I share four Halachic rulings I have issued to congregants at Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck and students at Torah Academy of Bergen County, concerning TVAC as an expression of continued support of this most worthy institution.
Ruling #1 - Responding to Secondary Calls on Shabbat and Yom Tov
On or about Shavuot 2002 two leading Teaneck Rabbanim delivered Shiurim articulating and explaining their positions regarding TVAC volunteers keeping their radios on during Shabbat and Yom Tov, in order to be ready to respond to secondary calls if necessary. If the on-call responders are busy with another emergency, secondary responders are requested to respond to the emergency. One leading Rav argued that Jews should be available six days a week and non-Jews can respond on Shabbat and Yom Tov. This Rav reasons that providing emergency services is the responsibility of the municipality and Jews can and should contribute more than our fair share during the week but others should assume the responsibility on Shabbat and Yom Tov.
Another leading Rav argues that this is a matter of Pikuah Nefesh (a matter of life and death) and when a call goes out asking for desperately needed help when a minute can mean the difference between life and death, we should be ready to respond even on Shabbat and Yom Tov. I have been asked numerous times whose opinion should be followed. My response has been based on an idea articulated by Rav Soloveitchik.
Rav Soloveitchik (Hamesh Derashot in the essay VaYahalom Yosef Halom and Nefesh HaRav page 88) believes that history may be used as a tool to determine which opinion should be followed. For example, Rav Soloveitchik in the 1950’s vociferously opposed the fledgling Israeli government accepting German reparation money (in accordance with the view of Menahem Begin). However, in 1983 Rav Soloveitchik told me that in retrospect, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion was correct in accepting the reparation money, for had Israel not accepted the money it could not have developed into the thriving nation its has (with Hashem’s help) emerged.
Rav Hershel Schachter (Nefesh Harav op. cit.) cites Yoma 9b, Bava Metzia 85b (with Rashi and Maharsha) and Teshuvot Seridei Eish (3:105) as support and precedent for Rav Soloveitchik’s approach. Regarding the dispute about secondary calls, the matter was clarified within hours after the Shiurim had been delivered that Shavu’ot night. A beloved neighbor was experiencing heart failure Shavuot afternoon and a call was placed to TVAC for help. The primary responders were busy handling another emergency and a call went out for secondary responders. A Jewish person who followed the opinion to keep the radio on, was the only secondary responder to arrive at the scene. He managed, Baruch Hashem, to save the life of the neighbor. Had the Jewish secondary responder followed the opinion to refrain from turning on the radio on Shabbat and Yom Tov, the neighbor would have died.
In my view, the dispute was resolved by this poignant incident. While both rabbis made convincing arguments, the dramatic experience and juxtaposition makes it clear, in my opinion, as to whose opinion should be followed. Thus, I instruct those who seek my opinion, that TVAC volunteers should leave their radios on for Shabbat and Yom Tov and respond whenever necessary.
In a similar vein, I instruct those seeking my opinion, to follow the ruling of Rav Moshe Feinstein permitting volunteer emergency responders to drive home from a call. This ruling is disputed by other great Rabbanim including Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach in the first volume (number eight) of his monumental Teshuvot Minchat Shlomo. They believe that emergency workers may violate only a rabbinic prohibition during their return from a rescue mission (I review this dispute at length in my Gray Matter 2:24-34). Rav Moshe permits violation even of Torah level prohibitions due to concern that participation in volunteer rescue missions is not sustainable in practice if volunteers are not been permitted to drive home after an emergency. Moreover, if volunteers are not permitted to drive home they will be unable to respond quickly if another emergency arises on Shabbat. Therefore, I have permitted those who ask me to drive home from an emergency on Shabbat.
Ruling #3 - Refueling an Ambulance on Shabbat or Yom Tov
A number of years ago, a TABC alumnus who is a leading member of TVAC informed me that TVAC protocol calls for refueling the ambulance if the tank dips down to less than one half of a tank. This discipline is instituted so that the ambulances will not God forbid be short on fuel in case of an emergency. The TABC alumnus asked if it permissible to refuel the ambulance in such circumstances on Shabbat or Yom Tov.
This is a serious issue since Halacha permits violation of Shabbat or Yom Tov only for a current situation of Pikuah Nefesh (Holeh L’Faneinu) following the rulings of the Noda BeYehudah and Hatam Sofer. A very serious question was posed to Rav Yechezkeil Landau (Teshuvot Noda BeYehudah Y.D. 2:210) in the late-eighteenth century. This case involved the permissibility of performing an autopsy on a patient that died in London due to complications that arose during a routine surgical procedure. The surgeons sought permission to perform an autopsy on the patient to learn if it was they who had made a mistake during the surgery. This, they believed, would help them avoid making similar mistakes in the future.
