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Medical (Don’t) Care

Written by הרב דניאל קירש, 25/6/2019


"למה נסמכה פרשת מרגלים לפ' מרים לפי שלקתה על עסקי דבה שדברה באחיה ורשעים הללו ראו ולא לקחו מוסר" (רש"י)

Medical (Don’t) Care

Dr. Goldberg listened attentively, as his coworker, Dr. Epstein, described the candidate whose resume had just come in.

“…and he’s a real expert in this area” Dr. Epstein gushed. “He’ll add a lot to our hospital team!”

“Great!” Dr. Goldberg responded. “What’s his name?”

“Reuven Katz” replied Dr. Epstein.

Dr. Goldberg felt his breath catch in his throat. He knew Dr. Katz well. Katz was known for his extensive experience and excellent medical skill… and his obnoxious attitude! To say that he didn’t get along with others was an understatement. A scalpel wasn’t nearly as sharp as the words Dr. Katz would use to cut into his former colleagues and support staff. It was reasonable to assume that Dr. Katz would give the same treatment to the staff in this hospital, as well. In addition, Dr. Goldberg worried that Dr. Katz’s bedside manner might be as hurtful as his conduct toward the staff.

Dr. Goldberg was sure that he should say something to Dr. Epstein about Dr. Katz’s difficult personality. But then, he thought, perhaps it would be lashon hara (gossip). What should Dr. Goldberg do?


Answer of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt”l:

This case brings to mind an incident which took place in Vilna. Not long before the High Holy Days, the community chazzan became ill. The community leaders gathered to discuss who was most suited to fill the position. They found that the Rama states that the positive qualities that a chazzan should have include a pleasant voice, greatness in Torah learning and performance of good deeds, and being over thirty years old and married … The search committee set their eyes upon one prominent Torah scholar who had all of the above characteristics, with the exception of… a pleasant voice! When the Brisker Rav heard about this situation, he stated that, if the committee were to ask him, he would instruct them not to hire this candidate. This is because the primary quality necessary – that which makes a person a chazzan – is that he has a pleasant voice. All of the other characteristics are advantages which might put one candidate ahead of another candidate. Therefore, the committee should not choose a candidate for chazzan who does not have a pleasant voice.

Rabbi Elyashiv applied this principle to the case of the doctor. The essential characteristics which make a person a doctor are his medical expertise and experience. It is based on this principle that the Mishna Berura rules that if a doctor, who is outstanding in his medical knowledge, deems it necessary for a patient to eat on Yom Kippur, even if one hundred doctors (of a lesser stature) disagree, the patient should not fast. Therefore, even though getting along well with others and being a nice person are definitely good characteristics in a doctor, they are merely advantages which put the doctor ahead of another candidate who is equally qualified in terms of medical knowledge.

Therefore, if Dr. Katz has extensive experience and medical knowledge, he meets the basic criteria necessary to fill the position. It is true that he has some flaws, but it is difficult to call them major deficits, when considering that it is necessary to find a doctor who is sufficiently qualified in terms of medical knowledge. Therefore, it would be forbidden for Dr. Goldberg to speak against Dr. Katz.

Compiled by Avigail Kirsch

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