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The Valley of Dry Bones?

Recently Dr. Eitan Hai-Am resigned from his post as Health Ministry director-general because of the cabinet’s decision to relocate the emergency room at Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center because there are ancient graves found on the site.

Israel Medical Association chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman said at a committee meeting:

“You’ve been discussing graves for the past two hours. Patients will die as a result of this decision and you are talking about (graves)…Building an emergency room far from the hospital’s main building means killing patients. You do not realize that.”

Demonstration outside the KnessetAround 70 doctors held a demonstration outside the Knesset in protest against the government’s decision. The doctors warned that moving the ward to a new location, as demanded by the haredim, “may end up costing us lives”.

Revising plans to relocate the ER would cost an extra NIS 136 million (about $36 million) and would delay the project for two years and put the facility too far from the hospital’s main building. Netanyahu instructed his director-general, Eyal Gabai, to head a task force which would reassess the decision.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that the new task force:

“will determine, together with all the relevant authorities, the possibility of erecting the secure emergency room at Barzilai Hospital in a way in which lives will not be endangered. The task force’s conclusions will be presented immediately after Pesach. Until then there will not be any work done on the facility.”

Outside Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical CenterCommittee members toured the site Wednesday morning with Shuka Dorfman, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority and an aide to Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman.

Dorfman told the committee that he cannot guarantee that there are Jewish graves at the site designated for the new emergency room, “The fact that there was no Jewish community in Ashkelon does not mean that there were no Jews there at all. We cannot reach a decision until we dig in the entire site.”

Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin, who also attended the Knesset meeting, said:

“I personally witnessed how the distance between the different hospital wards resulted in the loss of life…Building the ER at a different location will take at least three years, during which more lives will be lost.”

MK Arieh Eldad, a physician by training, said “a situation has been created in which a few bones are worth 130 million shekels,” he added “Jews know how to transfer Jewish graves from place to place, not to mention bones of Philistines.”

Kissing a Mezuza Risks Swine Flu? Doctors Say Yes

swine flu virusIn a country where it’s a nearly ubiquitous custom to kiss a Mezuzah upon entering and exiting a building, at a time when said country is all up in arms about Swine Flu, is probably a bad combination. But the question has already been asked. Can kissing a Mezuzah contribute to the spread of the disease?

What’s the need for the question? Of course yes. Flu is extremely contagious, and it stands to reason that an object that collects bits of saliva from passersby can function like a hub for H1N1. But the Rabbis were asked anyway. Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar had this to say on the subject, “If a specific order is given in the matter, the mezuzah must be kissed from the air, to ensure that the custom is not forgotten.” That’s a pretty fair compromise, but why must an order be given? We all know that the flu spreads from salivary contact. Do we need an order to tell us so?

Dr Ilan YoungsterMeanwhile, six out of seven doctors interviewed on the subject declined to comment about Mezuzahs in particular, for fear of getting in trouble with the Rabbis. No comment. There was only one doctor brave enough to tell the truth. Kissing Mezuzahs (sans Rabbi Amar’s air-kissing technique) increases the spread of Swine Flu, is dangerous, and people should refrain from doing it. His name is Ilan Youngster, and he based his warning on research he presented a year and a half ago sampling 70 Mezuzahs, which all turned out to contain many dangerous bacteria.

“Perhaps,” he continued, “because of the fact that the mezuzah is a religious object, people are afraid to sterilize it.”

Rabbi Amar responded to Youngster’s recommendation with ambivalence. On the one hand, he didn’t want the Health Ministry to issue an advisory against the practice, however, he recommended that anyone who wants to follow Youngster’s advice, “…put his hand near the mezuzah and kiss it, so as not to miss out on this good and important custom.”

I would ask Rabbi Amar about the commandment of “shmor et nafsheha” which is a Biblical obligation that a Jew watch over his health and well being, which I’m guessing should override a mere custom, but Amar wasn’t available for comment. I also didn’t call him for one either, for fear of getting in trouble with the Rabbis.

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