Now a group of women in one of the country's largest Orthodox Jewish communities is proposing to join up with Hatzolah as emergency medical technicians to respond in cases of labor or gynecological emergencies.The proposal for a women's division has stirred up criticism within Orthodox Jewish circles, with one well-known blog editorializing that it amounts to a "new radical feminist agenda." And when a prominent elected local official, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, spoke about it on his weekly radio show, he was criticized for even bringing the subject up.Rachel Freier, a Hasidic attorney who is representing the women in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, said there is a need for emergency services that adhere to the community's customs of modesty, calling for the sexes to avoid physical contact unless they are related."It has nothing to do with feminism," Freier said. "It has to do with the dignity of women and their modesty."She is careful to avoid framing the proposal as a critique of Hatzolah, whose work she says they respect. Instead, she says it is a matter of reclaiming a "job that has been the role of women for thousands of years" — that of midwife. "We are so proud of Hatzolah," she said. But, she added, "they can't understand what a woman feels like when she is in labor."
Interesting argument. But the fact is that many ob-gyns are men. And if you are rushing to a hospital in an emergency situation, you usually cannot specify your preferred gender for care. Also I can tell you based on my experience of having a baby at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital that there are women doctors and nurses who show no greater empathy to women in labor than men do.
Nevertheless, I think that women who wish to offer their serve others using their expertise in this way should not be banned from doing chesed. It is possible to work it out. I don't buy the argument made by Heshy Jacobs, a member of Chevra Hatzalah's executive board that ""There are many things at which women are superior, but when it comes to speed and physical strength, which are both of the essence in a medical emergency, it is a proven fact that men have an advantage."
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