Thursday, October 18, 2007

Rabbi Schachter (effectively) Forbids Jewish Surgeons

Rabbi Hershel Schachter (Rosh HaYeshiva of RIETS) says:

"There is a terrible misconception that the laws of Shabbos do not apply to doctors. This is absolutely incorrect. No profession exempts anyone from any mitzvos. Medical students are certainly not exempt from Shabbos observance. And even after having completed his school years, the future doctor must take special care to make sure he has a Sabbath-observant residency. If this can not be arranged, the student must simply look for a different profession."

That's a pretty strong statement there. And since there are some fields of medicine that don't really offer such residencies, is R' Schachter saying that an Orthodox Jew cannot realistically become, say, a surgeon or a cardiologist? (Though if anyone does know of a shomer-shabbos surgical residency, I'd be interested to hear about it.)

Clearly, though, there are plenty of observant doctors today who did go through residencies that were not particularly Shabbos friendly - so what gives? Are all these people in error?


Compare the above with the responsum of Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Halpern of Shaare Zedek:

Question: I am a medical student in the United States and am in the process of choosing a residency. Here in the States, there are some specialties in which one can obtain a residency that does not require working on Shabbos (eg, internal medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry and radiology), whereas there are other specialties where working on Shabbos is a requirement (eg, general surgery, OB/Gyn, urology, cardiology). Is it permissible to pursue training in one of these latter fields in the United States?

Answer: It is preferable to train in a Shomer-Shabbat program. If one feels very strongly that he can best serve as a physician in a field which has no such program, it is permissible to train in a regular program. However, one should be very knowledgeable concerning the laws of Shabbat, which is quite a complicated matter.


Looks like Rabbi Dr. Halpern takes a much more reasonable approach. It seems obvious to me, however, that Halachic conflicts are almost inevitable when working in any field on Shabbos but that shouldn't be reason enough to make people turn their back on what otherwise could be their calling, especially when the unimpeachable goal is to save human life and/or to better the quality of life for those who are suffering. As the famous saying goes, I'm not maikil on hilchot Shabbos, I'm machmir on hilchot pikuach nefesh!

I never liked the idea that Halacha is a barrier to the success of man. What it is (or should be), is taking a different approach through life that allows you to get to the same destination - but as a Jew.

23 comments:

BrooklynWolf said...

I certainly don't know enough about Hilchos Shabbos to address the case in question, but the idea that halacha can trump a career is not so far-fetched.

A good example would be a top chef in a restaurant. While there is no prohibition against preparing non-kosher food, there is one against cooking meat and milk together. As such, even if I wanted to be a top chef at some fancy eatery, I know that as a halacha-observant Jew, I simply cannot do so (unless I can get someone else to make all the basar v'chalav dishes).

The Wolf

Orthoprax said...

Wolf,

One can be a great chef in a kosher restaurant. It's not a blanket prohibition against being a chef.

BrooklynWolf said...

Porn star, then? :D

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

On the serious side, there are certain jobs that simply clash with halacha and there is little wiggle room to work with.

Another good example would be a college football coach. College football games happen on Shabbos in the vast majority of cases.

The Wolf

Orthoprax said...

Wolf,

Yes, I take your point. There's a reason there aren't any shomer shabbos players on the Mets. But it seems to me that if we're talking about important and key positions in society, then they ought not be forbidden through Halacha.

We're talking medicine here, not football.

Miri said...

"But it seems to me that if we're talking about important and key positions in society, then they ought not be forbidden through Halacha."

How exactly are you defining "important and key positions in society?" Is this an issue of pikuach nefesh, or of mobility and success? If somebody has the talent to be a brilliant surgeon, which would inarguably save lives, that's pikuach nefesh. Playing for the Mets? That's "an important and key position in society."

B. Spinoza said...

I assume you would think it's permitted for a Kohen to become a surgeon?

Orthoprax said...

Miri,

"How exactly are you defining "important and key positions in society?" Is this an issue of pikuach nefesh, or of mobility and success?"

