Halacha for Thursday 18 Shevat 5780 February 13 2020

Giving Birth on Shabbat

Question: If a pregnant woman knows that there is a reasonable chance that she will be giving birth on Shabbat (for instance, if her due date is on Shabbat) and as a result, if she begins experiencing contractions on Shabbat, Shabbat will have to be desecrated on her behalf by travelling to the hospital in a car or ambulance, is this woman obligated to spend Shabbat in a place near the hospital so that Shabbat need not be desecrated or is she not obligated to do so and she may spend Shabbat in her home as usual?

Answer: Clearly, in any situation of even a doubtful life-threatening circumstance, Shabbat must be desecrated. Thus, if a woman begins going into labor by experiencing contractions in her home on Shabbat, she or her relatives must certainly call a cab or an ambulance (based on necessity) in order to transport her to the hospital. Similarly, he husband or another one of her relatives may accompany her to the hospital based on her request in order to help relax her in preparation for her delivery, as we have discussed several weeks ago.

Regarding our question about whether or not a pregnant woman must leave her home on Erev Shabbat and spend Shabbat in a hotel in close proximity to the hospital so that Shabbat need not be desecrated, indeed Hagaon Harav Shmuel Ha’Levi Wosner zt”l discusses this question in his Responsa Shevet Ha’Levi (Volume 8, Chapter 88) and writes that if this proves to be a major hassle, the woman need not burden herself to do so. The Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe zt”l rules likewise in his Responsa Divrei Yatziv (Chapter 175) and writes that although one is obligated to do whatever he can to prevent Shabbat desecration on behalf of the woman giving birth, nevertheless, one need not act stringently regarding this matter, for traveling to the hospital in a car is a “forbidden work not innately required for its own purpose (this is a well-known concept in the laws of Shabbat; let us illustrate this with another example: If one digs a hole in the sand on Shabbat and he needs the sand but does not need the ditch created as a result, this is considered “a forbidden work which one does not need in and of itself,” for one does not need the actual forbidden work which is the ditch, one only needs the sand. Similarly, in our scenario, the woman does not need the actual forbidden work of driving in the vehicle as one driving around leisurely would; rather, her objective in riding in the vehicle is to save her own life. Thus, this forbidden work which is not necessary in and of itself is only a rabbinic prohibition and not a Torah law according to most Poskim). Additionally, it is not certain that the woman will have to go to the hospital on Shabbat. It is therefore not obligatory for the woman to leave her home on Erev Shabbat and spend Shabbat in a hotel which is in close proximity of the hospital.

After quoting the various opinions of the Poskim on this matter, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that it is preferable for the woman to leave her home on Erev Shabbat and check into a hotel close to the hospital as long as it is easy for her to do so; however, if doing so involves great hassle, there is no need to do so.

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