Monday, September 26, 2005

Oh, It's a Shaila

This past Saturday morning there had been a car accident on my block. An older guy was driving along at a pretty quick pace, passed out from some previous medical condition (maybe stroke, hypoglycemia, seizure, whatever) and plowed into a row of parked cars right into front of a shul.

My sister immediately called 911 having witnessed the accident from her window. I heard the loud crash and go outside to see what's going on. What I see is the driver slumped over the passenger seat and a good couple dozen guys in black suits and regulation black hats gawking at the scene. There's also a woman on the corner talking excitedly on her cell phone.

I make my way over to the car to see if the driver is alright. I'm not making myself out to be some superhero, I am an EMT so I am trained to deal with these types of situations. One of the men from the shul is a doctor and has the passenger side door open and is analyzing the guy. The driver is face down, has a nice gash on his forehead (he wasn't wearing a seatbelt) has spit out his dentures onto the floor, is breathing with difficulty, coughing up some crap and is entirely unresponsive to my talking to him. This type of mechanism has a high likelihood of involved spinal damage so I held his head (not as well as I would have otherwise since I wasn't wearing gloves and I was avoiding places where he was bleeding) and continued monitoring his vitals.

A couple of minutes later, a Hatzoloh car comes driving up. These must've been guys who just heard the BANG like me since they were still wearing their talaisim (why they couldn't take them off before rolling - that I don't know). So I call out to them, "This guy's gonna need a collar." One calls on the radio for an ambulance and the others puts on gloves and futzes around in his bag for a cervical collar.

The guy comes around and I step back to let the Hatzoloh EMT, who's wearing gloves, take hold of the guy's head. But he doesn't take his head, he starts trying to talk to the patient who's obviously unresponsive and is just holding the collar in his hand. A few moments later a Maimonides ambulance comes by with some experienced techs and when they come around the Hatzoloh guy hands them the collar and they slap it on the guy's neck.

The rest of the incident goes as you might expect. Firefighters come by with their pointy toys eager to tear apart the chassis, but they're waved off by the Maimo guys. The patient is clearly in an altered mental status as he's waking up now and fighting the EMTs, but they eventually get him onto a longboard and a stretcher and off he goes to the ambulance and I have a great excuse for why I'm late to shul.

Anyway, so there's also a couple of cops in uniform checking out the accident and writing their reports. So I talk to one of them and I remarked on their quick response time (must've been ~4 minutes) since they usually take longer. And she said that it was a quiet morning, but she said that she was surprised given all the people watching the scene that the 911 system only got a two calls.

Two calls! That means that the only ones who cared enough to call for help were my sister and the goy down the street. Classic. Isn't it embarrassing when religious Jews are unwilling to call for an ambulance because it's a shaila to do so on Shabbos. A shaila?! There should be no question here. A life is in danger - you don't putz around asking questions if calling for help is permissible.

This type of event is hardly unique, I have a half-dozen similar situations which I know from personal experience. It is very fundamental Halacha that a life in danger overrules almost all other laws, that people don't internalize this and still stall in the midst of an emergency isn't a shaila, it's a shanda.


onionsoupmix said...

I usually agree with you, but now I beg to differ. Social psychology studies ( done mostly in the 70s) show very clearly that the more people that watch a disaster, the less likely it is that any one of them will call for help. They all assume someone else will do it. I think the main researcher was a guy named Asch. Or Ash. Anyway, they did loads of studies with people faking heart attacks on the A train in NY. This was before the topic of ethics in research came up. So, it is likely that most people didn't call an ambulance b/c they assumed that someone else already did. This would have also happened on Thursday or any other day of the week.

Alex said...

I can't argue with Orthoprax's general opinions and his (correct) understanding of halacha, but in this particular case, perhaps we can assume that the witnesses saw that the woman had already called 911.

Enigma4U said...


As long as Maimonides remains a revered Posek Halakha, you are not going to see too many Orthodox Jews willing to call an ambulance for a non-Jew on a Shabbos. Here's a choice Rambam quote:

מכאן אתה למד שאסור לרפאות עובדי עבודה זרה, אפילו בשכר; ואם היה מתיירא מהן, או שהיה חושש משום איבה--מרפא בשכר, אבל בחינם אסור

Orthoprax said...

Onion and Alex,

Perhaps this wasn't the greatest example of that type of behavior, but it was fresh in my mind. The "it's a shaila" response was what I got after my brother-in-law moved a large piece of debris from the middle of the road which incoming cars were dangerously swerving around.

Yes, it is Shabbos, but don't be an idiot.


Maimonides or no Maimonides, that's just the typical view in the frum crowd.

But on the topic of Maimonides, he has so much that I can admire about him, but it's terrible that he ruins it with Medieval xenophobia and sexism.

Sarah said...

Is it just me or have you gotten very into the Jewish slang lately? Appealing to a wider audience?

(How's life going?)

Mike Koplow said...

It's a shaila? OK.

