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ss triple helix - summer 2004,  Caring for Jewish Patients (Book Review)

Caring for Jewish Patients (Book Review)

Caring for Jewish Patients - Joseph Spitzer - Radcliffe Medical Press 2003 - £24.95 Pb 232pp - ISBN 1 85775 991 5

An Orthodox Jewish man leaned out of a cubicle in casualty, pointed directly at me and bellowed, 'He can examine me!' As a clinical student who happened to be passing through, I felt rather bewildered when the frustrated casualty officer persuaded me to yield to this unexpected demand. The patient had not allowed anyone else to approach him. He mistakenly assumed my features were Jewish. 25 years later, I wonder about the implications of informed consent!

Dr Spitzer's excellent book explains the cultural perspective which impelled the patient to act in a determined way. It is an enlightening aid especially for those working in areas with a high concentration of Jewish patients. The author is a General Practitioner, an Orthodox Jew serving a very traditional Jewish community in North London. This volume is rooted in his personal understanding and professional experience, often punctuated with lively and revealing anecdotes.

This account examines the attitudes and responses of Jewish patients to life, family, disease and death. Using the traditional Orthodox community as a benchmark, Dr Spitzer allows the reader to extrapolate firmly held beliefs and practices into Jewish communities whose interpretations are more liberal. We discover the profoundly religious obligation to seek medical help, often misunderstood by non- Jews as hypochondriacal or obsessional behaviour.

For those interested in biblical history and Judaism, the first part of the book is one of the best summaries of Jewish history, tradition and thought that I have read. Definitely for Christians whose theology of mission sits more easily with the Messianic end of the spectrum rather than that of 'Jews for Jesus'. Although there is some repetition and at times the prose is a little turgid, I can thoroughly recommend this book. Working in a North London Practice with Jewish colleagues and a large number of Jewish patients, I will encourage staff, students and registrars to learn from Dr Spitzer's insights.

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