Darwin's Jews: Online Reader

Abraham Matmon



  1. Introduction
  2. Primary source: Hashbachat Ha-Gez'a shel Ha-Min Ha-Enoshi ve-A'rachav le-Ma'an A'menu (Hebrew)
  3. Primary source: The Racial Improvement of the Human Species and Its Value for Our Nation (English translation)
  4. Select bibliography
  5. Discussion forum


1. Introduction ⇧ top

Abraham Matmon was a sexologist based in Tel Aviv who was highly active as an author and editor in the 1930s. He published, among other things, a Hebrew language journal on public health and sexual hygiene called Briut (Health) and examples of his own works include The Sex Life of Man (1939), an article entitled ‘Racial Improvement and Control of Marriage’ (1933), and a pamphlet on ‘The Racial Improvement of the Human Species and Its Value for Our Nation’ (1933), which is the focus here. The early twentieth century was a time of nation building following the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and during the period of the British Mandate from 1920-1948. Zionists in Palestine were as interested as any other group in race science and eugenics, and Matmon, closely associated with the Institute for Hygiene and the Sexual Sciences in Tel Aviv, was a significant figure in that context.

Political Zionist ideology has embraced and identified closely with science and technology in a variety of ways (see Efron 2007, 230-234). Zionist science enabled Jewish Palestine to be presented as an oasis of progressive principles and western values in the Middle East, and promised to bridge the backwards desert societies and the advanced West. Furthermore, the association with a modern, scientifically-driven society reinforced the idea of Jewish genius, archaeological science helped demonstrate the Jewish claim to the land, modern agricultural techniques showed it to be capable of absorbing the Jewish masses. Within the Jewish world, the embrace of science and technology was integral to the reinvention of the Jew, and secular Zionists were often scornful in distancing themselves from the superstitious Jewish religion they had left behind. The secular Zionist aspiration for normalcy and its embrace of humanistic values and scientific universalism was the flip side of the coin of the rejection of Jewish particularism. As such, Zionist eugenics represented just one way of exploring the complicated relations between nation, race, biology, culture, and society for the Jewish people.

In Matmon's pamphlet The Racial Improvement of the Human Species and Its Value for Our Nation, in which he cited and included photos of Charles Darwin, the eugenicist Francis Galton, and the progenitor of modern genetics Gregor Mendel, he set out his argument for the value of a eugenic programme for ‘our nation’. Considerable time was spent demonstrating the problems of degeneration for any society, highlighting some common Jewish complications that resulted from intermarriage between close relatives. He suggested that there was an unavoidable tension between the need to ensure the welfare of the individual degenerate and the equally legitimate need to ensure the welfare of the nation and species; although he did not attempt to explain this in terms of evolutionary theory, he appeared to view it very much as a serious challenge for any civilization. While he maintained that degenerate individuals propagated better than the healthy ones, in the end he rejected both positive eugenics (i.e. the active promotion of higher rates of reproduction for people with desirable traits) and negative eugenics (i.e. the prevention of reproduction for dysgenic people, usually through sterilization). Instead, he called for ‘passive eugenics’, which in practical terms meant the introduction of a ‘marital examination’ that would inform an individual about their potential partner’s inheritable defects and venereal diseases with a view to the postponement or prevention of a dysgenic marriage. It is worth noting that nowhere in the study was there any reference to different races, so that Matmon’s concern was very much for the Jewish nation to aspire to be exemplary in its racial hygiene from a medical point of view (supported by discussion of sexual health more generally), rather than to be concerned with a programme to improve its race over other distinct races.


2. Primary source (Hebrew) ⇧ top

Abraham Matmon, Hashbachat Ha-Gez'a shel Ha-Min Ha-Enoshi ve-A'rachav le-Ma'an A'menu (Tel Aviv: Institute for Hygiene and the Sexual Sciences, 1933), 1-19. (2.1MB, PDF)


3. Primary source (English Translation) ⇧ top

Abraham Matmon, The Racial Improvement of the Human Species and Its Value for Our Nation (Tel Aviv: Institute for Hygiene and the Sexual Sciences, 1933), 1-19.

