April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Clarifying My Very Pro TVAC Stance

Sometimes the most important emails slip by. Emails from the RCBC leadership requesting my signature on the pro-TVAC (Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps) letter were missed. I have been engrossed this summer in helping communities throughout the country with their eruvin. In the past four weeks, I have traveled to Chicago, Charleston, Champaigne-Urbana (University of Illinois), Cambridge, Sharon, New Hyde Park, Roslyn Heights, Longmeadow and West Orange. When I visit communities, I devote myself and am completely immersed from early morning to late at night trying to squeeze out every minute of my visit to help the communities. In these circumstances, it is very easy to miss an email. I thank Rav Chaim Poupko for graciously updating the letter with my signature included. In the meantime, I share two 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.

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 pikuach 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 VaYachalom Yosef Chalom 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 1950s vociferously opposed the fledgling Israeli government from accepting German reparation money (in accordance with the view of Menachem 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 that 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 Shavuot. A beloved neighbor was experiencing heart failure that 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 has been 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.

Ruling #2—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 pikuach nefesh (choleh l’faneinu) following the rulings of the Noda BeYehuda and Chatam Sofer.

However, the definition of l’faneinu is much broader in regards to a tzibbur/community, as noted by Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg (Techumin 12:382-384). In fact, the Chazon Ish (Ohalot 22:32) rules that one may violate Shabbat not only if the dangerously ill person (choleh) is l’faneinu, but even if the sickness (choli) is l’faneinu. A precedent for the ruling of the Chazon 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 regard 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 pikuach nefesh need.

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.

Conclusion

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 experienced by 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.

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.

By Rabbi Haim Jachter

 Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a Rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a Dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

 

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