Have Questions or Comments?
Leave us some feedback and we'll reply back!

    Your Name (required)

    Your Email (required)

    Phone Number)

    In Reference to

    Your Message


    In the Israeli army, it is
    common for fully Torah
    observant soldiers to
    serve by the side of
    soldiers who are not.
    When a soldier has to
    serve a shift on Shabbos,
    this raises the question
    of whether the observant soldier can or
    should trade days with a non-observant
    soldier. Sometimes, a non-observant soldier
    will volunteer for duty so his colleague can
    observe Shabbos in the traditional way.
    These possibilities raise halachic questions
    with somewhat counter-intuitive answers.
    I. Unintended Shabbos Labors
    Rav Shmuel Eidels (Maharsha, 17th cen.,
    Poland) has a fascinating insight about a
    Shabbos violation that has an unrelated
    goal (Commentary to Bava Basra 119b).
    The Gemara (Shabbos 96b) quotes R.
    Akiva says that the mekoshesh, the man
    who violated Shabbos by collecting wood
    (Num. 15:32-36), was Tzelophechad,
    whose daughters famously asked Moshe
    for a portion of land in Israel (Num. 27).
    Maharsha suggests that Tzelophechad was a
    righteous man who did not violate Shabbos
    on a biblical level. Rather, Tzelophechad
    performed the forbidden act in order to teach

    a lesson. That constitutes a melachah she-
    einah tzerichah le-gufah, a labor that is not

    necessary for its own sake, which according
    to the dominant view is only rabbinically
    forbidden. Tzelophechad gathered the wood
    not because he cared about the wood but
    because he had something he needed to
    teach. Since the outcome was not his goal,
    his action is forbidden only on a rabbinic
    level. However, since no human court can
    decisively determine someone’s intent,
    Tzelophechad was still punished for a
    Shabbos violation.
    Based on this Maharsha, Rav Moshe Tzvi
    Landau (20th cen., Hungary) suggests that
    a religious soldier during World War I who
    is forced to do non-life saving work on
    Shabbos violates only a rabbinic prohibition
    (Shulchan Melachim, p. 281b n. 23). This
    soldier does not primarily desire the result
    of his labor on Shabbos. Rather, he merely
    wants to avoid the severe punishment given
    to someone who disobeys orders. This
    intent changes his actions into a melachah
    she-einah tzerichah le-gufah, which is only
    rabbinically forbidden. Therefore, perhaps
    it is better for an observant soldier to work
    on Shabbos and violate only rabbinic
    prohibitions than for a non-observant
    soldier, who is not as careful with his intent
    for his work on Shabbos. On the other hand,
    Rav Landau adds, if the non-observant

    soldier is only working on Shabbos
    in order to free his colleague from
    that obligation, maybe his acts also
    constitute a melachah she-einah
    tzerichah le-gufah.
    II. Scholars Saving Lives
    The Gemara (Yoma 84b) says that
    when Shabbos must be violated
    to save a life, it should be done
    specifically by Torah scholars, if
    possible. We should not ask children
    or gentiles to do this work for us.
    Rambam explains in his Mishnah
    commentary (Shabbos 18:3) says
    that those who are less learned may
    not understand the unusual circumstances
    that warrant this behavior and may be led
    to treat Shabbos less seriously (see also
    Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Shabbos 2:3).
    While that is said regarding the treatment
    of someone who is ill or a similar case, and
    the question is which of the bystanders will
    help, perhaps it also applies to a case when
    we choose who will be in the situation of
    being coerced to violate Shabbos. Rav
    Landau leaves this an open question.
    In the IDF, the situation is somewhat
    different. The rules dictate that only actions
    that are necessary for security may be done
    on Shabbos. In theory, any required Shabbos

    violation in the IDF is a permissible life-
    saving measure. The question is whether

    an observant soldier should take on this
    role of violating Shabbos in order to
    save lives or he may switch shifts with
    a non-observant soldier. Rav Nachum
    Rabinovitch (20th cen., Israel) says that
    serving IDF duty on Shabbos constitutes
    a mitzvah and should not be avoided
    (Melumedei Milchamah, no. 11).
    Rav Yosef Tzvi Rimon (cont., Israel)
    adds another consideration (Halachah
    Mi-Mkorah: Tzava, vol. 2 p. 136). The
    Gemara (Kiddushin 81b) says that if
    someone intends to eat pig meat but
    accidentally eats kosher lamb still needs
    atonement. His intention to sin renders
    his act sinful even if he does not fulfill his
    intent. Perhaps if a non-observant soldier
    intends to violate Shabbos on his duty,
    then he needs atonement even though he is
    actually fulfilling a mitzvah. On the other
    hand, the Gemara (Menachos 64a) quotes
    a debate regarding the following case: if
    you hear a child drowning in the sea, you
    throw in a net to catch fish and also catch
    the child, are you liable for catching fish

    on Shabbos? Your action constitutes a life-
    saving measure but you intended it as a

    prohibited act. Rava says you are liable for
    the Shabbos violation while Rabbah holds
    you are exempt.
    But why is there even a debate? If you try
    to eat pig and end up eating lamb, you are

    liable. Shouldn’t the same apply if you try to
    fish on Shabbos but end up saving a baby’s
    life? Rav Rimon quotes Rav Yitzchak
    Shmelkes (19th cen., Ukraine) who explains
    that if you attempt to sin and instead do
    something neutral, you are liable for a sin.
    But if you attempt to sin and end up doing
    a mitzvah, then you are exempt (Responsa
    Beis Yitzchak, no. 8). You will not be
    penalized for performing a mitzvah. So too,
    argues Rav Rimon, a non-observant soldier
    who performs life-saving work on Shabbos
    is doing a mitzvah, even if he intends to sin.
    III. The Shabbos Volunteer
    Until now we have discussed whether it
    is proper to switch Shabbos shifts. What
    if a non-observant soldier volunteers to
    switch shifts with you? Is it better for an
    observant soldier to take the Shabbos duty?
    Rav Mordechai Leib Winkler (20th cen.,
    Hungary) was asked about such a situation
    in a diaspora army (Levushei Mordechai,
    Tinyana, Orach Chaim, no. 58). Rav
    Winkler replied that there is no concern
    that the non-observant serves as the agent
    (shali’ach) of the observant soldier, nor
    that the observant soldier assists him in his
    violations (mesaye’a). Therefore, it is best
    that the observant soldier passively accept
    the other soldier’s offer to take his Shabbos
    Rav Yosef Tzvi Rimon (ibid., p. 137) says
    that while an observant soldier may not

    ask to switch Shabbos shift with a non-
    observant soldier, he may accept an offer to

    switch. Since otherwise the non-observant
    would be violating Shabbos, there is some
    benefit to him instead serving in army
    duty on Shabbos. However, Rav Yehoshua
    Neuwirth (21st cen., Israel) writes that an

    observant soldier should reject the non-
    observant soldier’s attempt to switch

    shifts (Shemiras Shabbos Ke-Hilchasah
    41:35n85). Rav Neuwirth points to the rule
    that when Shabbos needs to be violated
    to save a life, it should be done by Torah
    scholars. Similarly, the observant soldier
    should be the one to violate Shabbos for
    life-saving army duty.