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Driving a Woman in Labor to and from the Hospital on Shabbat

It is obvious, and well-known, that a woman who goes into labor on Shabbat is allowed to be taken to the hospital, as labor is considered a dangerous situation. The preferred way of getting to the hospital in such a situation is by calling a taxicab driven by a non-Jew.

The question arises as to whether her husband or her mother, or another family member or friend, may also travel to the hospital with the woman. If the woman requests that her husband or somebody else accompany her to the hospital for the birth, may that person join her in the car on Shabbat? Given that only the woman herself is in danger, should we perhaps forbid others from riding with her in the cab to the hospital, and require them to wait until after Shabbat and only then join the woman?

Hacham Ovadia Yosef, in his work Hazon Ovadia – Shabbat (vol. 3, p. 320), rules that it is permissible for a family member or friend to ride to the hospital with the woman on Shabbat. The Sages permitted a friend or family member to accompany the woman because she might become anxious or distressed if she goes to the hospital alone, which could increase the danger to her life. Therefore, if the woman wants her husband, her mother or somebody else to join her as she goes to the hospital, they may and should join her. This is also the ruling of the Hazon Ish (Rav Avraham Yeshayah Karelitz, 1878-1953), in one of his published letters (vol. 1, p. 141). In fact, the Hazon Ish would urge those requested by a woman in labor to travel with her to the hospital on Shabbat to do so. This ruling is also codified in the work Shemirat Shabbat Ke’hilchatah (45:5).

There is a debate among the Halachic authorities as to whether this ruling applies in a case where the woman does not request that she be accompanied to the hospital. Hacham Ben Sion Abba Shaul (Israel, 1923-1998), in his work Or Le’sion (p. 262), writes that a friend or family member may travel with the woman to the hospital on Shabbat only if she specifically asks. If she does not make any such request, then we must assume that she does not require accompaniment, and thus nobody may travel with her. Hacham Ovadia Yosef, however, in his Yabia Omer (vol. 9, Orah Haim 108:179), rules that one may accompany the woman to the hospital on Shabbat even if does not request it. Even though she did not specifically ask for someone to join her, Hacham Ovadia explains, this is likely because she is unaware of the Halacha and does not wish for somebody to violate the Shabbat on her account. Therefore, we must be concerned that she might indeed require accompaniment, and thus somebody should join her, unless she states explicitly that she is capable of going by herself and does not need accompaniment.

If, during the trip to the hospital on Shabbat, the contractions stop and it is clear to the woman that she is not in labor, she may ask the non-Jewish driver to turn around and drive her home. Likewise, if the contractions stop after she arrives in the hospital, she may ask a non-Jew to drive her home. This is the ruling of Hacham Ovadia Yosef, in Hazon Ovadia (listen to audio recording for precise citation), and of the work Shemirat Shabbat Ke’hilchatah. Hacham Ovadia further cites from the work Bet Abi that if there is no non-Jew available to drive the woman home from the hospital, her husband (or whoever is with her) may drive her home, since she was not admitted to the hospital and there will thus be no one to care for her until the end of Shabbat. Hacham Ovadia, however, qualifies this ruling, claiming that it applies only in Hutz La’aretz (outside Israel), where indeed the woman would not be cared for in the hospital if she is not in labor and is thus not admitted. In Israel, however, there are organizations with personnel on hand at hospitals to care even for discharged patients, and thus in such a case the woman may be driven home only by a non-Jew. A Jew may not drive the woman home in this case, since there are people to care for her in the hospital.

In light of this ruling, an assessment must be made whether perhaps even in New York area hospital it would be forbidden for the woman in such a case to be driven home by a Jew. Jewish charity organizations operate in many area hospitals and it might therefore be possible in some hospitals for a woman to be cared for on Shabbat even if she is not admitted. Hence, if a woman goes to the hospital on Shabbat but her contractions then stop, and she is not admitted, and there is no non-Jew available to drive her home, she may be driven home by a Jew only if she will not be properly cared for at the hospital.

If when the woman went into labor there was no non-Jew available to bring her to the hospital, and her husband (or another Jew) brought her, he should not turn off the engine once they arrive at the hospital. Instead, he should ask the valet or some other non-Jew to turn off the engine. Since turning off the engine is not necessary to help the woman, it is not permissible to turn off the car, and a non-Jew should therefore be asked to do so.

Summary: If a woman goes into labor on Shabbat, a non-Jew – such as a cab – should be called to bring her to the hospital. Her husband, her mother or somebody else may and should go with her, unless she states clearly that she is capable of going alone. If the contractions stop along the way, or at the hospital, she may be driven home by a non-Jew. If the contractions stop in the hospital and there is no non-Jew available to take her home, a Jew may take her home only if there is no one in the hospital who can take of her during the rest of Shabbat. If a Jew must drive the woman to the hospital, he must ask a non-Jew to turn off the engine when they arrive at the hospital.


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