Prominent Israeli Rabbi: Doctors Shouldn’t Treat Gentiles on the Sabbath

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is very concerned about doctors following proper procedures when dealing with patients. Unfortunately, instead of the Hippocratic Oath, Rabbi Yosef has decided to go with Exodus, which dates from the same approximate period but is much less compassionate and has not been updated ever since.

In fact, Yosef doesn’t want Jewish doctors treating non-Jews on the Sabbath:

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (via oztorah.com)

… the spiritual leader of Shas said that while doctors are expected to do everything in their power — even if it requires violating the Sabbath — in order to save Jews whose lives are in danger, the same does not apply for gentiles.

If a gentile were to get injured in a car accident during Sabbath, and he is brought to the hospital — Israel must not treat him“…

Before you assume that Yosef is a raging bigot without a shred of compassion, rest assured he feels compassion for the “poor doctors” who are required by law to treat all patients that come to them despite a firm desire to let them die. Like the Kosher oven, the rabbi has come up with a legalistic way for doctors to still comply with the Iron Age rules: have another doctor physically attached!

The rabbi offered a halachic solution that follows a rule by which if a single person is doing the act, he is violating the Sabbath, while if two people are doing it together, they are exempt.

“The doctor who needs to operate will call on another doctor, or nurse, to hold the scalpel together and make the incision”…

Let’s play this out for a moment.

Your young daughter is running with a glass of water in her hands and she falls. The glass flies out of her hands and shatters. She lands on top of it. Shards of glass bury themselves in her eyes. Terrified, you haul the screaming child to the car and race her to the hospital. Once there your daughter is rushed into the operating room. The surgeon strides in, picks up her paperwork and glances at her name. He turns to the nurse and says, “We’ll both hold the scalpel” and then proceeds to try to take the glass out with millimetric accuracy without accidentally blinding her. Naturally enough, it’s much more likely that your daughter will be left blind in this situation. But then, it’s just a gentile child, so who really cares, right?

Ovadia Yosef is not some fevered crank of some tiny Westboro Baptist Church-like community. He is the founder and spiritual leader of Shas, the fourth largest political party in Israel and one that currently has its people in key positions in the Israeli government. That he thinks that this is in any way acceptable — and that it should be legal — is outrageous and worrisome. Obviously his ideas are not in any way universal (check out the comments in the article), but that such a person can actually lead a main party in a (partially) democratic state should worry all of us.

About Claudia

I'm a lifelong atheist and a molecular biologist with a passion for science and a passionate opposition to its enemies.

  • GregPeterson

    Well, this guy’s god is an unebelievable douche.  Say what you will about Christianity being wrong (and it is), at least ITS rabbi asked in Mark 3:4 (ostensibly), “Which is lawful on the sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”

    • Leespaner

       both myths are the pitts and stupid

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    The Jewish Religious Right in Israel is a real threat to their democracy.

  • Miko

    Israel is (partially) democratic in the same sense that the United States was (partially) democratic back when slavery was legal and the majority of the population wasn’t allowed to vote.

    • SImon

      Every Israeli citizen has the right to vote — Muslim, gay, Jewish, female. All citizens. Unlike its neighbors. People in the palestinian authority can not vote because they are not Israeli citizens. Also, for the record, Israel has one of the purest forms of democracies in the world, proportional representation, which means even fringe parties like this one get seats in parliament an unfortunately have too much power. Now you may not like the democracy but is it one.

      • I_Claudia

        The vote is denied to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who live under the laws of Israel but have no say in those laws. They are in no way the equivalent of foreign residents from another country because they have no country of their own and even the “territories” that they belong to are submitted to Israeli authority. An authority that, again, they have absolutely no voice in.

        Arab Israelies, though they do have a vote, are effectively cut off from any kind of power since other parties form coalitions to exclude them from governance, so that they actually have far less clout than their numbers.

        Israel is certainly a partial democracy, but it is far from a full one, unfortunately.

        • nardo101

          I have to disagree. Democracy isn’t defined as “doing things we approve of”. The non-citizen Palestinians in the West Bank have their own legislature governing everyday life and also have recourse to the Israeli judicial system, but the religious parties on both sides keep obstructing full independence because God told them they can’t compromise.

