It is a fundamental principle of Jewish Law that, should any of its specific requirements or Commandments conflict with the interests of preserving human life and health, they are suspended in favor of lifesaving action. A critically ill or injured person must be driven to the hospital and treated on the Sabbath. One whose health would be endangered by the Yom Kippur fast is required to eat. Should a newborn boy be too weak to undergo the procedure on his eighth day of life, we are obligated to postpone the covenantal duty of circumcision… etc. Exceptions include only the non-negotiable prohibitions against murder, idolatry, and sexual immorality – incest or adultery.

The rabbis are unambiguous: “When a serious illness occurs on Shabbat, it is a Mitzvah to violate the Sabbath to provide care. One who eagerly does so is to be praised. One who delays in order to ask questions about the Law is guilty of shedding blood!” (O.H. 328:2)

The 17th century Rabbi Avraham Gombiner adds: “A rabbi whose spiritual charges delay lifesaving action to ask what the Law requires is disgraced, as he should already have addressed the matter publicly” (Magen Avraham).

Might you say that this principled devotion to saving lives – Pikuach Nefesh – is among our most sacred obligations?

No question about it!

(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)

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