When I said "success of man" I wasn't really referring to the individual. I consider baseball entertaining, but it is basically frivolous.

There are positions in society that are "necessary services" as much as any service is truly necessary. Medicine, police, education, government leaders, etc. Being observant should not be a seriously limiting factor on your options or activity. Pikuach nefesh is part of the idea, but it's not it entirely.


Spinoza,

"I assume you would think it's permitted for a Kohen to become a surgeon?"

Sure - especially since technically even, there's nothing Halachically problematic with it per se. For Kohanim and medicine the Halachic issues are of an educational and environmental nature, not an inherent one.

Holy Hyrax said...

I have a shomer shabbat friend that is in his internship, I believe as an anethesialogist (however you spell that). When he gets the page, he heads to work on shabbat. He even sleeps there and does kiddush there at times.

Orthoprax said...

HH,

I know there are plenty of people who do exactly that.

Could be a touchy subject but could you ask him how strictly he holds himself to hilchot Shabbos while in the hospital? Any serious conflicts ever arise?

Miri said...

when you say "should not be limiting" do you mean halachically should not be, or in general, if you feel there is a conflict, you shouldn't adhere to halacha?

"Rich Perkins" said...

I had a rebbi in high school that echoed what R'Shachter said.

The line my rebbi used was basically . . . once you are a doctor, it is clear that you can be mechalal shabbos to save someone's life. However, it is not so clear that you are allowed to become a doctor since you know that you will be put in that situation at some point in your career.

So he basically says you shouldn't go into the medical profession at all.

Can't say I agree with him, but just wanted to throw it in there that R'Shachter really isn't so far out in left field on this one.

Orthoprax said...

Miri,

I would prefer that the powers that be recognize the issue and see things more like me thus bringing Halacha more into the 21st century. If not then individuals will have to make up their own minds as situations so arise.



Rich,

Sure, I know that R' Schachter's views are far from the margins. Doesn't mean he's got the right perspective though.

Miri said...

I have heard it said that if one really feels that they have the talent to be a doctor such that they feel that is what G-d intended them for, then they should go into medicine regardless. bu you have to be really really sure.

also, there are sources that say that all doctors end up in hell. so you know. either way.

Orthoprax said...

Miri,

I've been headed towards medicine since elementary school, but that's just me. :-)

"also, there are sources that say that all doctors end up in hell."

Actually that's only the _best_ of doctors, according to the Mishna.

Miri said...

only the best? I'm sure I learned this mishna, but it was three years ago and I don't remember exactly. of course, in those days, even the best doctors still killed most of their patients, so it's not really 100% applicable now. my point was, if you're looking at halachik texts, they do sort of tend in that direction...and yet Rambam was a doctor. ah the ancient Jewish culture, with all its glorious self-contradictions.

Anonymous said...

>>"also, there are sources that say that all doctors end up in hell."

>Actually that's only the _best_ of doctors, according to the Mishna.

Which, I'm sure you'll be!

So here's pshat.Tov is Gemtria 17. The doctor who leaves out Refuainu from the Shmoneh Esrah, who relies on himself and leaves out God, that Doctor is destined for Hell. You'll be fine.

Jeff said...

Rich Perkins:
Maybe it should be forbidden to conceive a baby. After all, maybe you will go into labor on Shabbos, and then would have to perform melachos for pikuach nefesh.

ProfK said...

Way late to this discussion, but there are some areas of hilchos shabbos we must not be aware of. When the Hatzoloh program was coming into existence, it was paskened that not only could the volunteers take ill people to the hospital but that the volunteers could drive back to where they came from, and which they do ad hayom. If pikuach nefesh is involved for Hatzoloh volunteers, to the point where they can drive home and in that driving there certainly is no pikuach nefesh involved, then how much more so for a doctor in a hospital setting?

Orthoprax said...

Prof,

I don't think R' Schachter's ruling makes any issue with a trained doctor in a hospital, but with a residency where the doctor is learning his trade.

Though a curious analogy would be to see if green EMTs or paramedics are permitted to ride on Shabbos.

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