עמוד בית
Mon, 22.07.24

Jewish religious law

Two main questions arise in Jewish religious law with regard to a physicians’ strike: first, do physicians have a moral right to strike, and second, whether physicians have a right to demand a fair salary, and if so, who is responsible to pay it to them?

In 1983, during the physicians’ strike that took place in that year, the Chief Rabbis of Israel, Rabbi Avraham Shapira and Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, held that as long as the employers did not accept the physicians’ demand for arbitration, the physicians were permitted to strike.1 Rabbi Yitzhak Yaakov Weis and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach in that year also hinted that the physicians were entitled to disrupt the healthcare system to the extent that it would operate on a Sabbath schedule.2

Rabbi Shlomo Goren, who served inter alia as Chief Rabbi of Israel, emphasized in 1983 that the Government bore the responsibility for public health, and not the physicians.3 Rabbi Goren distinguished between a situation in which there was an employment agreement — and therefore it was more problematic to disrupt the healthcare system — and a situation where such an agreement was not valid. ‘Were we speaking of the time stipulated in the employment agreement between the physicians and their employers, the problem would be more serious,’ Rabbi Goren held, ‘but when we are speaking of a renewal of a salary agreement of the framework that exists between the physicians and the Ministry of Health, where everyone admits that the physicians’ claims are in principle justified, but the Ministry of Finance is concerned that the general framework of employment agreements in Israel will be undermined, and if they make concessions to the physicians, others will also come to make strong demands and to threaten strikes, perhaps this is not a ground for compelling the physicians to work for poor salaries’ (emphases not in the original). Ultimately, the Rabbi’s conclusion was that ‘the striking physicians may not prevent the giving of aid to patients, but there is a duty to pay them salary in accordance with the demand of the Medical Association.’4

Regarding physicians’ salaries, there is no dispute in Jewish religious law that physicians are entitled to fair remuneration for their work. Although prima facie healing people is regarded as a religious obligation, and, as is well known, one may not receive remuneration for carrying out a religious obligation, the Talmud extensively addresses the responsibility of the patient to pay for medical treatment.5 In the Torah itself it is stated that a victim of violence is entitled to compensation, inter alia, so that he may pay a physician.6 The Talmud goes on to determine, in this context, that a victim of violence may refuse to receive medical treatment that will be given to him gratis by a friend of the tortfeasor, on the assumption that ‘a physician that provides treatment for nothing is worth nothing’ (since he will not give the patient his full attention).7

In addition, most arbiters of Jewish religious law in the present agree that physicians have a right to a high salary, which goes beyond the time and effort that they actually devote to the treatment. Thus, for example, Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli held that the time and money that physicians invested in studying medicine entitles them to higher payment.8 Additional rabbis justify payment of a high salary to physicians on account of the time when they are on-duty and on-call and the legal risks to which they are exposed.9

 


  1.  Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Halperin, ‘Jewish Religious Decisions from the Time of the Physicians’ Strike,’ from Asia: Articles, Synopses and Reviews on Matters of Jewish Medical Ethics, vol. 5, 1986, page 33, note 9.
  2. Ibid., at page 31.
  3. Rabbi Shlomo Goren, ‘The Physicians’ Strike from the Viewpoint of Jewish Religious Law,’ Asia: Articles, Synopses and Reviews on Matters of Jewish Medical Ethics, vol. 5, 1986, page 43.
  4. Rabbi Shlomo Goren, ibid., at page 53.
  5. See, for example, Ketubot 105a, Sanhedrin 91a, Ketubot 51a.
  6.  Exodus 21, 19.
  7. Baba Kama 85a.
  8. Brody, S., ‘Ask the Rabbi: May doctors go on strike?’ Jerusalem Post, June 3, 2011.
  9. Ibid.

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