Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Doctor's Response

(I am posting this open letter from a neighbor of mine. I think that it's excellent, though I do quibble with his praise of certain Anglo-charedi schools that are different - I don't know of any local Anglo-charedi schools that encourage kids to take a path that leads to college.)

Thoughts on the "four doctors" campaign from a Ramat Bet Shemesh doctor who is not on a sign 

Ever since the appearance of the "four doctors" campaign last month, hundreds of people - both Eli and Abutbol supporters alike - have questioned the exploitation of the medical profession toward a political goal, and the individual doctors and their kupot have received dozens of complaints. As an urgent care pediatrician who has treated thousands of children from all kupot and walks of life in Bet Shemesh, and as a friend and colleague of the three pediatricians on the banner, I have been inundated over the past month regarding my opinion and stance on this issue. Still others, knowing that I strongly support Eli Cohen, have questioned why I have limited my public support to a two-inch photo which was part of a montage of young and old supporters from all professions, hashkafot and backgrounds. So I am writing to discuss these and other issues related to the four doctor campaign, including an aspect that may be of unexpected benefit to the community.

So, why didn't I want to be on a poster? Besides the fact that blowing me up to the size of a four-story building accentuates my wrinkles and new grey hair, I worry that such a big-brother approach might alienate my patients and their parents. I can imagine some Haredi family, indoctrinated that Eli supporters are sinful to the point of being חייב סקילה might see my three-meter face smiling from some crane on the way to Terem for stitches or on the way to my house on Shabbat for an allergic reaction. Then - lo and behold - the man behind the stethoscope is none other than ד'ר אפיקורס himself.

But all kidding aside, while I understand that my colleagues felt obligated by Rabbinical mandate to support the Abutbol campaign, I do not believe something as sensitive, personal, and precious as the trust endowed in the medical care of one's child should be used to support or influence one's political outlook. If you were disturbed, I urge you to speak with them personally; they are all very approachable.

In fact, I believe there has been some good that has come from the "four doctors" campaign, in that it has re-ignited the debate and controversy regarding the deprivation of secular knowledge that many Anglos impose upon their children. This deprivation is contrary to the extensive secular education enjoyed by the parents they love and emulate, and therefore it is viewed as hypocritical by their children. The line on the initial poster read: "What do these four doctors have in common?" The joke around the city - repeated to me innumerable times - is that an appropriate answer would be "Well, none of their children will be doctors." This response, even when made in jest, is unfair - we really don't know what will become of our youth.

But the question remains: If the Anglo-Charedi community holds the value of advanced secular education in disdain, then why, when choosing its spokesmen for the mayoral campaign, did the campaign chose four doctors at all? If the campaign was looking for symbols of authority and respect, then instead of four doctors "uniting forces" from different kupot, why not four Rabbis, or four Avrechim, "uniting forces" from different kehillot? Obviously, the respect accredited these men derives from the fact that they are physicians. And ironically, each of them got that way by immersing for over 25 years in intense secular education. This is not sinful; on the contrary, these four Anglo-Haredi men are models of success. They have proven that someone can be both a Torah Jew and a physician, that the world of secular studies, gainful employment, and professional contribution to society need not contradict, but rather can and should complement the world of Torah.

So the question being asked (albeit quietly) among many of my Anglo-Charedi friends is very simple: If the four doctors can do it, then why can't my child too? And why should I be the one to tell him he can't? Similarly, we can only guess how many children look up at those towering four men in their black kippot and stethoscopes and say - "Wow - to be a talmid chacham and a doctor - just like the Rambam and Ramban! Now why can't I do that? Why won't my parents let me try?"

Some Anglo-Charedi schools in our area, to their credit, have attempted to address this issue with expanded curriculum and counseling. Sadly, other institutions have taken a more insular and reactionary approach, setting more restrictive guidelines of admission and enforcement, even to the point of refusing admission solely on the basis of some questionable, petty aspect of dress, technology or other vestige of "modernity" rumored to be in the home.

