fell on the frontlines in 1944 at Leningrad. His son Leonid brought the photographs to Daria Zacharova, who scanned them for the project.




The family of Gregory Meller brought forward the photograph below, in which he is seen adorned with medals. On the other side of the photograph, Meller wrote: “Me, right after the Battle of Stalingrad, December 1943”.

Many women also filled combat roles in the former Soviet Union, among them many Jewish women. One of these was Sofia Zacharovna Golovinskaya (1909-2005). During the siege of Leningrad, Sofia was drafted into a military fire-fighting unit, in which she served for more than a year, until the siege was lifted. After the siege she received training to join a bomb-removal squad in the engineering corps, and worked to locate and disarm mines that had been placed in strategic locations throughout the city during the siege, to be used in case the Germans were able to force their way into the city. Afterwards, in May 1944, she joined the local air defense regiment. Sofia disarmed 750 mines, and was awarded a citation and five medals for her contributions. Sofia made aliyah and arrived in Israel in 1994.

מימין: גולובינסקאיה סופיה זכרובנה
On the right: Sofia Zacharovna Golovinskaya

Mayor Smuelovich Kalibko was drafted into the army, despite being short-sighted. He took part in the conquest of Berlin in May, 1945. In the picture below he is seen with a friend, on Berlin’s Kaiser Wilhelm monument.

משמאל: מאיור (מארק) סמואילוביץ קאליבקו
On the left: Mayor Smuelovich Kalibko


If you liked this article, try these:

“I Heard That Germany Had Surrendered” – Memories of VE Day in Mandatory Palestine

How Lenin’s Great-Grandfather, a Convert, Informed on the Jews

What Would You Serve at a Passover Seder During the Korean War?



Why ‘Anti-Semitism’ Was Not in the Original Oxford English Dictionary

In a newly surfaced letter, the dictionary's founding editor wrote that it was not thought likely to be more than a "passing nonce-word…"

A recently surfaced letter penned by James Murray, the Oxford English Dictionary’s founding editor, sheds new light on “anti-Semitism” in the English language. The letter appears online here for the first time.

“Anti-Semitism” and related words do not have their own entries in the original edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, the massive project which sought to publish a comprehensive lexicon of the entire English language. Murray became the founding editor of the OED in 1879, with the full edition taking 40 years to publish.

James Murray, founding editor of the Oxford English Dictionary

The reasons for the word’s exclusion are elaborated by Murray in the letter, which he wrote on July 5, 1900 to Claude Montefiore, a scholar, ardent anti-Zionist and scion of the renowned British Jewish family. Montefiore was a founder of Liberal Anglo-Judaism, and the great-nephew of Moses Montefiore, one of the most important early supporters of the modern Zionist movement.

Portrait of Claude Montefiore, by Christopher Williams, 1925

Besides the fact that “the material for anti- words was so enormous that much violence had to be employed” to get them all in, Murray noted the following:

Anti-semite and its family were then probably very new in English use, and not thought likely to be more than passing nonce-words, & hence they did not receive treatment in a separate article. Probably if we had to do that post now, we should have to make Anti-semite a main word, and add ‘hence Anti-semitic, Anti-semitism.’

You will see that Anti-slavery, which was, then at least, a much more important word, is also treated among the Anti– combinations (sense 4). Would that Anti-semitism had had no more than a fleeting interest! The closing years of the 19th c. have shown, alas! that much of Christianity is only a temporary whitewash over brutal savagery. It is unutterably sadding to one like myself who remembers ’48 and the high hopes we had in the fifties that we had left ignorance, superstition[?], and brute force behind us, and that the 19th c. was to usher in the reign of righteousness. How the devil must have chuckled at our fond & foolish dream!”

James Murray’s letter to Claude Montefiore, from the Abraham Schwadron Collection, the Archives Department at the National Library of Israel

In a post-script, Murray also notes that according to his German assistant, a variety of “anti-” terms were “English newspaper coinages” – “hardly words” at all, but rather “condensed expressions”.  It was shorter to write “anti-imperialistic opinions”, for example “than ‘opinions opposed to the new imperialism’.”

Some prevalent “newspaper coinages” of this type at the time included “Anti-boer, anti-foreign, anti-Japan[?], anti-imperialistic, anti-expansion, anti-silver”. The term “Anti-semitic”, in his view, did not seem to fit into this category: “Anti-semitic has however a flavor of the professor about it, not of the penny-a-liner, & looks like the perpetration of some Viennese pundit. The man in the street would have said Anti-Jewish.”

The letter came to light as part of a major National Library of Israel initiative, supported by the Leir Foundation, to review and describe millions of items in NLI archival collections, which include personal papers, photographs, and documents from many of the 20th century’s most prominent cultural figures.

According to expert National Library archivist Rachel Misrati, who catalogued the letter as part of the initiative and has written extensively on NLI archival materials, “The Oxford University Press was unable to locate Montefiore’s original letter to Murray. Nonetheless, we can see from the context that Montefiore was apparently surprised by the fact that ‘anti-Semitism’ seemed to be conspicuously absent from the dictionary intended to be the English language’s definitive authority.”

Interestingly, the term “Semitism” did appear in the first edition of the dictionary, along with mention of the fact that “In recent use,” it had already come to be associated with “Jewish ideas or Jewish influence in policy and society”.

Special thanks to Rachel Misrati for her keen eye and expertise.

The Abraham Schwadron Autograph Collection has been reviewed and described thanks to the generous support of The Leir Foundation.

This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to connect with people, institutions and communities in Europe and beyond.


If you liked this article, try these:

Gandhi’s 1939 Rosh Hashanah Greeting to the Jewish People

An Invitation to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Wedding

The Black Hebrew Exodus, 50 Years On