Nishmat's Women’s Health and HalachaIn memory of Chaya Mirel bat R' Avraham

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Going to doctors

7 August, 2006

Question:

Imertzei Hashem, I will be married in a few weeks. I have recently had conversations with my future husband where he has expressed that it is the opinion of his particular Chassidic group that one should not go to doctors. I am concerned about this opinion, especially in the realm of women’s health. With Hashem’s help, we plan to have children and I want to make sure we agree about the need for prenatal care and gynecological exams. And what about children’s immunizations?

My understanding of Judaism is that we are required take care of our bodies. I consider healthcare to be a part of that. What do the halachic sources say about this? What is the best way to address this?


Answer:

Mazal tov on your upcoming marriage!

1. It is understood in the earliest Jewish sources that a doctor is permitted to give medical treatment both for sickness inflicted by God and for physical harm caused by man (See Shemot 21:19 and commentators, Tractate Berachot 60a, Tractate Bava Kama 85a and commentators there). Halachic literature works from the assumption that people do go to doctors, and addresses questions such as whether doctors may treat illnesses that might have been inflicted by God as punishment, and whether doctors may take risks with treatments that could be unsuccessful or counterproductive. The Rambam, Hilchot Roze’ach 11:4, states “It is a mitzvah to remove and watch out for any obstacle that could endanger life, and to be extremely careful doing so.” This is derived from Devarim 4:15 and 4:9.

Among the many more recent poskim who agree with this position, we’d like to quote the Chazon Ish who states clearly and beautifully: “I myself think our natural hishtadlut (efforts) regarding our health are a mitzvah and an obligation…And we find Amoraim (sages of the Talmud) went even to non Jewish doctors and wise gentiles for health purposes, and many plants and animals were created with a medical purpose, as well as the gates of wisdom which allow us to think and understand and know things” (Chazon Ish, Kovetz Igrot, Part 1, 137).

It seems these opinions would suggest, even require, seeking medical advice and assistance when necessary, as well as preventative medical care such as prenatal care. Additionally, regarding children’s immunizations and medical care for a sick child, there might be a prohibition of “Lo ta’amod al dam rei’echa,” which prohibits one from doing nothing while another person is in a life-threatening situation. Even if you were to accept your chatan’s position regarding your own health, which is inadvisable, it would be much more problematic for you to accept his position regarding your children’s health.

2. In answering your question, we were reminded of a folk tale told about the tzadik whose street is flooded and he stands to drown. The police come and he refuses evacuation, stating: “I have always done good, God will save me.” The house and streets continue to fill with water, and a boat comes to rescue the tzadik, who refuses to budge, stating “I have always done good, God will save me.” The man’s lower floors are flooded, and a helicopter comes to rescue him, but he refuses to budge, stating, “I have always done good, God will save me.” Finally the man drowns and dies. As he enters his reserved plot in heaven, he asks God: “I have always done good, why didn’t you save me?” and God answers “Well, I did send you the police, and a boat, and a helicopter…”

3. We believe that God, who created this beautiful world and its problems, has also created solutions. God, who inflicts sickness, has also given us the wisdom to create medicine. Many great poskim have dealt with questions of medical treatment, and no doubt a rabbi should be consulted when there is a possible conflict between a medical treatment and halacha, but when there is no conflict it may even be halachically problematic to neglect your health, and certainly to neglect the health of your fetus when you are pregnant, or of your child.

4. We agree that you should further pursue this issue with your chatan before you are married, since his position may have long term ramifications for your health and the health of your children. It is of great importance that you clarify whether his position regarding medicine is only about himself, or if he also would not want you to see doctors. In matters that affect your health you are not obligated to follow your husband’s opinion, and halachically you could go to a doctor against your husband’s will, and even without his knowledge. However, it is much better to arrive at a mutual agreement about this ahead of time, so as to minimize conflicts which may arise and cause problems in your relationship. You should also clarify how you would make decisions about a sick child, chas veshalom, receiving medical treatment, as there may be an issue here of the prohibition “Lo ta’amod al dam rei’echa,” as mentioned in paragraph 1.

5. If your chatan stands firm that this is the position of his rabbi, we strongly suggest you seek counsel together by a rabbi you both respect, preferably a gadol by everyone’s standards, such as Rav Elyashiv. It is important to have such a consultation before your wedding, as this matter you have raised is of great importance for the health of your children to come and yourself, as well as the health of your relationship and marriage.

We wish you the best of hatzlachah.


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