          The fact that broad surveys of secular Israelis and Palestinians tend support peace while the religious populations support conflict is one of the clearest contemporary examples of how religious “morality” is inferior to secular morality.

    • Sindigo

      Of course, some would argue that denying the vote to anyone convicted of a felony makes the US only partially democratic now.

  • Bckm

    geez…this rabbi has a little too much algae accumulated around his synapses…

  • Lee Miller

    In the US, surrounded by mostly Christians, we tend to forget that all religions are full of fruitcakes and are fundamentally harmful to individual human beings.  The Jewish religion is NOT a nice cultural/ethnic belief system–it’s just another form of delusion and foolishness that needs to go away.

    • http://stochasticscientist.blogspot.com/ KathyO

      That’s exactly right. It’s all about power. When religions have no power, they pretend to be cooperative and liberal. As soon as they gain any power over the state, they become tyrannical and dogmatic. 

  • Maverick

    Speaking as a former Jew who, in retrospect, probably wasted way too much time studying Jewish law, I’d like to add a bit more depth to the story.

    Here’s the bit that explains his reasoning: The Sabbath technically supersedes the obligation to save lives, so on Sabbath Jews can only violate it to save other people who keep the Sabbath, ie. Jews (neat how that works out, isn’t it?).
    Here’s the bit that shows he’s an amoral slime: Everything above is hotly contested, with respected opinions on either side. He could have just gone with one of the many that say you can violate the Sabbath to treat a gentile (for example, because things that tell gentiles they are lesser humans than Jews kind of upsets them, and they might retaliate). However, that would be a kulah (leniency), and far-right rabbis lose legitimacy if they aren’t always lichumrah (stringent). He has a sweet deal going with the head rabbi thing, and he wouldn’t want to endanger that.

    Here’s the bit that shows he’s a degenerate, worthless excuse for a human: Medical treatments on the sabbath are prohibited rabbinically, not textually. In Jewish law, breaking a rabbinic law isn’t serious unless its done intentionally and knowingly. So even if his logic were right, everything would have been hunky-dory if he just kept his mouth shut or demurred. But he didn’t. ‘Cause he might have lost respect. And he’s worth a lot more than gentile.

    • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

       While you may have wasted that time, I appreciate you shedding some light on the subject for those of us who aren’t familiar with Jewish traditions/religious things.  Thank you for sharing!

    • Sindigo

      Always nice to get a bit of context from someone who knows more than yourself. Thanks.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500564877 John Duffee

      What kind of sick person respects an opinion that devalues human life to say that it is immoral and wrong to save a life?

  • Edmond

    Can’t Jewish doctors just go ahead and violate the Sabbath, and then get forgiven by rubbing some bird blood on themselves and waiting for sundown, or something?  The solution to these “sins” is usually just as silly as the rules themselves.

    • The Other Weirdo

      My understanding is that it’s not possible to do that anymore because there is no Temple.

  • http://heretichusband.blogspot.com/ Heretic Husband

    Does he really believe his God is so stupid as to be fooled by two doctor’s holding the scalpel at the same time?

    • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

       Exactly.  If the Big Guy is anything like my mom, he’d be more PO’d at me for attempting to lie and deceive him than if I just did something that broke the rules and said, “Sorry.” 

      Easier to ask forgiveness than permission, isn’t that the old line?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Margaret-Whitestone/100001682409207 Margaret Whitestone

    When are we going to put an end to this nonsense and tell people they have a choice:  do your job or practice your religion.  No more demanding special rights just because of your arbitrary religious whims.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    In a previous thread I noted that a pastor, a politician and a journalist (quoting a boxer) had all cited Leviticus as a reason why we should hasten the death of gay people.

    I’ve love to know what those three gentiles who revel in divine revelation would think of this.  I mean, after all, it is God’s word, right?

    • Leespaner

       The christians keep saying the old testament is not relevant so why do they pick and choose, it either is, in which case they are wrong with the new testament.

  • Keulan

    People like Rabbi Yosef are basically the Jewish version of the Christian fundies we have here in the United States. Like the Christian fundies, they want to be allowed to force their silly religious rules on everyone else, even non-members of their religion.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      In the Knights of Columbus-Marist Poll, nearly three in four Americans, 74 percent, said freedom of religion should be protected “even if it conflicts with other laws.”

