By HaRav Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute
By the time you read this article, you may well have forgotten about this subject, so let me remind you: About a week and a half ago, all the men and their wives fell all over MK Betzalel Smutrich and his wife in reaction to their declaration that they prefer to have Jewish maternity wards and not be placed in mixed company with Arab women (the specific complaint about "partying" is a code for the fact that the cultures of the two peoples are foreign to each other). I am no expert about the working of the media, and just how they managed to get from the couple such a "juicy" quote in the interests of making a tumult. But it is clear that any journalist can immediately see the explosive potential which has been provided to him or her, including the massive cannonballs that will soon come into their grasp, engraved with such words as: "prejudice... Nazis... international damage... harm to our delicate relationships... yet another statement by the murderous rightists... He should quit! Fire him!..." And so on...
I am not an attorney for Betzalel and Revital Smutrich. If I were familiar with the original context and the platform on which this declaration was made, perhaps my reaction would be that we have a case of a lack of tact and even a possibly foolish remark on their part, since now there will be a rush to block off what the others claim is a breach of ethics. However, now that the subject has come up, I want to discuss the matter in principle, well above the level of the media and the knee-jerking political reactions that are being so skillfully staged.
"The Desire of a New Mother"
The Smutriches did not say a single word about the level of treatment and service that patients should receive. Nor have they said anything at all beyond the matter of separation of hospital beds in a maternity ward. But we all know that all the hospitals are in a never-ending search for women who are giving birth, since this is considered "good money," paid straight by the National Insurance Institute (Bituach Leumi). There are hospitals which invest in accessories for greater comfort, others take a special interest in nutrition, and some hospitals arrange for close contact between the new baby and the family. Various hospitals have hired advisors to come up with ideas as to how to market the maternity wards to different sectors of the population and how to heap upon them and their families benefits that fit their specific desires. The main thing that they want is for the women to come back for additional births! I have only admiration for the one who identified the demand and raised the idea of offering separate rooms by mutual consent, as yet another attraction on the social or national level. Every Arab woman who gives birth and wants to be in a room where all the women speak the same language and every Jew who wants to be in a room that is exclusively Jewish will have their desires fulfilled. And anybody who does not make an explicit request will be put in a shared room.
For the life of me, I cannot figure out what is wrong with such a consensual arrangement. It does not have even a hint of any desire for racism. And there is no hint of any fear that the physicians and nurses will give a lower level of treatment to women who are not of their own nationality. In any case, the principle of mutuality is being conserved. And the entire arrangement is one of mutual consent.
I am not innocent, and I know what will be said by those who oppose my approach: "Where will all this end?" Why don't we begin to separate rooms based on religion/irreligion, sector, or political viewpoint (put them on the left or the right of the corridor...), as long as the women agree to such an arrangement? Well, I have two answers to this: (1) We cannot manage our entire lives constrained by the fear of a "slippery slope" and the claim, "Where will this lead?" We cannot cancel any and all actions that are reasonable in themselves just because "unrespectable people" will distort the matter. (2) And we can also look in greater detail at this imaginary fear: There is no way that maternity rooms will be divided up by consent on a basis of politics or sector. On the other hadnd, a separation based on religion or a lack of religion might be reasonable, but only on Shabbat. How pleasant it would be to know that mothers who have given birth would be able to join their families in singing Shabbat "zemirot" and not be disturbed by a radio or television on the holy day. However, I find it hard to believe that even such a separation can be organized in a fair way, and it is harder to believe that any such agreement can be achieved in a public hospital.