Iranian Jewish Culure
Chacham Hakim Nehourai -Nour-ol-Hokama

Chacham Hakim Nehourai -Nour-ol-Hokama

Traditional Doctor, Theological Scholar

Chacham Hakim Nour-Mahmoud Nehourai, entitled Nour-ol-Hokama, i.e. “The Light of the Physicians”, was born in 1809 C.E., the 1190 (or 1188) of the Persian calendar, to a religious Jewish family of Kashan, Iran.

His father Hakim (Doctor) Haroun Kashani was a well-known traditional doctor and an erudite scholar of the Jewish community of Kashan during the reigns of Mohammad Shah and the early years of Nasseraddin Shah, two of the Qajar kings. Hakim Haroun had eight children from his marriage, all of whom followed the father’s suit and practiced medicine. As time would prove, their descendants to date would continue to pursue medicine and pass it on to their children as a family profession.

Chacham Hakim Nehourai first learned the medical sciences from his father and other traditional doctors of the time. Then, having gained much needed experience and remarkable achievements in his hometown, he left Kashan for the capital Tehran, accompanied by his servant Yousef, to further his education and to expand his services on a far broader scale.

It is said that on his way to Tehran, Chacham Hakim Nehourai arrived at the religious city of Qom, where a large crowd caught his attention. The pregnant daughter of a senior Islamic cleric had died of asphyxiation in the public bath, and according to an old local tradition, her still body was being carried in a large procession attended by relatives and other acquaintances, first to be revolved around the Mausoleum of the Prophetess Masoumeh in Qom, i.e. to practice a tavaf, before the burial would be performed. Hakim Nehourai sent words to the Ayatollah, that he was a Jewish doctor from Kashan, and that he sought permission to examine the body of his daughter for the last time. The Ayatollah agreed without hesitation and proclaimed that as a doctor, he was allowed the intimacy.

Upon examination, Chacham Hakim Nehourai noticed signs of life in the still body. He announced that the Ayatollah’s daughter was alive and that she had to be treated immediately. He ordered the body out of the coffin, had her laid down on a bed, and began examining the young woman more closely. As he carefully studied the body, he discovered a tumor in the patient’s chest that obstructed the breathing. He opened the chest, took out the tumor, freed up the space around the respiratory system, and allowed her to resume breathing freely. The young woman, thereto close to actually die from hypoxia, gradually regained her normal bodily functions. Thus, both the mother and the fetus inside her were saved. The Hakim then ordered some sweet sorbet, which he made the patient drink with some herbal medicine that he had on him.

The locals saw the incident as a miracle performed by a Jewish doctor, who had just revived the dead before their eyes. The news of the miracle spread around, and the highly Islamic city of Qom was awash in joy. The Ayatollah was beyond himself in ecstasy, and he asked the young doctor to stay in his town. Chacham Hakim Nehourai, intent on traveling to the capital, agreed to stay there until the young woman would fully recover. During that time, he attended to the pregnant woman and treated many other patients. His mastery of medicine made the Ayatollah bestow upon Hakim Nehourai the title of “Nour-Mahmoud”, literally “The Praised Light,” or “The Light of the Praised.” (“Mahmoud”, meaning “Good Natured”, was one of the titles accorded to Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam.) The cleric further announced that the Hakim and his servant were not najess, i.e. ritually contaminated, that they were permitted to even go to the well or the water reservoir, and that no one would stop and protest them. Yet, shortly afterwards, the Hakim’s servant got into a quarrel with a man at the well, was badly beaten by him, and was insulted by the crowd. Chacham Hakim Nour-Mahmoud Nehourai who could not bear such misguided mentality and ideological pressure, decided to leave Qom without further delay. He met with the Ayatollah and asked his permission to leave for Tehran, although he promised that he would be honored to serve him again in the future when the need be.

In Tehran, Chacham Hakim Nehourai settled home and office in an alley that would become known by his name. The house was located on the northern side of the Oudlajan Neighborhood, “the Jewish ghetto of Tehran”, at the Tekkieh Reza-Gholi Khan, next to the practice of Etemad-ol-Atebba Hakim Bashi, i.e. “The Traditional Doctor Trusted by His Peers.” Given his reputation as a skilled and erudite doctor, Hakim Nehourai succeeded to advance far and fast in no time by his mastery of the profession, but also by his kind manners toward the public and his consistently good relations with colleagues. For years, the Chacham Hakim Nehourai practice, considered the great medical center around, was also seen as a prominent center for medical education, where many of the famed doctors of the time learned medical sciences from this erudite figure.

Before long, Hakim Nour-Mahmoud Nehourai’s reputation had reached the royal court of Qajar, and he was invited to begin work as the special doctor to the court. Thereafter, still serving the public at large, he joined his Jewish colleagues Hakim Moshe “Moses” and Hakim Yehazkel “Ezekiel”, from the Jews of Khansar, to treat the aristocratic elite, the officials, the entitled, and the princes of Qajar in the court of Nasseraddin Shah.