Rav Landau replied that Halacha forbids the autopsy. He argues that although the Gemara (Hullin 11b) seems to sanction an autopsy to save a life, the circumstance presented to him differs. He asserts that the Torah sanctions autopsy only to save the life of someone who is presently in danger of losing his life (Holeh Lefaneinu). He reasons, reductio ad absurdum, that if one considers the circumstance in London as Pikuah Nefesh, all medical preparations would be permitted on Shabbat, because perhaps a dangerously ill person may suddenly appear and be in need of these preparations. Moreover, he argues, if he were to permit the autopsy in this situation, surgeons would cite him out of context to allow autopsies on every patient who died under their care. Rav Landau considered this to be highly intolerable. The Hatam Sofer (Teshuvot Y.D. 336) agrees with the Noda BeYehudah.
However, the definition of L’Faneinu is much broader in regards to a Tzibbur/community, as noted by Rav Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg (Tehumin 12:382-384). In fact, the Hazon Ish (Ohalot 22:32) rules that one may violate Shabbat not only if the dangerously ill person (Holeh) is Lefaneinu, but even if the sickness (Holi) is Lefaneinu. A precedent for the ruling of the Hazon Ish is the story of Rav Yisrael Salanter ordering his entire congregation to eat on Yom Kippur in the midst of a cholera epidemic. Rav Salanter ordered even those who were not presently ill to eat, because the danger of contracting cholera was a live threat.
Rav Moshe Feinstein follows in this same path in his permitting emergency responders to drive home from a call on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Rav Moshe considers not only the current situation but the future as well since a much broader definition of L’faneinu must be adopted in regards to meeting communal needs.
In regard to refueling the ambulance, I feel that the same approach should be applied. Strict adherence to protocols and discipline is essential for the functioning of an emergency squad. Deviation from protocol can lead to a breakdown in practice and can cause the loss of life. For this reason I permitted the refueling of an ambulance even if there is no immediate Pikuah Nefesh need.
Ruling #4 - Kohanim Service on TVAC
Shaarei Orah member Ariel Douek reached out to me in 2003 as to whether it is permissible for him to join TVAC, in light of his being a Kohein. This is a very serious issue as Halacha strictly forbids a Kohein from contact with the dead. They are forbidden even from being in the same building as the dead (Tumat Ohel). In 1981 I asked Rav Soloveitchik if it is permitted for a Kohein to attend medical school. Rav Soloveitchik responded with a resolute no. The firmness of Rav Soloveitchik’s respond remains a vivid and poignant memory.
However, I recall Rav Aharon Lichtenstein citing the Hazon Ish as asserting that most mistakes made by Halachic decisors occurs due to an improper investigation of the facts (Brachot 47b regarding the venerable Rami bar Hama is an example). Thus, I follow the example of Hashem regarding Migdal Bavel (Bereishit 11:5 with Rashi) and Sedom (Bereishit 18:21 with Rashi) and investigated the Metzi’ut/facts. For example, I spoke with Teaneck community leader Elie Katz who is a Kohein and a very long time member of TVAC. Mr. Katz clarified that he did never encountered a conflict between his rescue work and his status as a Kohein.
Similarly, TABC alumnus Jacob Finkelstein (who is a Kohein) told me that his Rav, Rav Zvi Sobolofsky, permitted him to join TVAC. Thus, armed with this information I permitted Ariel Douek to join TVAC. It turned out to be a life changing decision, as it was at TVAC, Ariel met his wife Yael Bellin who also is a dedicated and longtime TVAC volunteer.
In my experience with congregants at Shaarei Orah and TABC students and alumni, service at TVAC has proven to be a very positive experience for both practical and spiritual reasons. I have witnessed positive growth in all areas for the participants.
Moreover, Orthodox Jewish participation in TVAC has brought manifold blessings to the community. This accounts for the overwhelming support for TVAC from the RCBC.
I do, routinely caution volunteers to bolster their commitment to Shabbat and Yom Tov. Concern for spiritual decline when violating Shabbat even for permitted purposes is significant, as is apparent from Eruvin 40b. I encourage volunteers to take time to learn Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchata to enhance their already careful observance of Shabbat and Yom Tov. In practice, this precaution has worked.
All considered, Orthodox Jewish participation in TVAC works in both theory and in the field. The community and its Rabbanim have just confirmed firm agreement with this assessment. I wholeheartedly join in this approval of our continued participation in TVAC.