[p.3] There is a great deal of talk among us concerning our nation's aspiration for mental and physical renewal, a renewal which will enable it to carry forward the tradition of past generations, to increase the spiritual wealth bequeathed to it by its forefathers, to spread their wisdom throughout the world, and to acquire an honourable place in human society. Yet we must always remember at the same time the assumption that for the nation to avoid degeneration, we must concern ourselves not only with its quantitative value, but also with its quality. The best element in the nation is that which always goes forwards, pushing the nation, or, more accurately, pulling the backward, along with it.

Many thinking people, especially men of religion – who, as a rule, do not base their views on modern science – believe that the nation's fate, its future and its strength depend upon the greatest possible number of marital ties accomplished within the nation and the resulting births. They ascribe no great value to the nature of the infant, whether he is weak or strong, intelligent or simpleminded; a person destined to be a deep thinker and a source of benefit to others, or one who end will be to be a criminal and harm society. This is not the case with those who base their views upon the foundation of science, and in particular upon theory of heredity; they know and understand very well that that is not the right way. In the end, any nation containing large numbers of people suffering from inherited defects will reach the point of degeneration. It has indeed never yet occurred in history that the diseased outnumber the healthy. But we must not conclude from this that such an occurrence is impossible, since we can already see now the large number of people who, judging by their physical state, may not be seen as wholly sound. Let us take, for example, the vision deficient, so numerous in our nation that without a doubt we [Jews] have, or have had, a particular capacity for it; this is been caused by living for 2000 years in a black exile and darker ghettos. Or let us mention other frailties, such as feebleness of the nerves, which is inherited in a large part of sufferers. According to Zikhel, Jews have a great propensity towards those mental disturbances [p.4] that eventually bring about, according to what has been observed, a tendency towards suicide, towards fundamentally poor states of mind, towards old-age melancholy, towards psychopathy of various kinds combined with deep depression, and towards personalities with an unstable mental equilibrium (according to Ruppin). It is also undeniable that various other types of phenomena, that indicate degeneration, prevailing every other nation: every physical or mental depreciation inherited by children from their parents leaves its mark on its inherited is one way or another.

In Germany, for example, according to very conservative counts, the number of degenerates is estimated thus: per 100,000 inhabitants: 400 mentally ill and idiots, hundred and 50 epileptics, 200 addicts, 30 deaf and dumb, 250 suffering from birth defects, 502 tuberculars at the most severe degree of the disease. All of them have inherited either their condition or the capacity to develop it.

The numbers will be more less similar for each and every nation, and if we add to them the number of those suffering from the effects and minor physical deficiencies such as deficiencies of eyesight, feebleness of the nerves, etc, which we can say without exaggeration that over a third of humanity is in a state of degeneration. As an example, let us take Tel Aviv with its 45,000 inhabitants, where in educational institutions alone there are more than 25 deaf and dumb and over 30 defective semi-idiot children. The number of the latter in the city is estimated at over 100. Illustrative figures concerning the number of defects of these types among the Jews in general, are provided by Dr Ruppin in his book, The Sociology of the Jews (part two):

“According to the census of the mentally ill and those suffering from medical conditions within the population of Prussia, conducted in 1895, there were:

                                                Mentally ill           Blind               Deaf and dumb

Per 100,000 Jews                   491.9                   104.8              129.8

Per 100,000 Christians          253                      65.3                85.8

According to this, the number of the mentally ill among the Jews is double that amongst Christians, and the number of the blind and deaf-and-dumb is 1.5 times greater among the Jews than among the Christians."