      WND via http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2012/05/74-of-americans-believe-that-religious.html

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Rumor has it that the Heartless Racist Asshole Anti-Defamation League has sent Rabbi Yosef a formal letter of protest because he’s giving heartless racist assholes around the world a bad name. 

  • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

    Speaking as someone in Israel, Ovadia Yosef is one of the biggest bigoted assholes there ever was. A lot of people consider him and his movement to be Taliban-like. This isn’t the first time he’s opened his mouth and spouted crap – he’s done it on dozens of occasions since over a decade and a half. I’d like to point out that he also considers that Jews who worship less zealously aren’t “really Jews” (not to mention all the atheists and agnostics in Israel). He’s pissed off everyone you can imagine outside of his political party more than a dozen times. He’s compared women to dogs as well, I might add. He is an asshole of the highest calibre.

    Fortunately, the power sharing agreement with the centrist Kadima party a few weeks ago has completely sidelined the religious parties in many ways, and I couldn’t be happier. I’d love to see their power dashed on the rocks as it is a long time in coming.

    Also, for people bringing the Palestinians in on this discussion: you’re completely off topic, but allow me to retort. I’ll second what somebody else said: Israel is a full democracy. It’s a completely representational democracy which means that anyone can form a party and get voted into the Knesset, no matter how wacky the platform. And they do. It’s complete and utter chaos in the government because of it as it would be in the United States if we set up something without the electoral college. Everyone in Israel is pretty much represented in the Knesset (their Parliament, so to speak). Palestinians aren’t represented because, as they like to remind everyone over and over again: they’re not Israelis. So they’re living under mandate rules which date back for decades. You can’t complain that they’re not represented in government when they themselves:

    1) Don’t want to be part of that governing system and country and
    2) Want to be under their own system of government.

    So please don’t criticize Israel for not allowing Palestinians to vote in Israeli elections, because it’s a duplicitous claim. You either want the Palestinians to have their own system of elections (and they do – remember when Hamas won?), or you want them to be Israeli citizens. You can’t argue both ways because it’s completely disingenuous or, at the very least, ignorant of the entire argument itself.

    Notice I’m not defending the occupation; I’m merely pointing out the stupidity of saying that Israel is not a democracy because it doesn’t include Palestinians. It’s a specious argument which deserves absolutely no consideration whatsoever. It’s akin to saying that the United States is not a democracy because they don’t give Iraqis or Afghanis the right to vote in our elections. I may not agree with the extended Iraqi occupation, but I don’t think it has anything to do with whether or not the United States has democratic elections every few years. The one has nothing to do with the other.

  • Stev84

    Because two people holding one scalpel will surly work well

  • Heintje_K

    I am starting to suspect that he is just testing to what ridiculous length gullible people will go to abide by bizarre religious rules, and is having fun with it.
    One would think that his god would be smart enough not to fall for an obvious attempt to exploit a loophole in his rules.

  • Deven Kale

    What I find interesting is that he seems to be completely overlooking a different possible interpretation of doing something together: shared responsibility. Holding the scalpel together isn’t the only option at all. Another option would be to just follow current standard medical practice. The nurse gives him the scalpel, and the surgeon does the incisions. Same thing with clamps, suction etc. Their still working together to the same end, just in a more humanistic way.

  • Dragynrn

    There is no difference between people of any faith who give in to, or espouse a fundamentalist point of view.  When faith is superseded by dogma, there is no Faith.  To be limited in one’s faith perspective by reason of legalism  proves a lack of Faith.

    All that we in America need do, is observe the right wing cranks who credit their ‘faith’ with their push for antediluvian changes to our laws, especially those as relate to women… there is little difference between them and Rabbi Yosef.  It’s all a cynical attempt to get people who choose not to think for themselves to fall all over themselves to vote for people who are ‘religious.’
    To paraphrase what Claudia has said: That such people can actually exist in a main political party in a Democratic Republic should worry all of us.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500564877 John Duffee

    All that says is that Israel hasn’t been as good about keeping the crazy crackpots out of open secular power.

    Which is a damn shame, since given their position they need sane and wise people in power, not bigots.


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