Hadassah Hospital Rabbi Told ER to Prioritize Religious Patients Ahead of Shabbat

Hospital denies having any such procedure of treating the observant first, says it’s committed to helping those who care keep Shabbat

File photo: An ambulance in a parking lot outside of the emergency room at Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem.
Shiran Granot

The emergency room at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem should give priority to religiously observant patients on Fridays, treating them before anybody else, because of the approach of Shabbat, the hospital's resident rabbi instructed staff earlier this month.

The Rabbi Moshe Klein claimed that this was backed by instructions from Hadassah Director-General Prof. Zeev Rotstein. Management at Hadassah denies such a procedure or directive exists.

The issue touches on the prohibition on travel after Shabbat sets in, and the desire to prepare for Shabbat. Hadassah maintains accommodation for any religious Jew who is accompanying the sick and gets stuck there after Shabbat begins. Nor do the rules of Shabbat prevent doctors from treating a sick religious person.

The religious would argue that if a patient doesn't require hospitalization, but would be stuck there all weekend because of Shabbat observance, this patient should get priority.

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Sources at Hadassah say that on Friday afternoon earlier in May, Klein called the emergency room and demanded that the team adopt a blanket rule to treat religious patients before any others on Friday because of the approach of Shabbat. Neither medical urgency – which should be the staff's main consideration – nor position in line (i.e., time of arrival), would supersede Shabbat as a consideration guiding the team.

ER employees were surprised and outraged, say hospital sources, and refused to comply. Klein even claimed that the order came from Rotstein and had been published in the media, the sources said.

The senior nurse in charge, the highest authority in practice at the hospital on weekends, backed the team. That was the end of the matter, as far as is known.

Sources in Hadassah's management said Roststein had nothing to do with the incident and that any such request by the rabbi would have been made independently without management's knowledge.

"On Fridays there really is pressure at the ER from religious patients over Shabbat, and we understand that, and consider it insofar as possible," said a medical source at the ER. "But it is unthinkable that a hospital would adopt a policy of Shabbat overriding medical considerations."

Since this incident, the subject has not risen again, as far as could be ascertained: there is no procedure of the type Klein tried to instate that prioritizes observant patients over others.

"We are used to the manager of Hadassah (Ein Karem) Prof. Yoram Weiss handing down specific instructions, with requests about this or that patient, usually ultra-Orthodox," says a source at the hospital. "But the rabbi's instruction goes much further."

"Hadassah management is not familiar with any procedure prioritizing treatment of religious patients at the expense of secular ones under any circumstance," management stated, adding that its procedures are and always have been based on triage, and medical urgency is determined by the team, not the management.

It does acknowledge patients' special needs from a religious and cultural aspect, hospital management went on to state, and Shabbat, which is "an important value for religious Jews," is given special attention by management.