Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Short Story from the Old City

Blogger is not currently functional, so I can’t upload further archaeological pictures today. Instead, how about a story about What I learned in yeshivah today:

There’s a question as to under what conditions one is permitted to violate the laws of Shabbat. It is universally agreed that Shabbat may be violated in order to save a life. Even if the life is not in immediate, but only eventual danger, one should act to save the life. At the same time, when violating Shabbat for this reason, care should be taken to avoid doing more Shabbat desecration than is absolutely necessary. I.e., one may drive a friend to the hospital, (turning on a car, which starts a fire, is a melachah, prohibited activity) but one should take the shortest route.

At the same time, it’s considered a great mitzvah to break Shabbat to save a life, and one should not wait or hesitate if there’s even the slightest doubt. One of my rabbis who studied at Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim in Moslem Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, told me this story:

It was the beginning of Shabbat, and the rabbi sat at the head of the table with his students, singing zemirot (Shabbat songs.) One of the students came to him and complained of a sore leg, and that he was feeling ill. The rabbi sent him hobbling to a local doctor in the Old City. The doctor wasn’t home, so the student hobbled back to the Yeshivah. Upon returning, he told his rabbi that he was feeling much worse now, and the rabbi told him to take a friend with him and go to the hospital, and gave specific instructions on how to minimize Shabbat desecration. Being young students, not having cars, they would have to rent a cab. In order to prevent causing a Jew to desecrate Shabbat by working, they would have to look for an Arab taxi driver. Eventually, having no success hailing a cab, they spoke with the Police. The police chief, himself an Arab, asked them what the problem was.
“We need an Arab taxi driver.”
“But I’ll get you a Jewish taxi driver.”
The police chief was confused, but the yeshivah boys didn’t want to offend him by explaining to the taxi driver the halachic differences between Jews and Goyim (Gentiles,) which are commonly misunderstood.
“No, we need an ARAB!”
The police chief is suspicious that these are religious fanatics out to kill an Arab cab driver. At the same time, the boy has done nothing wrong and needs to get to the hospital. So the police chief calls a taxi, and has it followed the whole way to the hospital by a police car.

Arriving at the hospital, the boy has his blood tested. As he’s having his blood drawn, one of the nurses helps him fill out the entry forms. Of course, by speaking as the nurse is taking dictation he realizes he is causing her to desecrate Shabbat by writing. But if he doesn’t give over his personal information, then he won’t be admitted for treatment, so it’s permitted. She asks for his phone number. He doesn’t have one, being a starving student himself, so he gives the number of the pay phone outside the yeshivah. Good enough.

A few hours later, the bloodwork comes through, and he’s given the all clear. Since it’s nothing serious, his friend who escorted him to the hospital walks the three hours back to the yeshivah.

Meanwhile, Shabbat is ending when the payphone outside begins ringing. Eventually one of the students walks outside to answer it. It’s the hospital, looking for the boy with the sore leg.
“Why?” asks the student.
“We made a terrible mistake and mixed up his test results with someone else’s. He has blood poisoning and needs to come back to the hospital right away!”
“He never left. You can probably find him still sitting in the waiting area.”
The nurses were able to find the boy and save his life.

What was learned from this story?

“My rabbi told me, that from now on he won’t think twice to desecrate Shabbat for even the slightest risk to life. It had practically cost the boy his life. Whenever a student feels he needs to go to the hospital now, I grab the keys, leave the yeshivah, and drive him there myself!”

It should be noted that trying to minimize the Shabbat desecration to get to the hospital didn’t change anything either. They found an Arab cab driver, but then they ended up causing a second car, the police car, to violate Shabbat just to follow them all the way to the hospital.

Anyway, I’m of ‘till Monday. Tomorrow, it’s a tour of settlements affected by the security fence with Yavneh Olami. For Shabbat, I’m heading back to Elon Moreh. And on Sunday I’m taking a tour of archaeological sites throughout the Jordan Valley. It’s a few days without blogging, but pictures will be posted!

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