Hurricane Sabbath Guidelines Issued By Rabbis
By Michele Chabin • Religion News Service
NEW YORK (RNS) Observant Jews are permitted to sidestep traditional Sabbath rules on electronics and listen to the radio as Hurricane Irene bears down on the East Coast, according to guidelines distributed to hundreds of Orthodox rabbis.
Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of Yeshiva University's Center for the Jewish Future, distributed special hurricane guidelines -- which he originally wrote while working in hurricane-prone Florida -- to the school's rabbinic alumni.
Observant Jews' Sabbath rules typically prohibit turning on and off electrical appliances and carrying items outdoors unless there is a ritual enclosure called an eruv.
The protocols instruct Jews to leave a TV or radio turned on in a side room, but not to change the channel. A radio's volume may be adjusted on Shabbat, as long as the radio isn't digital, Brander said.
If the storm is still raging, worshippers should stay home, the document says, noting that a missed Torah portion can be read the following Shabbat.
Jews should assume that the storm has destroyed their community's eruv, Brander said, "but carrying is permitted for life/limb threatening situations" or in cases where medical attention is required."
In anticipation of a blackout, Brander advised Jews to light long-lasting candles and flashlights prior to the start of the Sabbath. If the fire dies or the batteries lose power, it is permissible to ask a non-Jew to replace them.
New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan advised his flock to stay home if Irene makes conditions too dangerous to attend Sunday Mass.
"Catholics take Sunday mass very seriously," he said, "but the church never asks us to risk our health or safety to get to church on the Lord's Day."
Here are Augudath Israel's instructions:
The following is reprinted from the Halacha Hurricane Manual published by Agudath Israel of Florida, based on questions asked to Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, Rav Agudas Yisroel of Baltimore.
1. In case of an impending hurricane predicted to hit on Shabbos, may one leave the radio on?
Yes, leave the radio on in a private area on a low volume.
2. If told to evacuate, what should one do?
One must always do whatever is necessary to protect one's life. Therefore one is allowed to drive to a secure place and take along whatever is necessary, even money. Once one is out of harms way, he should stay put until after Shabbos. If a child or elderly person is present and staying in the car would be a danger, one can proceed to a shelter. One may also put gas in the car if needed to arrive at a safe place.
3. If one stays home, may the shutters be placed on the windows?
There are two popular types of shutters: accordion and panel. Accordion shutters are permanently attached to the home and may be closed. Panel shutters need to be installed with each use and may only be placed on the windows if the situation is one where life is in danger-not to protect property.
4. If instructed to bring indoors all loose furniture and garden equipment, is one allowed to?
One is permitted to bring indoors whatever might pose a danger.
5. If someone sees a power line fall and it poses a danger can one contact the authorities?
A person should never venture out during or right after a hurricane. Coming in contact with downed power lines could be fatal. Unless the power line could cause a serious danger to the people in the home, one should wait until after Shabbos to report it.
6. Does the category of the hurricane make a difference?
The different categories represent the intensity of the hurricane winds and the danger they pose. But the authorities can determine that even a category one or two hurricane poses enough of a threat to certain areas to demand an evacuation. In such cases, all necessary precautions should be taken.
7. If someone lives alone and needs assistance to evacuate, may one drive there to pick the person up and bring him or her to safety?
One is allowed to do what is necessary to protect one's own life or the life of someone else in danger.
8. At what wind velocity should the eruv not be assumed to be kosher?
Once the winds reach the speed of 35 mph, one should assume the eruv is not kosher and should not carry outside.
9. If the electricity went out and was then turned back on, may one eat the food that was on the blech or hot-plate?
If the food was fully cooked (or even 1/3 cooked) and is still hot, one may consume the food. Otherwise, one should consult a Rav.
List of essential items: batteries, flashlights, candles, yartzheit candles, canned food, bottled water- 1 gallon per day per person, battery powered radio, important documents sealed in a water proof bag, insurance information, photographs of household valuables.
First, let me add to what Rabbi Brander wrote.
If your flashlight or candle is extinguished and there is any danger that you or others will fall or otherwise risk injury, and if there isn't a non-Jew handy to relight it, relight it yourself, using a shinui (an unusual way to do it – for example, using your left hand when you're right handed or holding the batteries in a cumbersome way) if possible.
You cannot risk injury, especially at a time when getting help – and getting to help – amy be more diffiecult than usual or even impossible.
In the same way, don't leave candles burning unattended. If need be, put them out – especially if there is a chance the storm might cause them to topple over and possibly start a fire.
You should view all these halakhic issues and any others that should arise over the course of the storm as issues of pekuakh nefesh, saving lives.
A hurricane is a life threating occasion, not just because of the direct damage of the storm, but because of the fires, fall injuries, and difficulty getting to and then being treated in a hospital that come with it.
Don't fool around.
Don't risk other people's lives with your candles or with Shabbos laws.
The right thing to do, the halakhic thing to do, is to protect lives.
As for Agudah's list, people, don't be foolish.
A blech poses a serious fire danger during a hurricane. A hot plate is one thing, but a blech, especially on a gas stove, is another.
Don't play around with this. Turn it off as soon as you realize the storm might do major damage to your home or apartment.
And do NOT go to sleep or evacuate with a blech still on.
Either stay up in shifts to monitor the storm (and the blech) or turn it off now before Shabbos. And TURN IT OFF IF YOU EVACUATE. It isn't only a danger to property – it is a danger to life, as well.
Also, do NOT try to ride out the storm in basement.
Storm surge, which can send sea water miles inland, could easily and very quickly flood your basement. And if you're down there, that could kill you.
If you are told to evacuate on Shabbos – DO IT IMMEDIATELY.
If you were told before Shabbos to evacuate but have not done so, DO IT NOW.
Not only is there no prohibition involved in evacuating, there is a prohibition in staying. In other words, it's no sin to drive on Shabbos to evacuate, but it is a sin to ignore an evacuation order.