We can see the ratio of the number of those with defects among the Jews to those defects among the Christians, from the following numbers, which are here collected from statistics relating to Hungary [p.5] in 1924-1925: during that period, the Jews in the country numbered 5.9% of the overall population, but the number of Jews in asylums and care homes was: in homes for the Blind 7.2%, homes for the deaf and dumb 9.1%, medical educational institutions (for the simpleminded) 15% (ibid.) 

And the following table proves the same thing to us as well. In Hungary there were, per 100,000 inhabitants:

100.9 death and done among Jews, 88.5 among Christians

100.2 insane among Jews, 49.2 among Christians

91.2 imbeciles among Jews, 87.9 among Christians

In these statistics, the "insane" are defined as people who had been initially sane, and whose mental activity became disturbed over time; "imbeciles" [are defined as] mentally ill from birth (ibid.)

This kind of situation cannot continue, because year by year, the number of defective people increases, since it is exactly those of the lowest rank who produce more children and pass their characteristics to their children. Let us not forget the large sums of money spent by every civilised nation on these degenerate people. Regarding Germany, Betters writes:

"Germany spends over 1 million marks a year on raising, educating and caring for the asocial and antisocial elements, in schools for defective children, in institutions for mental deficiencies, asylums were lunatics and incurables, rehabilitation homes for alcoholics, jails, and shelters for beggars; and this amount, which all goes on non-productive work, is increasing day by day. The day is growing ever nearer when caring for the healthy part of the German nation will cease altogether, due to the lack of means to carry it out. And after all this, only a portion of the social and antisocial element is in the asylums. The greatest part is at large and one keeps coming upon it everywhere. It destroys private and public property, endangers public order and peace as well as security and morality. That is the part of [society with] the highest fertility and reproduction, and it gives rise to offspring without end or limit…"

We are therefore facing the question of how to solve this problem. Shall we content ourselves with providing asylums and shelters for these wretched people, or shall we let them wander about without any supervision until they disappear from the face of the earth? The latter counsel is inhuman and will not achieve the aim because, as we have already mentioned, that part of society is [p.6] the most fertile, and we have no permission to allow the matter to be resolved by blind chance and human nature. On the contrary, we must take these people's fate in our own hands, to provide them with the necessary help and protection, while exerting an influence on the course taken by their procreation, and guide that procreation in a way congenial with society. This is the new role of modern hygiene: to protect humanity from the deluge of the inferior and to block any penetration of humanity by them, by depriving them of the ability to pass their infertility on to future generations. With this, we come into contact with a new branch of hygiene, the hygiene of procreation, eugenics, or "improving the human race".

What is racial improvement? It is an attempt to improve the quality of humanity by means of the early selection of certain elements of the population, and to make a direct influence upon the course taken by procreation. This theory is based upon ideas that are taken from Darwin's theory [of evolution]. But the man who established the theory of racial improvement and gave it the name of "eugenics" is Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton. He was the first to emphasize with full force the significance of heredity in human achievement, and to provide a scientific foundation for understanding it.

The phenomena of heredity in the realm of vegetation had already been investigated many years before. Experiments were being conducted by the Austrian, Johann Gregor Mendel, who investigated the phenomena of heritability in plants. His conclusions were as follows: if a red flowered plant and a white flowered plant combine by means of pollen, we get hybrid plants: pink [p.7] flowers. If we now breed the pink flowers together, we shall see that the offspring will be one red (corresponding with the father flower), one white (corresponding with the mother flower), and to pink, corresponding with the hybrid flower. Breeding red with red at this point will produce red again, white with white - white again, pink with pink will again produce one red, one white and two pink. From this we can see that the hybrid plants, or bastards, contain the characteristics of both the father and mother plants. But red plants crossbred with white plants do not always produce pink flowers. The flowers produced by crossbreeding may turn out to be red as well, with no difference whatsoever in external appearance between them and their red father flower. But if these red flowers are bred with each other, their hybridised characteristics will reveal themselves immediately, since that breeding will produce the following results: one quarter red flowers which, bred with similar, will always produce red flowers; one quarter white, which, bred with similar, will always produce white; and two quarters will be red flowers. But [p.8] the latter are hybrids i.e., bred together they will produce again half that are normal plants, red and white, and half that hybrids. In such cases, the red colour becomes known as "dominant", and the white colour as "recessive". The trait of producing a red colour is what governs heredity, it conceals and overshadows the trait of producing a white colour, which remains latent. When these two traits unite in a single plant, the former, the red colour, always jumps ahead and becomes prominent, while the latter, while not disappearing, remains unseen and becomes prominent only when the two hybrids breed.

