Monday, May 30, 2022

Hatzalah and Tznius

Isaac Hersh (New York Post)
When the subject of Hatzalah, an Orthodox Jewish ambulance service first came up a few years ago, I was against it. I believed it wasn’t necessary since Chicago’s city ambulance response time was pretty quick. I also feared that a possible Chilul HaShem might result if it were perceived that Jews only responded to Jews – and not to non Jews.

But I was wrong. I am fully supportive of Hatzalah now. They are staffed by fully trained and qualified EMTs. Their response time is significantly shorter than city ambulances; and perhaps most importantly they have done the opposite of a Chilul HaShem – responding just as quickly to non Jews when called upon; bettering their chances of survival.

And unlike city or other private ambulance services, Hatzalah is all volunteer. There is no bill at the end of service.  

I wish I could say that’s the end of the story. But sadly it’s not. There are female EMTs in the Florida’s Hatzalah. Which is apparently a problem for New York’s Hatzalah. As noted in the New York Post: 

New York-based Jewish ambulance service Chevra Hatzalah is trying to snuff out a similar group (Hatzalah of Palm Beach and Hatzalah of South Florida) because they employ female EMTs, the founder (Isaac Hersh) of the Sunshine State-based volunteer program claims.

In its 12-page complaint, Chevra Hatzalah, legally named Hatzoloh Incorporated, claimed Hersh infringed upon and counterfeited its registered service marks. 

Although the lawsuit does not mention female EMTs I agree with Hersh who said the following:

Allowing women to be EMTs is “a highly controversial move in the eyes of Chevra Hatzalah, who has a strict policy of orthodox males being the sole applicant allowed to join in most capacities...

I have little doubt that this is the reason for their lawsuit. The fact is that Chicago’s Hatzalah uses the same name and logo as well. But as of now, all of our EMTs are male. So to the best of my knowledge Chicago’s Hatzalah is not being sued for infringing upon and counterfeiting its registered service marks. 

Their opposition to female EMTs is not new. It was that very opposition than generated the all female Hatzalah ambulance service founded by Ruchie Freier. She saw a need and filled it

Why is Hatzalah of New York opposed to female EMTs? I believe it’s all about over focusing on Tznius (modesty issues). As though that is the biggest problem facing Judaism in our day. I can’t tell  you how many times Tznius is in some way blamed by the right for tragedies that befall us. They believe it is immodest for women to serve together with men in any circumstance. That the intimate setting of an ambulance is conducive to immodest behavior or worse. And in any case women that are in distress can be fully treated by an all male EMT service. So the right is going to fight any attempt to integrate the system.

Now it may be technically true that an all male EMT ambulance service can do the job.  But there are situations where a woman in distress might feel more comfortable with a woman EMT treating her. That need was been filled in New York by Ruchie Freier who after several unsuccessful attempts at integration, created an all female Hatzalah. For which she has gotten a lot of grief from the right.       

All of which adds to my belief that Isaac Hersh is right.  

It’s true that the intimate conditions of an ambulance might lead to problematic behavior. But so too do many other circumstances in which we live and participate. Such as private business meetings between male and female corporate executives; or doctor-patient office visits. Or ;closed door attorney-client meetings. Or even a male employer with a female secretary. It is no secret that intimate settings can sometime generate intimate relationships. And yet a lot of these settings exist in the Charedi world without opposition or protest

I can think of no better reason for men and women to be able to serve together than under conditions of life saving services. Which is very often the case when EMTs are called upon.   Surely that trumps being a female secretary to a male employer. 

Unfortunately, I think Hatzalah really believes they are fighting for the retentiion of high modesty standards They believe they are serving God by limiting life saving activities to men. That men can do the job. And that women need not be involved.

But as far as I am concerned, this a result of bad Chinuch overly focused on Tznius. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. I agree that separation of the sexes is a good idea and fosters a sense of modesty. But not when lives are at stake. Especially since when Poskm in Florida were consulted and were told they could have male and female EMTs in an Orthodox setting. 

And the erasure of women goes on....