June 20, 2024
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A Zoom Interview on Shabbat for A Medical Residency: A Shocking Example of ‘Ortho-hostility’

The Problem

I was shocked to hear of the following situation: A rabbinic colleague shared a dilemma faced by a young congregant. The congregant is a medical residency candidate for a position at a prestigious hospital. Shockingly, the hospital scheduled a Zoom interview for Shabbat and refused to change the interview time. As a result, the young man struggled to find a halachically acceptable way to join the Zoom call.

 

Pikuach Nefesh

At first glance, one might permit the Shabbat Zoom interview due to concern for pikuach nefesh. Perhaps training at this prestigious hospital will make him a superior physician and save more lives. However, we summarily dismiss this suggestion based on a landmark ruling of Rav Yechezkel Landau (Teshuvot Noda BeYehudah, Yoreh Deah 2:210) in the late 18th century. The case involved a patient that died in London, due to complications that arose during a routine surgical procedure. As a result, surgeons wanted to conduct an autopsy to discover if they had erred during the surgery. They believed this step would help them avoid making similar mistakes in the future.

Rav Landau forbade the autopsy. Although the Gemara (Chullin 11b) seems to sanction an autopsy to save a life, the London circumstance differs. Rav Landau asserts that the Torah sanctions autopsy only to save the life of someone presently in danger (Choleh Lefaneinu). He reasons, reductio ad absurdum, that if one considers the circumstance in London as pikuach nefesh — all medical preparations would be permitted on Shabbat, because, perhaps, a dangerously ill person may suddenly appear in need of these preparations. The Chatam Sofer (Teshuvot Yoreh Deah 336) agrees with the Noda BeYehudah.

In our case, the Shabbat interview is far removed from the resident saving a life. Therefore, the interview is not close to being a Choleh Lefaneinu situation; consequently, we cannot permit violating Shabbat in this instance.

 

Amira L’Nochri

The next option was Amira L’Nochri, asking a non-Jew to perform the melachot involved with the Zoom call. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 307:5) permits asking a non-Jew to perform a rabbinically prohibited act on Shabbat, in case of special need. In “The Power of Shabbos: Shabbat and Electricity in the 21st Century” (pages 71-74), we demonstrate that the consensus views electricity without a heated filament as a rabbinic prohibition. Accordingly, there seemed to be a solution for the young medical student.

However, even if a non-Jew manages the Zoom call, there remains a prohibition to appear on the screen. In “The Power of Shabbos: Shabbat and Electricity in the 21st Century” (page 118), we write: “Rav Hershel Schachter rules that causing one’s image to appear on a screen is a prohibited act of creating an image on Shabbat (see Rambam Hilchot Shabbat 11:17). Rav Eliyashiv (cited in Orchot Shabbat 15:35) agrees.”

 

Refusing to Bow to Secular Tyranny

In addition, I was very uncomfortable devising halachic leniency to satisfy the anti-religious administrators’ disrespect of an interviewee’s Shabbat observance.

This situation reminded me of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik telling me of his interaction with Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg in the 1930s. The Nazis banned shechita on spurious humanitarian grounds. Rav Weinberg tried to avoid the ban by administering pre-shechita anesthesia to the animals. Rav Weinberg set forth Halachic arguments that the anesthesia did not render the animal a tereifa (documented in the first section of Rav Weinberg’s Teshuvot Seridei Eish). The Rav told Rav Weinberg that while he agreed with his halachic analysis, he felt we should never formulate halachic leniencies to satisfy the Nazis.

In our situation, it is a poor halachic policy to make halachic accommodations to suit bullies who disrespect religious practice. While the hospital administration’s immoral stance is not comparable to the Nazis’ evil, we dare not pander to secular tyranny.

 

Flying to Israel

The young man decided to fly to Israel and be on the Zoom call after Shabbat was over, to avoid violating Shabbat. His clever solution matched the reaction of Mobileye’s Orthodox Jewish executives, when Intel insisted that its purchase of Mobileye for 15billion dollars take place on Shabbat. The Mobileye executives organized a brilliant strategy to consummate the deal with Intel without Shabbat violation. Mobileye stationed its top brass at various locations worldwide — so that at least one of its top leaders could be on the call with Intel, when it was not Shabbat at their site.

 

Conclusion — Avoiding Ortho-Hostility

I shared the story with my sister, who has worked at high levels in the American corporate world since 1974. She said the hospital leaders’ gross insensitivity to religion in scheduling the interview foreshadows a hostile workplace for Orthodox Jews. Therefore, she thought it wise to avoid taking the jobdespite the hospital’s prestigious stature.

Shockingly, corporate discriminatory behavior persists in 2022. Current culture correctly abhors racism and reacts strongly even to micro-aggressions against certain groups. However, even in such a pervasive anti-racist culture that promotes inclusivity and embraces diversity, anti-Semitism and anti-Orthodoxy shockingly persist. The same people whose slogan is “an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere” inexplicably tolerate and sometimes perpetrate hostile acts against Orthodox Jews!

One thing is for sure… We have outlasted and outlived various enemies, who have come in many different forms and styles. Undoubtedly, we will outlast and outlive the Ortho-hostility that prevails in segments of American society. We shall overcome.


Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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