But what will be the result if a hybrid red flower and a normal red flower crossbreed[?] The offspring will be only a quarter hybrid and three quarters normal. Based on this conclusion, experiments have been conducted on animals as well, and from these we have also learned about human beings. According to Galton, parents pass on their traits and capacities to their children in the following way: the child inherits from each parent a quarter of his characteristics, from each of his four grandparents 1/16, from each great grandparent 1/64.

Therefore, we now know with scientific precision that both physical and mental characteristics can be passed on from parents to children. There are also heritable diseases with prominent and latent symptoms that we discover in the children, either immediately or later on. This phenomenon gives rise to a great deal of thought on our part about this question, because a child may suddenly be born who exhibits the symptoms of conditions which were present in neither of his parents, but which were passed on to him from a grandparent, or from more distant ancestors, or from sources that remain unknown to us.

The first case to demonstrate that Mendel's conclusions applied to humans was the condition of Brachydactylia. The nature of this deformity is that rather than taking place at age 18-20, the ossification of the growth cells in the middle joints of the fingers takes place during the early years to such an extent that their growth stops early. The middle joint links with the front [p.9] one, so that the fingers appear short, having two joints rather than three. This is a case of the deformity being dominant. 

Generations can pass with children failing to show any symptom or the morbidity that their forebears presented, but there is no doubt that the members of the family carry that symptom in their blood as a specific [potentiality or] capacity. And should two members of the same family become a couple, that capacity will develop immediately so that the child will immediately acquire the morbid characteristic in a manner that is visible. This makes clear the danger inherent in blood relatives marrying each other. The consequences of such marriages are demonstrated force in Sweden by Lundborg, who investigated a farming family with 2232 members, many of whom married each other. The [ancestral] parents were: estate owner, legal counsel and member of Parliament Fehr Fehrson and his wife, Kirsta Fehrson. In the first generation, we already find two alcoholics, one of whom was Bengt. Bengt's son married a blood relative at the same degree [of relatedness]. The result was eight children, including five sons, four of whom were addicts and who produced two illegitimate children. In this family, it was very common for family members to marry each other, which has reinforced the hereditary traits found among them.

Among the conditions that are passed on to children through intermarriage, Lundborg found ”dementia praecox”, which appears at age 15-35 and eventually causes insanity in its inheritor, and “myoclonus epileptica”, which sometimes attacks whole families. Lundborg investigated four other groups of families:

In the first group, one parent was diseased and the other healthy. There were no prominent symptoms in that family, and the disease remains latent been passed on. In the second group, both parents were outwardly healthy, but carry the disease. That group contained 11 families with 93 children, of whom 77 were over 15 years old. Those 11 families produced 17 mentally ill and seven psychopaths. Another group, with one parent diseased and the other a carrier, showed five families with four children over 15: among them 13 mentally ill and seven psychopaths. Yet another family, with both parents diseased, produced eight abnormal children.

Lundborg’s investigations show very clearly the great danger inherent in intermarriage.

As a further example, we bring the disease of "retinal degeneration", which causes blindness.

[p.10] One of the parents was a carrier of the capacity for this disease. So were both children. They married healthy individuals, and each produced two outwardly healthy children; two boys for one couple, two girls for the other. The latter intermarried. As a result, two of the great-grandchildren suffered from the disease, others were outwardly healthy but carried the capacity for the disease. Here, too, we see the effect of marriage between blood relatives.

