Chief Rabbi Explains How to Observe Shabbat Under Fire
As Operation Protective Edge enters its first Shabbat since starting Monday, and as the over 500 missiles fired by Gaza terrorists in that period continue without a let-up, Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi David Lau on Friday released guidelines for observing the Shabbat.
In the halakhic (Jewish legal) guidelines, Rabbi Lau discussed the balance between keeping the laws of Shabbat and the need to defend one's life, in this case by staying aware of rocket warnings and being able to take shelter.
"Firstly it is an obligation of every one of the public to observe and listen to the security and rescue forces," wrote Rabbi Lau. "Certainly they must immediately enter a safe room or protected area when hearing the siren and not delay."
The rabbi noted "it is forbidden to doubt the danger, and certainly there is no justification for citizens leaving their homes and trying to watch the rockets be intercepted (by Iron Dome) from pure curiosity."
The rocket fire constitutes a matter of pikuach nefesh, the Jewish legal concept of defering a Jewish commandment so as to save a life, said Rabbi Lau, adding "one must act according to the orders of the Homefront Command."
Rabbi Lau emphasized several key points in observing the Shabbat under rocket fire.
First, he clarified that there is no halakhic permission for turning on the television or radio to watch or hear the news during Shabbat, but for the sake of security it is permissible to leave the radio at a reasonable volume on the special radio channel Hagal Hashaket.
The channel is quiet except for when emergency sirens are sounded; in Ashkelon, Ashdod and the Gaza Belt region the channel is found on 101.5 FM, in the central region it is 100 FM, and different channels appear for other areas. The public is advised to check the station in their area.
Rabbi Lau also pointed out that every synagogue should have a telephone on vibrate so that a call can be picked up in the case of emergency.
Emergency lighting should be arranged before Shabbat, stated the rabbi, so that the home is prepared in case a power outage occurs.
He added that for those who do not have emergency lighting and have young children at home, or sick or elderly people, or people suffering from anxiety, it is permissible to light a flashlight or candle through a different method, such as pushing the power switch against the wall instead of flipping it by hand for example. The rabbi added that it is preferable for this to be done by a child.
A final guideline given by Rabbi Lau is that in times of emergency, Magen David Adom (MDA) medics and doctors can drive on Shabbat and also return by car to the point they left from, even though the return trip is not a situation of "saving a life."
The rabbi noted that this legal point was ruled by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein z''l, a world renowned halakhic authority, who determined that there could be a need for the doctor to drive to another point later in the Shabbat, making the return trip necessary.
Rabbi Lau commented that there have been rumors and unfounded reports in recent days due to the highly unstable security situation, and warned people against spreading such rumors so as not to desecrate the Shabbat by putting others into a panic.
"Saving a life defers prayer," concluded Rabbi Lau, noting that even during the Shabbat prayer service one must take shelter.