I am aware that many would prefer to ignore these issues. For daring to bring them up, I will indeed be branded by some as ד'ר אפיקורס. But these issues are real, and ignoring them won't solve the problem. Next week the election will be over, and we will go on with our lives. But the four doctors campaign has fortunately given the Anglo-Charedi community something to think about, the opportunity to discuss important issues, and if something can be done, then that would truly be "progress you can't deny."

Wishing everyone a year of good health,

Moshe Halberstadt


  1. But the four doctors campaign has fortunately given the Anglo-Charedi community something to think about,
    lmaet the rest of the chareidi community?
    nuff said

    Joel Rich

  2. > If the Anglo-Charedi community holds the value of advanced secular education in disdain, then why, when choosing its spokesmen for the mayoral campaign, did the campaign chose four doctors at all?

    Because for all their vaunted claims of emunah they all go running to their doctor the minute anything goes wrong.

  3. The campaign is not geared to charedim, it is geared to non charedim. It is a cynical view of the wider electorate. Most people choose to vote 'status quo' so long as the incumbent is stable. By putting up the doctors in such a public manner they are sending a message 'we are normal, this is our constituants' . They want to separate they themselves from the crazies.

  4. One of the reasons I am not sending my children to a chareidi school is that I would like them to choose a professional (and personal) path for themselves.

    Two out of my modern Orthodox high-school classmates come to mind. Both got semicha and learned for many years in beis medrash: one is a Rav of a large kehilla, and the other is a development economist with an MS from an Ivy League school (who, contrary to what the charedi educational establishment might have its pupils believe, still keeps shabbos and kosher, learns regularly, and so forth).

    As one of my rabbanim said, the Torah-im-derech-eretz approach and its various flavours are, in his opinion, the normative halachic approach to interfacing with the outside world.

  5. This is a letter that I wrote to Dr. Rosenbaum:

    Dr. Rosenbaum,

    I have been a happy member of the kupat cholim that you have worked tirelessly to build and market to the RBS crowd.

    I feel obligated, though, to express my displeasure at the fact that you decided to exploit your position of prominence and respect to push a political stance in such a public and outlandish manner. I have no problem with you having political opinions or even expressing them in a professional and responsible manner (such as in an interview with an objective news/media source). But the gaudy and larger-than-life posters and statements cross an ethical line. You are a doctor in our community and your number-one responsibility is to your patients. You are in a position of authority over our very lives and health and you have boldly and loudly screamed your political opinion in the middle of an election that is rife with divisiveness and contention, none of which has anything to do with my health-care. And you have done all of this as a representative of Kupat Cholim Leumit. Do you think that our medical care will be of lesser quality if Eli Cohen wins the election? Because my family's health is the ONLY thing that should matter when you make decisions regarding your public life. Yet, in all of the flashy photos, flyers and towering billboards featuring your name (and kupat cholim position) you have not made even one mention of why Moshe Abutbol will help to make kupat cholim leumit a better source of healthcare for me and my family. Further, you have obviously and irreversibly placed your loyalty with one of the contenders in an election that is too close to call. If Moshe Abutbol wins, I am sure that you (meaning my healthcare) will be rewarded with a position of influence at the table of the mayor (as I have already seen that you have been appointed by him as an adviser). But what if Eli wins? where will you be then? What position will leumit (meaning my healthcare) be in if/when Eli Cohen is at the table and you need to lobby to improve my healthcare?

    I would have expected more responsible behavior from a person in your position.

  6. "What do these four doctors have in common?" The joke around the city - repeated to me innumerable times - is that an appropriate answer would be "Well, none of their children will be doctors."

    Hahahahaha! Temujin's Law (with apologies to Mike Godwin): "As a regime or a situation becomes more tyrannical or ludicrous, the quality and incisiveness of political jokes improves proportionally."


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