Scenario 1: You do non-Shabbesdik stuff to save this guy (who, parenthetically, either isn't frum or is doing some pikuach nefesh himself), and it turns out that you shouldn't have done it. On Yom Kippur, you say "If I broke Shabbat when I shouldn't have, I'm in the market for some mechilah."

Scenario 2: You maintain the sanctity of Shabbat by going, "Well gee, this sure is a shaila, and we hope this guy holds out while he's waiting for some goyim to take care of him or some posek comes by and says it's OK to take care of him, whichever comes first." On Yom Kippur, you say "If I didn't take care of this guy when I should have, I'm in the market for mechilah." Hashem replies, "Well, you're not getting it from me. You didn't sanctify Shabbat, either."

Pleased to have answered your neighbors' shaila. You're (or they're) welcome.

Enigma4U said...


Your comment about Maimonides got me thinking, and I posted my thoughts on this on TFSG, but thought it's worthwhile to post it on your blog's comments section, as well:

I am similarly conflicted about Maimonides. On one hand, there is no denying that he was an outstanding thinker of the twelfth century, as well as being a physician whose advice on proper diet and healthy living have a very contemporary ring to it.

You also have to admire an individual arising out of an elitist religion, who said, "Accept the truth, whatever its source." And indeed, many of his ideas are based on Aristotle's teleology which he liberally used when revising Judaism's traditional interpretation of the Torah, especially its story of creation.

Yet, Maimonides stopped short of being the avant-garde thinker when it comes to his role as a Halakhist. For example, Maimonides viewed animal sacrifice, a favorite subject of the authors of the Torah, one which takes up a huge portion of the Torah, as a concession to primitive religion and a relic of paganism, and predicted that this practice will eventually be phased out of Judaism. Yet, he wrote untold pages expounding on Hilkhos Niddah and Yibbum, for example, which to me are similarly obsolete. Equally puzzling are his chauvinistic and xenophobic ideas, which in context of his Islamic milieu, can be exculpated, were if not for the fact that he had a wider world view than his contemporaries. So in summary, Maimonides remains a puzzle because his views seem to be positively schizophrenic.

der blatt said...

he wasn't wearing a seatbelt

for this alone It's a Shaila if you are alowed to help someone who dosent wear a seatbelt

Orthoprax said...


"Is it just me or have you gotten very into the Jewish slang lately? Appealing to a wider audience?"

Hehe, yeah, I guess I have been throwing my limited Yiddish skills around a little more freely lately. Not for the sake of the audience though, but really because I felt that this article has a more Jewish bent than a "Skeptic's view." The typical goyish skeptic coming from the outside would have no idea what to make of this post.

"(How's life going?)"

Oh, same old. Though since I've already applied to all my medical schools, this semester has about a feather's weight of pressure on it. This might sound odd to the non-science people, but I'm taking biochemistry for the fun of it. ;-)

Orthoprax said...


"On Yom Kippur, you say "If I didn't take care of this guy when I should have, I'm in the market for mechilah." Hashem replies, "Well, you're not getting it from me. You didn't sanctify Shabbat, either.""

Yeah, in this kind of case it isn't even that one is "permitted" by Halacha to help, but it is a Halachic imperative to do so. (Not that I'm one to criticize others on their Halachic observance.)

I spoke to someone about this in real life and they made it out to seem like it was a failing that a person had felt the need to break Shabbos. As if the only reason they would call for help was just so they would have an excuse to do so. Utterly backwards!

Orthoprax said...


"So in summary, Maimonides remains a puzzle because his views seem to be positively schizophrenic."

On Halachic terms, I think precedence played a big role in his views. The sacrifices had already been discontinued by earlier Jewish authorities so he had more wiggle room to philosophize. Other factors were still a regular (or semi-regular)part of Jewish life and so I guess he thought, "If we're gonna do it, we might as well do it right."

For his social views I think he was just a man who couldn't see past the limits of his Medieval environment. Understandable, but hardly laudable.

Mike Koplow said...

Der Blatt: Your comment may make sense regarding the people who were gathered around the car. If I'm reading this correctly, OrthoPrax is dissatisfied ***mostly*** because only one O"J called an ambulance. Are we expected to go up close and confirm that the guy was wearing a seat belt before we call?

Sarah said...

Oh my ... you're one of those ppl with plans. Man how i wish I could get me one of those ...

good luck with the med school thing - i've been watching ppl suffer through the process and it's not been pretty.

DNA said...

re: the argument that he's a goy. 1) you can stil do it meeshum eyvuh. which there may have been considering the officer's response. 2) it's new york; surely there's a possibility he's jewish.

Of course, yuo can claim he's not frum so in any case you can't be michallel shabbos. I may respond that the chazon ish has already determined that today non-frum are considered tinokos shenishbuh and don't have the same laws as the irreligious in the old days when God's hand was manifest.

You might reply that the chazon ish is a poor attempt at changing halachah for the zeitgheist as surely god's hand was no longer manifest during the period of rishonim and ahcharonim who quote the halachah and don't bother to note that it has changed. Further, you might add that god's hand was never really manifest anyway. I'd have to agree; you'd be right. I hope no one's listening.

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