Other phenomena of morbidity can also be inherited, such as "night blindness", "myopia", "chorea"; and, among Jews, "idiotic blindness", etc.

One heavily investigated disease is "haemophilia" and, in particular, a haemophiliac family by the name of Mempel, containing 37 haemophiliacs with 29 healthy brothers and 52 healthy sisters. This disease, in which the blood lacks the quality and capacity to clot, only occurs in men and is passed on to the following generation by women. The women, who never suffer from the disease themselves, inherit it from their fathers in a latent form, and pass it on to their sons in a conspicuous form.

The strongest proof of particular traits and capacities being inheritable is provided by the well-known examination of the family of the musician JS Bach, where the majority of the sons inherited a gift for music from their fathers. The same passing on of gifts can be seen in the Darwin family. 

[p.11] However the subject of our discussion here will be two major types that are very prevalent in the community. One is the "physically lower value" type, i.e. tuberculars, and the other is "mentally lower value" type, i.e. the insane (psychopaths). Both types are very dangerous for the human race because they pass on, in the majority of cases, their degenerate capacities to their children. They thus lower the average national standing in terms of its intellectual and physical development, and take society to a lower level.

When discussing the tubercular type, we take account not only of those in whom the disease is overt but also – and mostly – of those whose constitution is such that they are constantly liable to become ill with this disease, and then spread it among the population. This is a specific type known as "the asthenic type". Distinguishing signs include: narrow shoulders, sunken chest and generally thin, with minimal power of resistance for fighting the tuberculosis bacilli. The danger presented by this type is that in the majority of cases, it is produced by couples in which one or both partners are stricken with tuberculosis. In Germany, the number of those belonging to this type is estimated at 1 million, who sooner or later become a burden on the public. What need has humanity of such people? Of course, if they exist now we cannot do anything to them. On the contrary, our human conscience tells us and compels us to support them, to ease their war of survival, which for them is 10 times more difficult [p.12] than for a healthy person. But we can and should want that type to stop multiplying by procreation.

Such is also the second type – the "mentally lower value" type of the mentally ill. This type is the source of all asocial and antisocial members of society: the vagrants, thieves, criminals, whores, etc. They create a great deal of work for the police, the courts and the legislators, and put a heavy burden on medical aid, support and care services. This type includes all those kinds of people referred to as "a strange person", and those referred to as feebleminded, such as morons, imbeciles, and idiots. "There is no doubt", says Prof. Grotian, "that more than two thirds of all these people have inherited their particular trait, and only one third have acquired it after contracting infectious disease or as a consequence of their birth being difficult."

According to Windermuth, among the children of epileptics there have been found 29% mentally ill, 21% addicts and morally defective, 19% epileptics in different states, 18% with other nervous disorders and 13% with physiological brain conditions.

Nor is the number of the insane negligible in our own nation. It is true that the defects resulting from addiction are smaller in number. However, among Jews handed over to asylums (e.g. in Prussia), other forms of mental illness have been common. The number of Jews was triple that of their percentage of the general population.

At the latest count in Barden (in Germany), there were, per 10,000 Jews, 8.7 blind, 10.4 deaf and dumb, and 60.3 feebleminded (according to Ruppin).

This psychopathic type yields the greatest proportion of the rabble, in particular that of alcohol, cocaine and morphine addicts, of homosexuals, etc. And apropos of this I must remark that these psychopaths multiply in outstanding fashion. Their procreative ability is far superior to that of the healthy.

