Israeli Hospitals Cut Back Shabbat Commerce, Keep Parking Fees

Hospitals charge hefty fees for parking, but say they comply with instructions of Health Ministry.

The country's hospitals are becoming increasingly strict about observing Shabbat: The kitchens are supervised and the cafeterias, coffee and gift shops, and even the pharmacies are closed.

Yet hospitals continue to charge parking fees on Shabbat, seemingly without contravening Jewish law.

On Friday night two weeks ago, a resident of the north accompanied his sister to the emergency room at Poriya Hospital outside Tiberias, and remained with her for 40 minutes. Upon leaving the hospital, he was stopped by an employee at the entrance who charged him NIS 15. The receipt showed that the hospital had solved the Shabbat problem by hiring a non-Jew named Munir to man the booth.

But most hospitals don't even bother with a "Shabbes goy"; they have automatic machines at the exits to collect parking fees on Shabbat. At Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, for example, the NIS 20 is collected by such a machine.

Paying hospital parking fees on Shabbat is especially aggravating to visitors because in most areas there is no public transportation on Shabbat. Thus, the hospitals are charging fees to people who have no alternative.

Though some hospitals have been charging for parking for years, all medical centers were given an official green light to do so by a Health Ministry circular issued in August 2011.

That circular states that hospitals are allowed to charge "a fair price that reflects the supply and demand for parking spaces in the area in which the hospital is located, while being considerate of the public that needs to use the hospital."

The circular also reiterates an earlier permit given hospitals to charge for parking on Shabbat, so long as the collection is done by non-Jews. Nor do hospital parking-fee practices seem to conform to the demand for "a fair price."

The municipalities in which these hospitals are located do not charge parking fees on Shabbat or holidays, nor do they charge parking fees at night. Many hospitals charge for parking 24/7. Moreover, municipalities charge as little as NIS 3 an hour for parking, while hospitals, according to the Health Ministry circular, can charge up to NIS 20 per hour, though many hospitals charge less.

All the hospitals that responded for this article -- Sheba, Ha'emek, Poriya, Beilinson Hospital-Rabin Medical Center, Rambam Medical Center in Haifa and the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya - said their charges were in compliance with the instructions of the Health Ministry.