Saturday, January 16, 2010

Next Time Someone Talks About Orthodox Jews Not Saving Non-Jews on Shabbos

The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition

Rescuers describe 'Shabbat from hell'

Jan. 15, 2010
Judy Siegel-Itzkovich , THE JERUSALEM POST

The large field hospital established by the IDF Medical Corps at 10 a.m. Shabbat local time was already treating dozens of patients four hours later, when its commander, Lt.-Col. Dr. Itzik Reiss, was able to take a breather and speak to Israeli health reporters via a conference call.

Children with severe fractures set only with cardboard arrived at the hospital for treatment. Some young patients had been freed from rubble but had to have limbs amputated due to severe gangrene, he said. Within a few hours, operations were performed.

The hospital has an emergency room, pediatric, orthopedic, internal medicine, obstetrics and surgery departments, clinics and other facilities. The delivery room and premature baby unit are prepared to function but have not yet received any women or infants.

The patients started arriving after a local hospital, unable to function normally, announced the IDF facility's existence.

The Israeli facility, set up in very hot and humid weather, has enough equipment to function for about two weeks. The 121-member team has 40 doctors, including a psychiatrist, 20 nurses, 20 paramedics and medics, 20 lab and X-ray technicians and administrators.

Among the staff are Orthodox Jews who went to Haiti even though it was Shabbat. Reiss said they avoided performing unnecessarily tasks like shaving, but did everything needed to save lives. The military personnel are both regular army and reserve soldiers.

It was not clear how many desperate patients would reach the hospital over the coming days, he said. Reiss said he expected victims of infectious disease would start arriving soon.

Haitians were wandering aimlessly in the streets, Reiss said.

"It is very difficult. There is a bad feeling of destruction. It is very sad," he said.

The field hospital may continue operating under Israeli auspices after getting it restocked in two weeks, or it may be turned over to locals, he added.

Meanwhile, the ZAKA rescue and recovery contingent pulled eight students alive from the collapsed university building, after a 38 operation.

"You have to understand that the situation is true madness, and the more time passes, there are more and more bodies, in numbers that cannot be grasped. It is beyond comprehension," said Mati Goldstein, the head of the delegation.

The six-man team - four from Israel and two from Mexico - arrived in Haiti aboard a Mexican Air Force Hercules cargo plane, immediately after completing their work in recovery and identification in the Mexico City helicopter crash that killed philanthropist Moshe Saba and four others.

On arrival, the delegation was dispatched to the collapsed eight-story university building, from which cries could be heard.

After hours of work with rescue equipment provided by the Mexican military, the ZAKA volunteers succeeded in pulling the eight students out alive.

In a disturbing e-mail that Goldstein managed to send to ZAKA headquarters in Jerusalem, he writes of the "Shabbat from hell. Everywhere, the acrid smell of bodies hangs in the air. It's just like the stories we are told of the Holocaust - thousands of bodies everywhere."

Amid the stench and chaos, the ZAKA delegation took time out to recite Shabbat prayers - a surreal sight of haredi men wrapped in prayer shawls standing on the collapsed buildings. Many locals sat quietly in the rubble, staring at the men as they prayed facing Jerusalem.

At the end of the prayers, they crowded around the delegation and kissed the prayer shawls.

Due to the breakdown in communications in Haiti, the ZAKA delegation was unable to make contact before Shabbat with the IDF Home Front Command contingent that is now in the country.

Copyright 1995- 2010 The Jerusalem Post -


  1. PR aside, why is it permissible to voluntarily place yourself in a situation where you will be forced to be mechalel shabbos on a d'oraysa level to save an aku"m?

  2. Chaim- that question should be asked to any orthodox doctor who has gone through medical school while orthodox. Or any orthodox doctor that has to work on shabbos.

  3. The key words in your last sentence are "has to". My question is in regard to a situation which is purely voluntary.
    I would similarly question the priorities of an Orthodox doctor who volunteers to do rounds on Shabbos when he has the option of doing rounds on another day and being in shul on Shabbos.

  4. Well, do you really consider this to be a case where someone else can do it? Were there that many volunteers going to Haiti? This was a case of "no one else can do it." Just like a doctor who is specially trained and therefore no one else can do it. I mean, Israel had the only field hospital there for about a week.

    However, if there were others capable then clearly shabbos should not be violated.

    If you are suggesting that this is a case where non-religious israeli's go before religious israeli's then that is a whole different discussion.

    However, the most appropriate way to ask the question would have been did Israel really need to send people? The answer would be yes because, as I pointed out, they had the only field hospital in haiti for about a week and saved several lives and supplied badly needed medical equipment and medications. In essence, no one was picking up the slack that, apparently, only Israel could supply.

  5. "I would similarly question the priorities of an Orthodox doctor who volunteers to do rounds on Shabbos when he has the option of doing rounds on another day and being in shul on Shabbos."

    I agree with this 100%. It really bothers me when I see doctors working on shabbos just so they can accumulate extra vacation days. Shabbos come before most things. However, it does seem like Israel was the only country that was able to provide the role that they provided.

    In fact, I would say Israel is one of the most capable countries to help in any disaster relief throughout the world. They are bettered trained because of their situation. Just like a doctor should violate shabbos to go to a patients house even if there is another person with the sick patient. Why? Becuase the doctor knows what to do and the random person is not properly equipped to handle the sikcness.