This phenomenon is illustrated most clearly by the following case: a young American army officer met a feebleminded girl in some tavern. He seduced her, then left her in order to marry a young woman from a good family. The latter woman's children produced in their turn, over the following three generations, important and famous people. But the child produced by the liaison between that officer and a feebleminded girl, was himself feebleminded. As an adult he married a healthy girl, but [p.13] passed on his mother's characteristics, through his wife, to a lot of people, who then flooded society with an even larger number of lower value individuals. The boy himself later became known as "Old Horror", and lived in an old dilapidated house whose windows were stopped up with rags. He was always filthy and drunk. Of his 10 children, two died young, one died at birth, five were feebleminded and two were healthy. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren produced similar results. The eldest son married a feebleminded woman child, who gave birth to 15 children, all degenerate and inferior, who passed on to their own children many asocial characteristics. The number of members of this family is estimated at 1800, a large number of who resided in asylums, houses of prostitution, jails and all the criminal dens of New York and Chicago. All this makes it clear that it is better for the world, as well as for these two types themselves, that they not be born at all.

As another inheritable disease, we must mention syphilis, whose effects include not only the disease itself being occasionally passed onto offspring, but the fact that those stricken with syphilis usually produce degenerate offspring with mental defects of various kinds, that are harmful to society. Also, the majority of defective, deaf and dumb, and mentally ill children are produced by parents who were either infected with syphilis themselves, or who inherited it from parents who had inherited it from their own parents.

This being the case, what should we do now? What action should the nation take in order to prevent the spread of all these degenerate people, who will, if allowed to spread, bring the entire nation to a very low standing within humanity? There is only one way. We must do everything to ensure that these types cease to be, and disappear from the world.

But how? Should it be to the method of "POSITIVE EUGENICS", i.e. by taking the children produced by such parents and attempting to educate them and turn them into useful members of society?

Let us look at the results obtained by the French government: French [male] criminals, as well as female criminals, a large part of whom belong to the whore type, are sent to New Caledonia in the Pacific Islands. Over there, licences are granted for marriages between the male and female criminals. The children of these criminals have been educated by the French government with great love and devotion. Each such creature costs the French government £120 a year. 10 years in boarding school for each of these children amounts to £1200, a sum no worker or farmer has yet spent on the education of one of his children. And how did it end? Sodomy in the boarding schools; professional criminals, feared throughout the Pacific, [p.14] who went back to the jails where their parents had been imprisoned; and the girls almost all became whores, helping to spread venereal diseases among the islands.

All this concerns people who have the ability to live within society. But what are we to do, asks Forel, with the large number of idiots and feeble minded individuals who must not be allowed into the community? "Is it worth our while to build massive asylums for them and to enjoy [the fruit of our labour] later on, when after a number of years and with great effort, we succeed in teaching the little creatures, whose intelligence is lower than monkeys, to utter a few words parrot fashion, or draw a few lines on a sheet of paper?" In ancient times, particularly in Sparta, there existed a simple means of practising human selection. The Spartan lawmaker Lycurgus wish to make his nation strong, and for that reason ordered them to kill all weak and sick children to prevent them becoming a public burden.

We cannot now allow ourselves to use such barbaric means. As per the American method of the castration and sterilization of these people, making them infertile so that they do not reproduce, that, too, is neither good nor fair. Sterilising a woman is not as easy as sterilising a man, and after all, we can only use that system against criminals, whores, and the like. But how is it the fault of the people who are honest, hard workers, and always striving to do well, if they are stricken by something that they have inherited from their parents? Is that a reason to put them in the same category with criminals and murderers? 

Another recommendation has been offered by many learned men, i.e. that inferior people must not marry and start a family. But here again, the question arises as to whether we have the authority to make such a decision. Who are we to forbid any human being, even one of lower value, to satisfy his desires, with which he has been endowed by Nature? No, we are just as prohibited from this as we are from the other means [discussed above]. We have neither the authority nor the right to demand of anyone that he give up his natural (sexual) gratification for the sake of our peace of mind and well-being. On the contrary, we should allow people who appear healthy while carrying diseases within them, to enter the covenant of marriage and live their lives like any other human being. We do, however, have the full authority and the supreme moral right to forbid them to beget offspring, thus spreading their defects in society.

