To Save a Life - Pikuach Nefesh How to balance preserving life with religious commitment

Health Workers Who Oppose Abortion Get New Protections

By ROBERT PEAR, The New York Times, JAN. 18, 2018

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced on Thursday that it was taking new steps to protect doctors, nurses and other health workers who have religious or moral objections to performing abortions or sex-change operations, or providing other medical services.

The move, one day before the annual March for Life in Washington, was a priority for anti-abortion groups.

Administration officials urged people to report discrimination to a new unit of the federal government: the conscience and religious freedom division of the office for civil rights at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Roger Severino, the director of the civil rights office, promised that he and his staff would thoroughly investigate every complaint.

For too long, Mr. Severino said, the federal government has ignored such complaints or treated them with “outright hostility.”

Supporters of the new office, like the Family Research Council, welcomed it as a way to protect the rights of health care professionals.

Critics said the administration was giving health care providers a license to discriminate, and they raised the possibility that some doctors might deny fertility treatments to lesbian couples and that some pharmacists might refuse to fill prescriptions for certain types of contraceptives. In such situations, patients could suffer, and health care workers could violate professional or ethical obligations.

“Donald Trump’s administration is handing out permission slips for hospitals and providers to deny individuals, including women and LGBT patients, access to a full range of health services including life saving emergency care,” said Dawn Huckelbridge, director of the Women’s Rights Initiative at American Bridge, a Democratic advocacy group. “If there is any doubt about how morally repulsive, politically unpopular, and far-reaching the consequences of this rule will be, crafting it in secret behind closed doors and without public input says all you need to know.”

Eric D. Hargan, the acting secretary of health and human services, said the new initiative carries out an executive order issued last year by President Trump, who said that people of faith would no longer be bullied or silenced.

Representative Vicky Hartzler, Republican of Missouri, who attended an event announcing the new office, said, “No nurse or doctor should lose her job, her livelihood or her profession because of her faith.”

(יד) וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם֙ אֶת־הַשַּׁבָּ֔ת כִּ֛י קֹ֥דֶשׁ הִ֖וא לָכֶ֑ם מְחַֽלְלֶ֙יהָ֙ מ֣וֹת יוּמָ֔ת כִּ֗י כָּל־הָעֹשֶׂ֥ה בָהּ֙ מְלָאכָ֔ה וְנִכְרְתָ֛ה הַנֶּ֥פֶשׁ הַהִ֖וא מִקֶּ֥רֶב עַמֶּֽיהָ׃
(14) You shall keep the sabbath, for it is holy for you. He who profanes it shall be put to death: whoever does work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his kin.
(ה) וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֤ם אֶת־חֻקֹּתַי֙ וְאֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַ֔י אֲשֶׁ֨ר יַעֲשֶׂ֥ה אֹתָ֛ם הָאָדָ֖ם וָחַ֣י בָּהֶ֑ם אֲנִ֖י יְהוָֽה׃ (ס)
(5) You shall keep My laws and My rules, by the pursuit of which man shall live: I am the LORD.
(יא) וָאֶתֵּ֤ן לָהֶם֙ אֶת־חֻקּוֹתַ֔י וְאֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַ֖י הוֹדַ֣עְתִּי אוֹתָ֑ם אֲשֶׁ֨ר יַעֲשֶׂ֥ה אוֹתָ֛ם הָאָדָ֖ם וָחַ֥י בָּהֶֽם׃
(11) I gave them My laws and taught them My rules, by the pursuit of which a man shall live.
תניא נמי הכי מחמין חמין לחולה בשבת בין להשקותו בין להברותו ולא שבת זו בלבד אמרו אלא לשבת אחרת ואין אומרים נמתין לו שמא יבריא אלא מחמין לו מיד מפני שספק נפשות דוחה את השבת ולא ספק שבת זו אלא אפי' ספק שבת אחרת
That was also taught in a baraita: One heats water for an ill person on Shabbat, whether to give him to drink or to wash him, since it might help him recover. And they did not say it is permitted to desecrate only the current Shabbat for him, but even a different, future Shabbat. And one must not say: Let us wait and perform this labor for him after Shabbat, perhaps he will get well in the meantime. Rather, one heats it for him immediately because any case of uncertainty concerning a life-threatening situation overrides Shabbat. And this is so not only with regard to uncertainty whether his life is in danger on the current Shabbat, but even in a case of uncertainty with regard to danger on a different Shabbat.
ת"ר מפקחין פקוח נפש בשבת והזריז ה"ז משובח ואין צריך ליטול רשות מב"ד הא כיצד ראה תינוק שנפל לים פורש מצודה ומעלהו והזריז ה"ז משובח ואין צריך ליטול רשות מב"ד ואע"ג דקא צייד כוורי ראה תינוק שנפל לבור עוקר חוליא ומעלהו והזריז ה"ז משובח ואין צריך ליטול רשות מב"ד אע"ג דמתקן דרגא
§ The Sages taught in a baraita: One engages in saving a life on Shabbat, and one who is vigilant to do so is praiseworthy. And one need not take permission from a court but hurries to act on his own. How so? If one sees a child who fell into the sea, he spreads a fisherman’s net and raises him from the water. And one who is vigilant and acts quickly is praiseworthy, and one need not seek permission from a court, although in doing so he catches fish in the net as well. Similarly, if one sees a child fall into a pit and the child cannot get out, he digs part of the ground out around the edge of the pit to create a makeshift step and raises him out. And one who is vigilant and acts quickly is praiseworthy, and one need not seek permission from a court, although in doing so he fashions a step.
מתני׳ מי שאחזו בולמוס מאכילין אותו אפי' דברים טמאים עד שיאורו עיניו מי שנשכו כלב שוטה אין מאכילין אותו מחצר כבד שלו ור' מתיא בן חרש מתיר
MISHNA: In the case of one who is seized with the life-threatening illness bulmos, causing him unbearable hunger pangs and impaired vision, one may feed him even impure foods on Yom Kippur or any other day until his eyes recover, as the return of his sight indicates that he is recovering. In the case of one whom a mad dog bit, one may not feed him from the lobe of the dog’s liver. This was thought to be a remedy for the bite, but the Rabbis deem it ineffective. And Rabbi Matya ben Ḥarash permits feeding it to him, as he deems it effective.

