Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Costa Concordia

A correspondent wrote to me:

Although the captain of the ship is reviled for abandoning ship, had he been Jewish would he have  been acting properly? Women and children first  seems to be  contradicted by  the din that if a man or a woman are drowning, we save the male because he is chayav in more mitzvos . The same  hierachy would seem to apply  for  adult female vs child  analysis. Unless there is a halachik basis for the captain going down with the ship one could argue that the din of v"chai bahem would imply that if there are insufficient resources (eg lifeboats) its each man for himself and that would apply to the captain and crew as well. 

I responded:

I do not think that your premise is correct.

Surely a commander in war has responsibilities that include laying his life on the line for his responsibilities. I cannot cite you chapter and verse on that, but it a milei d'mistabra and I am sure Rabbi Gershuni in Mishpat HaMelucha or someone else speaks about it. The position of captain of a vessel is a quasi-military one, and surely can be correlated to the parameters of an army command.

Moreover, even if we regard this position as purely civilian, we know that a person is allowed to take a position for parnassa that entails safek sakanos nefashos. Well, as a captain this is the safek he undertook, no? 


  1. The correspondent seeks to understand why the captain is ostracized for ostensibly following the Talmudic law to save men (himself) before women. Your response is two-fold:

    1. The captain may be a quasi-militarily leader. This answer doesnt deal with the crux of the question which is the nature of "women and children first" in halacha.

    2. He undertook the sakana job for parnassa. Even so, does that REQUIRE him to suffer the sakana once it is realized. IOW, are you suggesting that the permissibility of putting yourself in safek sakana for parnassa is a one time choice that, one exercised, can not be revoked?

    Indeed, "women and children first" is not a principle limited to captains. It applies to all men on the ship.

  2. My impression was that the crux of his question was the assumption that a captain goes down with his ship, or is the last one off, and that he was inferring from Sotah that there is no such concept in halacha.

    As to the hierarchy in Sotah, IMHO it only works in the abstract and can never be l'ma'aseh. In practice, then, any orderly procedure (maximizing the number of saved lives) would be acceptable.