[p.15] And here we arrive at the great solution of "racial improvement", [namely,] "PASSIVE EUGENICS", the method of MARITAL EXAMINATION.

This is the examination of those about to be married in order to find out whether they are healthy and whether they are free from heritable defects and, in accordance with this, whether they are permitted to have children or not.  Now, in the twentieth century, there are sufficient means to enable pathological individuals, whose social and moral duty is not to produce offspring, to satisfy their sexual needs without any apprehension that they might give rise to a generation of wretched deformed individuals, idiots and invalids. And the medical examination preceding marriage, or the marital examination, is precisely what is needed for teaching us who exactly are the people who have the duty of putting those means to use.

That being the case, the purpose of the marital examination is to raise the quality of the nation and to give rise to a generation of people who will be, if not superior human beings, physically and mentally healthy and wholly free of all defects. The marital examination allows those whose duty it is not to increase the number of low value individuals within the nation, to satisfy all their mental and physical desires.

Our sexual urge is a separate issue from the demands of procreation, and especially from the right of humans to the best or most desirable environment. It is beyond our ability to change our sexual urge, and it would therefore be the worst conceivable cruelty to restrain the sexual urge of anyone who is liable to produce offspring of lower value. On the contrary, we must make it possible for him to relieve the tensions that keep building up towards boiling point inside him, so that they do not end up suffocating him and causing him to atrophy, or bursting forth out of control in a disordered and unregulated fashion, causing the destruction of a part of society.

But it must not be assumed that the premarital examination is only for the purpose of examining hereditary issues; it is also beneficial with regard to many other issues, such as the issue of contagion and the spreading of disease, that of sexual life and its dysfunctions, as well as for providing guidance in relation to sexual life and marriage. The premarital examination enables the doctor to find out by close investigation of an individual’s state of health whether that individual is contagious, to teach those who come to him to assess their own state of health, and to teach them what they should do, how they should act, and what precautions they should take, in their sexual life.

This medical examination service is therefore divided into three separate elements: heredity, state of health, and sexual.

[p.16] THE HEREDITARY ELEMENT [Ha-m’Gamah ha-geza’it]

[This] has already been discussed. We will only mention here the manner in which the examination is conducted, and the specific registry of defects.

The examining doctor, after conducting a thorough physical examination, asks the examinee to tell him, so far as he is aware, about his own illnesses, illnesses in the family and their development among uncles, grandparents, etc. If he discovers any defect, he must investigate as to whether that defect existed in other family members, or whether the examinee himself was the first one to contract it. For this purpose, the doctor puts together a kind of genealogical tree, which he searches for the frequency of the defect in the family, and on the basis of which he can conclude whether or not the disease has been and will continue to be inherited. And here is a list of inheritable defects:

1) the tubercular type; those with overt tuberculosis, as well as those with the disease present in their bodies despite them having a healthy appearance.

2) the feebleminded.

3) epileptics.

4) the mentally ill.

5) those addicted to alcohol, cocaine and morphine.

6) those with perverted forms of the sexual urge, e.g., homosexuality and the like.

7) the deaf and dumb.

8) those with severe hereditary defects of vision, e.g. shifting of the lens, whiteness of the lens, severe myopia, etc.

9) syphilis.

10) diabetes at the time of marriage.

11) women whose father, brother and uncle suffer from haemophilia.

12) haemophiliacs.

13) those with congenital defects, e.g. hermaphroditism, missing limbs, dislocated hip.

There are other diseases requiring investigation, but these are of lesser significance, and need not be listed here. [p.17] Then the second element of the examination begins.


The doctor examines all indications of pathology in those about to be married. The examination begins with determining whether the examinee is free from venereal diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhoea. Syphilis, if open, can be passed on by one partner to the other, and besides, the carrier can develop all sorts of problems later on in life, about which it is better to know in advance. The question of heredity is also important with regard to this disease.