(ג) כְּשֶׁעוֹשִׂים דְּבָרִים הָאֵלּוּ אֵין עוֹשִׂין אוֹתָן לֹא עַל יְדֵי נָכְרִים וְלֹא עַל יְדֵי קְטַנִּים וְלֹא עַל יְדֵי עֲבָדִים וְלֹא עַל יְדֵי נָשִׁים כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא תְּהֵא שַׁבָּת קַלָּה בְּעֵינֵיהֶם. אֶלָּא עַל יְדֵי גְּדוֹלֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְחַכְמֵיהֶם. וְאָסוּר לְהִתְמַהְמֵהַּ בְּחִלּוּל שַׁבָּת לְחוֹלֶה שֶׁיֵּשׁ בּוֹ סַכָּנָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא יח ה) "אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אוֹתָם הָאָדָם וָחַי בָּהֶם" וְלֹא שֶׁיָּמוּת בָּהֶם. הָא לָמַדְתָּ שֶׁאֵין מִשְׁפְּטֵי הַתּוֹרָה נְקָמָה בָּעוֹלָם אֶלָּא רַחֲמִים וְחֶסֶד וְשָׁלוֹם בָּעוֹלָם. וְאִלּוּ הָאֶפִּיקוֹרוֹסִים שֶׁאוֹמְרִים שֶׁזֶּה חִלּוּל שַׁבָּת וְאָסוּר עֲלֵיהֶן הַכָּתוּב אוֹמֵר (יחזקאל כ כה) "גַּם אֲנִי נָתַתִּי לָהֶם חֻקִּים לֹא טוֹבִים וּמִשְׁפָּטִים לֹא יִחְיוּ בָּהֶם":

(3) These things should not be performed by non-Jews, minors, servants or women, lest they consider the Sabbath a light matter; instead, scholars and sages of Israel are to carry them out. One must not put off the desecration of the Sabbath in treating a serious patient, as it is written: "If a man obeys them he shall live by them" (Leviticus 18:5), but he must not die by them. From this you may infer that the laws of the Torah are not meant to wreak vengeance upon the world, but to bestow on it mercy, kindliness, and peace.— —

הלכות יסודי התורה פרק ה

א בשעה שיעמוד גוי ויאנוס את ישראל לעבור על אחת מכל מצוות האמורות בתורה או יהרגנו, יעבור ואל ייהרג: שנאמר במצוות, "אשר יעשה אותם האדם וחי בהם" --ולא שימות בהם. ואם מת ולא עבר, הרי זה מתחייב בנפשו.

ו וכל מי שנאמר בו ייהרג ואל יעבור, ועבר ולא נהרג--הרי זה מחלל את השם ... ואף על פי כן, מפני שעבר באונס, אין מלקין אותו ואין צריך לומר שאין ממיתין אותו בית דין, אפילו הרג באונס:

Laws of Foundations of Torah 5


1. Should a gentile arise and force a Jew to violate one of the Torah's commandments at the pain of death, he should violate the commandment rather than be killed, because it states concerning the commandments: which a man may perform and live by them -- and not die because of them. If a person dies rather than transgress, he is held accountable for his life.

When anyone about whom it is said "Sacrifice your life and do not transgress," transgresses instead of sacrificing his life he desecrates [God's] name ... nevertheless, since he was forced to transgress, he is not lashed and, needless to say, he is not executed by the court even if he was forced to kill.

כי אתא רב דימי א"ר יוחנן לא שנו אלא שלא בשעת גזרת המלכות) אבל בשעת גזרת המלכות אפי' מצוה קלה יהרג ואל יעבור כי אתא רבין א"ר יוחנן אפי' שלא בשעת גזרת מלכות לא אמרו אלא בצינעא אבל בפרהסיא אפי' מצוה קלה יהרג ואל יעבור
§ When Rav Dimi came from Eretz Yisrael to Babylonia, he said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: The Sages taught that one is permitted to transgress prohibitions in the face of mortal danger only when it is not a time of religious persecution. But in a time of religious persecution, when the gentile authorities are trying to force Jews to violate their religion, even if they issued a decree about a minor mitzva, one must be killed and not transgress. When Ravin came from Eretz Yisrael to Babylonia, he said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Even when it is not a time of religious persecution, the Sages said that one is permitted to transgress a prohibition in the face of mortal danger only when he was ordered to do so in private. But if he was ordered to commit a transgression in public, even if they threaten him with death if he does not transgress a minor mitzva, he must be killed and not transgress.


A ZAKA delegation, a rescue team made up of ultra-orthodox Jewish men worked in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince soon after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. They took time out to recite Shabbat prayers and continued to work throughout Shabbat:

"We did everything to save lives, despite Shabbat. People asked, 'Why are you here? There are no Jews here', but we are here because the Torah orders us to save lives… We are desecrating Shabbat with pride…," Mati Goldstein commander of the Jewish ZAKA rescue-mission to 2010 Haiti earthquake