Saturday, November 27, 2010

Does it really matter why you can treat a gentile on shabbos?

In our last post we reviewed the halachos of treating a goy on shabbos.  Now let me change gears a little bit and talk about my experience in the "real world".  If you recall my first post on this topic, I discussed the moral dilemma that I have encountered since I have become a physician.  Let me now describe this dilemma.

I have the very special privilege of spending my entire professional life taking care of people.  I am very fortunate to be able to use my skills healing and helping people every day.  I believe in the depths of my heart that what I do every day is the work of the Ribbono Shel Olam. 

I have always made a special effort to make sure that as much as possible I spend shabbos where I belong, at home with my family, in shul and in my community.  Most of the time, I am able to spend shabbos without having to see patients as a physican. However, the nature of my occupation is such that I am sometimes called upon to treat people on shabbos.  I know the basic parameters of what is muttar and what is assur, although I am sure there is still a lot for me to learn.  I am not at all perfect, but I think I would be telling the truth if I said that I do the best I can.

It really matters to me that not only am I doing what is halachically permissible, but that I am doing the right thing.  It is very challenging and difficult to spend long and stressful hours with complicated issues, especially when I would rather be home enjoying a good cholent.  However, I still do it in the belief that I am needed, that it is important, and if halacha permits it, it must be what the Ribbono Shel Olam wants from me.  More so, when I look my patients in the eye, when I see their appreciation for what I am doing for them, I get validation that this is indeed the right thing.

Many Orthodox Jews might argue that it might not be the right thing to choose a professional situation which  forces one to need to work on shabbos.  This is a legitimate issue, which I will try to deal with at another time.  For now, please allow me to assume that in some circumstances it is inevitable that a God fearing Orthodox Jewish doctor will end up treating patients on Shabbos.

Now let us contrast two hypothetical patients in pain, a Jewish one, and a non-Jew.  It is shabbos afternoon, and i am called to the hospital to take care of both.  I have to drive to the hospital, which is painful to begin with, but i tell myself ... "It is a mitzvah to save a life. You can drive now." 

I see the patients in their beds. At the Jew's bedside, I think to myself ... "It is a mitzvah to take care of this person.  I can transgress the Shabbos because his/her life is more important than Shabbos. After all, doesn't the Torah say ... vechai bahem?" At the non-Jews bedside I think to myself ... "Well if i don't save his life, what would the goyim think!? The nurses will think I am immoral .. you helped the Jew but not him!! Imagine what they would write about me in the newspapers tomorrow!! I guess I have to treat him to!"

The following thoughts, in one version or other then flows through my soul. Dear Ribbono Shel Olam, I cannot act this way to a fellow human being. I cannot watch a person suffering and think that I am only helping him because of some vague sort of fear of reprisal.  This is not the Torah I accepted at Sinai.  I accepted a Torah that was Deracheha Darchei Noam.  I will help this gentile because I am a compassionate human being and because i know that it is the right thing to do.  Please God, show me a better way. Show me the right thing.  Help me learn the halachos once again so that i might learn Your true intent. It cannot possibly be that I am only alowed to do this as some sort of b'dieved.

So to answer my question, does it really matter why you can treat a goy on shabbos? Absolutely! Of course it matters. It certainly matters to me!

If you are thinking something like the following, "who cares why you are allowed, the bottom line is the halacha. The halacha says it is OK, why do you care what the reason is!"  If this is good enough for you, then I am not writing this blog for you.  You do not need what I have to offer, so don't even bother reading it.  But if you understand me and it does bother you as well, then please listen further.

So hang in there dear blog followers, in my next post, I will start to show you another halachic way. One that is founded on great Halachists of previous centuries, one that is firmly grounded in the Torah that we accepted at Sinai, but one that sounds very different from what you may read in most contemporary "halacha guidebooks".  It will be a Torah way that I can live with and live by, and I hope that you will agree.

If I sound tantalizing and the suspense is building, that is my intent. I hope that it entices you to hang in there for the ride to come.


  1. You can use a positive kavannah in both cases.
    For the Jew, you think about pikuach nefesh.
    For the goy you think about avoiding chilul Hashem and enmity against His people, which frankly is just as important.
    So in both cases you are saving a life for positive reasons that hold great importance in halacha

  2. I look forward to hearing what you have to say in the next post, as it seems to me that the current post is attempting to frame a halachic quandary through an emotional, subjective challenge.

    From a halachic standpoint, of course it matters whether a given course of action is l'chatchilla or b'deivevad!

    In the former case, one need not do anything to avoid being involved in that situation in the first place; in the latter, one MUST.

    If it's the latter, then one may exercise his personal, emotional responsibility by seeing to it that his patient get the very best care possible -- from a non-Jewish colleague.

  3. I await your next installment with bated breath. Our general attitude toward non-Jews, not just as it relates to medicine, is something that I find deeply troubling.

  4. As a favor, could you replace the word "Goy" with non-Jew? It sounds a little more respectable. Especially, considering the topic you are writing about.

  5. David Ilan, Rabbi Avi Weiss once related that a non-Jewish atorney who was representing a Jewish woman who was divorcing her non-Jewish husband phoned him to ask if a get is required (this was shortly after NY State adopted the "get law"). He decided to be PC and use "non-Jew". She told him that it offended her to be described according to what she is not.