Gonorrhoea can also be passed from one partner to the other. It can make the couple infertile and cause blindness in a child born to an infected woman. There is also a public health risk, since the couple may become accustomed to the disease, fail to recognise and treat it, and thereby create a danger that, in the case of one or both partners having sexual relations with others or remarrying, they will infect others and aid in the spreading of the disease through society. The examination should also determine whether either partner has open tuberculosis. In such a case, the other partner is at risk of being infected, which should be prevented. There are also certain heart conditions, kidney conditions, etc, about which the doctor can offer advice to the couple about to be married: how to live in a way that will stop the problem from worsening, or perhaps to postpone marriage for a while, until the carrier is cured of the disease.

The third element, extremely important in marriage, is


We know about all the problems that occur in a marriage when the couple remains barren over a long period of time. But there are even more problems when one partner – usually the man – cannot provide the other with sexual satisfaction. Therefore, before marriage takes place, the man must be examined in terms of his procreative ability, as well as his capacity to perform his function as a man and a husband. This issue is extremely important, because couples with an impotent male partner almost always separate after a few months or years, and then we are left with two miserable creatures, whose suffering is due to the fact that there was no one to provide them with advice and instruction concerning their sexual defects. Such a large number of cases of deviation, licentiousness, etc, arise solely from a [p.18] man's inability to give his wife satisfaction, so that she goes looking elsewhere. When this is the case, the man should cure his deficiency before his marriage, if the deficiency is curable in the first place.

All these issues demonstrate the necessity of a premarital examination and the need for those intending to get married to obtain a health certificate. In Germany this is still optional, but in Italy and Turkey, the authorities will not grant a marriage certificate without a health certificate, signed by a qualified doctor.

For this purpose, advice centres have now opened in nearly all the countries of Europe and North America for the examination and instruction of those who are to be married. Anyone can obtain the instruction he requires, as well as the health certificate confirming his ability to start a family and beget children.

In order to demonstrate the great need for this issue to be resolved, I will end by quoting a few passages from the public announcement issued by the Prussian Ministry of Health:

"The good health of both the man and his wife is the basis for a happy marriage. Healthy people possess a healthy mind, vigour and the joy of productivity – in short, all the physical and mental powers that guarantee satisfaction in marriage and a generation of healthy children… The ill-health of one partner perturbs the other, causes the other unnecessary extra work, reduces his/her joy of life, and brings sorrow and sighing into the home. Diseases can pass from husband to wife and vice versa, but it is seven times as dreadful when the children begin to suffer from the same diseases as those that their parents suffered from… Therefore it is everyone’s sacred duty – for his own sake and that of his future spouse, his children, and his homeland – to find out in advance whether his state of health permits him to start a family."


4. Select bibliography ⇧ top

Efron, Noah. Judaism and Science: A Historical Introduction. Westport and London: Greenwood Press, 2007.

Matmon, Abraham. Hashbachat Ha-Gez'a shel Ha-Min Ha-Enoshi ve-A'rachav le-Ma'an A'menu [The Racial Improvement of the Human Species and its Value for Our Nation]. Tel Aviv: Institute for Hygiene and the Sexual Sciences, 1933.

Matmon, Abraham. Hashbachat Ha-Gez'a shel Ha-Min Ha-Enoshi ve-A'rachav le-Ma'an A'menu [The Racial Improvement of the Human Species and Its Value for Our Nation] (Tel Aviv: Institute for Hygiene and the Sexual Sciences, 1933), 1-19.

Matmon, Abraham. "Hashbachat Ha-Gez’a Ve-Piku’ach A’l Nisu’im [Racial Improvement  and Control of Marriage]." Bri'ut [Health] 1 (1933).

Matmon, Abraham. Hayai Ha-Min shel Ha-Adam [The Sex Life of Man]. Jerusalem: Institute for Hygiene and the Sexual Sciences, 1939.

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