Chacham Hakim Nour-Mahmoud’s fame spread far among all classes, and Nasseraddin Shah’s particular attention toward him increased, so far as the Hakim became subjected to the jealous contempt of his many competitors, the doctors of the court, some of whom eventually made an attempt on his life. At one given opportunity, in the quiet of the night, the co-conspirators found the Hakim alone, and he was stabbed in the abdomen several times by dagger. Despite the intensive wounds and severe bleeding, however, the conspiracy remained unfulfilled, and Hakim Nour-Mahmoud Nehourai survived the assassination. Even as the Hakim was bleeding, he asked his eldest son Ayoub “Job” to sew his abdomen wounds with the help of Mirza Hassan Khan so they could heal more swiftly. And awhile afterwards, Hakim Nehourai reappeared at his office before the surprised eyes of his jealous competitors.

Highly respected by his compatriots, Chacham Hakim Nehourai was also revered among the foreigners living in the capital for the erudite personality and skilled doctor that he was. When the first Iranian Postcards were published, they bore photos of him as Nour-ol-Hokama, “The Light of the Doctors”, while treating patients or teaching students. Several surviving stamps also bear photos of him by Antoin Sevruguin. According to the customs of the time, Chacham Hakim Nehourai was highly appreciated for his meritorious and humanitarian services in medicine, and he was honored by precious prizes and official awards from state personalities. The most prominent of these awards was a carpet that depicted the storied events of the Torah, Genesis in particular, which was bestowed on the Hakim by Nasseraddin Shah, the king of Qajar. This carpet is preserved today at the Beth Tzedec Museum, in Toronto, Canada.

Chacham Hakim Nehourai had a mastery of Hebrew, Arabic and Persian. He was well-versed in the subject of religion, beginning with the Tanach, the complete Jewish Bible, besides being an outstanding scholar of the Jewish theology. He had a particularly comprehensive knowledge of the laws of the Torah, and he had done extensive research in Kabbalah. He also knew Koran very well, as he could recite all its chapters by memory. Furthermore, he had mastered the 14-voume Book of Law of Avicenna written in Arabic, a book which he taught, and upon which he wrote many commentaries. As an artist, he was a master of the Persian Calligraphy, especially in the two styles of Shekasteh (Broken) and Nasta’ligh (Cursive). Also a poet, at times he wrote prescriptions in rhymed verse!

Chacham Hakim Nour-Mahmoud Nehourai was considered a genius of medicine in his time. As a doctor, he played a significant role in the evolution of modern medicine in contemporary Iran, which secured him a special niche in history.

He was the first traditional doctor in Iran to be familiar with Acupuncture, the methods of which he applied in many cases to treating patients. Most all of patients cured by the acupuncture thought of Hakim Nour-Mahmoud’s treatment as a kind of miracle, since back then few people knew about this science.

Still a young student in Kashan, learning and practicing medicine under the tutelage of his father, Chacham Hakim Nehourai married a relative of his. The couple brought six children to the word, three sons, namely Ayoub “Job”, Aflatoun “Plato”, and Homayoun, and three daughters, Khanom “Lady”, Keshvar “Country”, and Touba.

His eldest son, Hakim Ayoub Nehourai, was born in Kashan and died at the age of 44 in Tehran. Dr. Loghman Nehourai, Ayoub’s son, followed his father’s steps and practiced medicine. Also for more than three decades, he chaired the Tehran Jewish Association, besides that he served terms as the Representative of the Jewish community in the National Parliament.

Chacham Hakim Nehourai’s second son, Hakim Aflatoun Nehourai, was one of the outstanding traditional doctors of the Iranian Jewish community, as well.

Chacham Hakim Nehourai’s third son, Hakim Mirza-Agha Khan Filsouf Homayoun, a graduate of the famed Dar-ol-Fonoun school, practiced medicine for more than 60 years. Following Chacham Nehourai’s death, he followed his father’s suit and continued to serve as a doctor of the royal court. Mirza-Agha Khan was considered one of the famed doctors of the country during the reigns of three Qajar kings, Mozaffareddin Shah, Muhammad-Ali Shah, and Ahmad Shah Qajar.

Furthermore, the children and the descendants of Chacham Nehourai’s daughters, that is, Khanom, Keshvar Khanom, and Touba Khanom, chose to follow their ancestral profession, earned advanced degrees in medicine, and achieved high positions in their field. To date, they remain well-known as outstanding physicians, both in Iran and around the world.

Chacham Hakim Nour-Mahmoud Nehourai, a.k.a. Nour-ol-Hokama, died in the year 1899 C.E., the 1278 of the Persian calendar, at the age of 90, in the early years of the reign of Mozaffareddin Shah Qajar.

 Patients Awaiting Turn to Meet With Hakim Nour-Mahmoud Nehourai Photo: Antoin Sevruguin


 Chacham Hakim Nour-Mahmoud Nehourai Advising Other Doctors Photo: Antoin Sevruguin

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