History of Medicine

Medieval Roots of the Myth of Jewish Male Menstruation

Noga Roguin Maron, Ariel Roguin, and Nathan Roguin


The Jews in Western Europe during the middle ages were often perceived as distinct from other people not only in their religion, but also by virtue of peculiar physical characteristics. Male Jews were circumcised, which made them physically distinct in the sexual realm. They were believed to have a flux of blood due to hemorrhoids that was thought to more abound in Jews because they consumed salty foods and gross undigested blood, and were melancholic. By the late medieval and early modern periods, the male menstru¬ation motif had become closely connected to the theory of the four humors and the balance between bodily fluids. Men in general were thought of as emitting extra heat, whereas women were considered to be phys¬ically cooler. While most men were generally able to reduce their heat naturally, there was a perception that womanish Jewish males were unable to do so, and thereby required “menstruation” (i.e. a literal discharge of blood) in order to achieve bodily equilibrium. The Jewish male image as having menses due to bleeding hemorrhoids was an anti-Semitic claim that had a religious explanation: Jews menstruated because they had been beaten in their hindquarters for having crucified Jesus Christ. This reflection is one of the first biological-racial motifs that were used by the Christians. Preceding this, anti-Semitic rationalizations were mostly religious. However, once these Christians mixed anti-Semitism with science, by emphasizing the metaphorical moral impurity of Jews, the subsequent belief that Jewish men “menstruated” developed—a belief that would have dire historical consequences for the Jewish communities of Europe until even the mid-twentieth century. This topic has direct applicability to current medical practice. The anti-Semitic perspec¬tive of Jewish male menstruation would never have taken hold if the medical community had not ignored the facts, and if the population in general had had a knowledge of the facts. In the same way, it is important for present-day scientists and healthcare professionals to understand thoroughly a topic and not to deliberately ignore the facts, which can affect professional and public thought, thereby leading to incorrect and at times immoral conclusions.

Rambam Maimonides Med J 2021;12(4):e0033