Halacha for Sunday 9 Adar 5784 February 18 2024

Accompanying a Woman Giving Birth on Shabbat

Question: When one must call an ambulance to transport a woman in labor to the hospital on Shabbat, may the woman’s husband accompany her to the hospital?

Answer: The Mishnah in Masechet Shabbat (128b) states: “We aid a woman giving birth on Shabbat and Shabbat is desecrated on her behalf.” The Gemara then quotes a Baraita: “Our Sages taught: If she (the woman in labor) requires a candle, her friend may light one for her.” The reason for this is because the woman giving birth is in danger and Shabbat is therefore desecrated for her. The Gemara proceeds to inquire that it is obvious that Shabbat is to be desecrated for a woman in labor just as the Mishnah states, so what is the novelty of the Baraita? The Gemara replies that the Baraita refers to a blind woman who is giving birth; although she derives no benefit from the candle being lit for her, nevertheless, if she requests for a candle to be lit so that if something happens, her friend will be able to see what is transpiring, the candle should indeed be lit in order to place her mind at ease so that she may be calm at her time of danger.

Hagaon Chazon Ish (Letters, Volume 1, Chapter 140) derives from here that the individual accompanying the woman in labor should be told to travel with her to the hospital on Shabbat, for she is certainly under tremendous stress and her feelings of panic when she is alone may cause her to be in greater danger. (For this reason, a woman giving birth on Shabbat may receive an epidural injection in order to relax her. See Chazon Ovadia-Shabbat, Part 3, page 322)

Hagaon Harav Ben-Zion Abba Shaul zt”l is quoted in his Sefer Ohr Le’Zion (Volume 2, page 262) as ruling that if the woman giving birth is silent and does not request for anyone to accompany her to the hospital, it is forbidden to accompany her. Only if she requests for someone to accompany her should someone acquiesce in order to relax her.

Nevertheless, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l (in his Responsa Yabia Omer, Volume 9, page 166 and Chazon Ovadia-Shabbat-Volume 3, page 320) rejects the opinion of Hagaon Harav Ben-Zion Abba Shaul on this matter, for we must be concerned that even if the woman does not request for anyone to accompany her, this is because she is afraid of causing others to sin by traveling with her since she is unaware that doing so in order to relax her is indeed permissible.

Thus, even if the woman is silent and does not request for anyone to escort her, someone should accompany her to the hospital. Only if the woman says clearly that there is no need to accompany her whatsoever and one can tell that she is calm and truly does not require an escort do we listen to her and Shabbat should not be desecrated in this situation.

Summary: If a woman must travel to the hospital on Shabbat in order to give birth, her husband or another family member should accompany her for the ride. Even if the woman is silent and does not request an escort, one should still accompany her.

An incident once occurred with Rabbanit Margalit Yosef a”h, wife of Maran Rabbeinu zt”l, that when the family still resided in Petach Tikvah, the Rabbanit went into labor on Shabbat (with her son Hagaon Harav David Yosef Shlit”a). When the Rabbanit began experiencing contractions, Maran zt”l went next door to the home of the neighbor who was not Torah observant and inquired if he would be able to give them a ride to hospital. The neighbor replied, “So this is how you religious Jews are? When it is convenient for you, you drive on Shabbat!” The Rabbanit told Maran zt”l, “Do not worry, I will be able to walk part of the way to the hospital so that people do not say that the rabbi drives on Shabbat; then we will take a car.” She began walking and the entire way she kept on saying that she could walk a drop further until she finally arrived at the entrance of the hospital, by foot, where she proceeded to give birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy.

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