Waves Haffkine

  • Issue: February 1994
  • Designer: A. Vanooijen
  • Stamp size: 40 x 25.7 mm
  • Plate no.: 220
  • Sheet of 15 stamps Tabs: 5
  • Printers: Government Printers
  • Method of printing: Offset

Mordecai Haffkine was born in Odessa in 1860. His mother died when he was six years old, and it was through his maternal grandmother, who brought him up, that he acquired his strong feelings for Judaism.

A first-class high school student, he went on to study at Odessa University. At this time the 1881 pogroms broke out and Haffkine, who was active in the Jewish defence movement, was arrested and brought to trial.

On completing his studies he was offered a position as lecturer in the Odessa University Natural Science Faculty, on condition that he converted to Christianity. He refused and left for Paris, where he started his scientific work on immunization. Success came in 1892, when he managed to produce a vaccine against cholera, having first tried it on himself and on friends. Following publication of his work, Haffkine was invited to lecture in Britain, then a colonialist empire, ruling, among other places, cholera ridden India.

In 1893 Dr. Haffkine went to Calcutta, travelling from village to village persuading the villagers to get themselves inoculated. After 21/2 years of intensive work, cholera cases decreased by 80% amongst those who had been immunized.

His fame spread around the globe and in 1897 Queen Victoria honoured him by naming him Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire. Haffkine was also honoured by very many medical organisations and was invited to lecture in Paris, London, Berlin and New York.

On his return to India, he began researching problems of immunization against other diseases. Seven years after discovering the serum against cholera, Haffkine discovered the vaccine against the other major fatal disease, the Plague. At that time his laboratory consisted of one clerk and three assistants from Bombay. Haffkine himself worked 14 hours a day, as well as lecturing every evening to groups of doctors. Haffkine tried his new vaccine against the Plague first on animals, on himself, and then on convicts and volunteers in Bombay, and soon its efficacy was proved beyond all doubt. By 1902, the Plague Research Laboratory, which had grown considerably and now had a staff of 53, had produced over 3 million doses.

A number of scientists were envious of his success and tried, unsuccessfully, to develop a similar serum. Rumours were put about that he was a Russian secret agent, an enemy of the Colonial Rule. He was also accused of causing the deaths of 19 people, who had contracted tetanus after having been inoculated. It took three years to investigate this accusation, during which time Haffkine left India.

In 1908 Haffkine was elected to the Society for Exotic Pathology. A year later he won the highest award of the Academy of Science in Paris. He was made an Honorary Member of the Calcutta Medical Club. In 1907 he received a medal from the Tropical Medical school in Liverpool in recognition of his inoculating over six million people, thus averting their deaths, and also paving the way for mass immunization against other diseases. The name of the laboratory he founded in Bombay was changed from "The Plague Research Laboratory" to 'The Haffkine institute". This small laboratory had become an institute of international importance.

In 1916, he published a major paper on Judaism, in English, in several Jewish publications, and it was translated into German, Dutch, Yiddish and French. Here he concluded that the Jewish religion was the only set of values that modern science did not refute but rather supported, or in his own words: "the overall conclusion of all scientific discovery in all countries and over all time has brought science nearer to the Jewish "Adon Olam" ("Master of the Universe"), the uplifting poem through which the Jew has brought about and continues to bring about the most wondrous revolutions".

He devoted his total capital (about half a million dollars), to supporting studies at Yeshivas (Talmudic Colleges) and Talmud Torahs. He saw in Yeshivas and the spiritual leaders they produced the determining factor in the survival of millions of Jews through all the years of suffering and hardship.

Haffkine died in 1930. In Israel his memory has been commemorated by the planting of 1000 trees in "Kennedy Forest".

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Mordechai Haffkine (1860-1930)