I understand the prohibition of extinguishing fire on Shabbat. My question aims specifically towards an emergency situation where one's property or life is in danger. It clearly states in the Mishnah that if life is in danger, one can put out fire on Shabbat, no question about this. However, it seems to say that if life is not in danger, rather property only is in danger, then it is still prohibited to put out fire.

So there are a couple ways to approach this

  1. How can one determine whether a life is in danger, when a fire may start small and could lead to deadly destruction of an entire city. If one lives in a dense city, we can assume that putting out a fire would be permitted because even if the inhabitants of the house safely leave, the burning house could threaten the life of others living nearby. But if someone lives in a rural area where lets say they're house is not close to any other houses, this wouldn't apply.
  2. if one leaves his house wouldn't he be carrying (clothes) outside of a private area? Isn't this the same as putting out fire to save the house and life of those staying in it?
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    Similar judaism.stackexchange.com/a/25932/759 – Double AA Sep 11 '20 at 17:51
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    Number 1 is entirely subjective. I don't know what you are expecting anyone to say to that. – Double AA Sep 11 '20 at 17:52
  • "if one leaves his house wouldn't he be carrying (clothes) outside of a private area?" I don't understand this point – robev Sep 11 '20 at 17:52
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    I'm not sure I understand question 2. Is the assumption that wearing clothes is considering transferring between domains? Generally Jews on Shabbat will walk outside clothed even without an eruv. – Double AA Sep 11 '20 at 17:53
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    Carrying clothes outside an eruv is indeed not allowed, but wearing isn't considered carrying. So you can wear your clothes out of the house but you can't carry out piles of folded shirts. It's not entirely clear to me which case you are referring to – Double AA Sep 11 '20 at 18:12

Yes, the Mishna assumed a case where the fire is treated as purely a risk to property. As was noted in the comments, "wearing" clothes is not "carrying", so I can choose to "wear" five sweaters to get them out of the house.

As a practical matter today, I will go out on a limb here and say: if it's a situation that would warrant calling 911 on a Tuesday, call 911 on Shabbos. Thank God we live in societies with professional firefighting services; use them. The risks here are far too high otherwise.

  • Your personal opinion expressed here happens to be the halacha most of us hold by, but a source (such as Rav Moshe Feinstein Zet Al's teshuva stating almost exactly what you've stated here) would do much to improve the quality of this answer – Josh K Sep 12 '20 at 23:06
  • @JoshK can you point us to the Igros citation please? – Shalom Sep 13 '20 at 11:03
  • "How can one determine whether a life is in danger" – Double AA Sep 13 '20 at 14:12

If we are threatened with a loss -- for instance, a cask of wine has sprung a leak -- we may call in a non-Jew..., provided we carefully avoid talking to him in a way that sounds like a request to repair it; but we say in his presence: 'Whoever will save me from this loss will not lose anything'. [Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 90:16]

However, you may not make this statement directly to him. [Mishnah Berurah 307:70]

This should not be done unless there is potential for substantial loss. [Magein Avraham; Mishnah Berurah 307:70]

  • How does this answer the question – Double AA Sep 11 '20 at 18:12
  • @DoubleAA -- "property only is in danger, then it is still prohibited to put out fire. So there are a couple ways to approach this." There is a third. – Maurice Mizrahi Sep 11 '20 at 18:19

If we have a doubt about the circumstances of a halachic situation, the term used is "Safek", meaning "Doubt". If we have a doubt concerning danger to human life, we call that "Safek Pikuach Nefesh", which literally means "Doubt (regarding the) care of a soul". In Halacha, whenever there is a Safek Pikuach Nefesh, the ruling is to be lenient, and to allow most anything imaginable to save a life, even if the fact of the danger to it is in doubt, except for the three "cardinal sins" of adultery, murder, and apostasy. Practically, if you foresee a situation, such as taking medicine on Shabbes, having a need to drive on Shabbes, etc, the best approach is to ask your Rav.

  • The loss of property could be so great that one may question if lives are in danger from lack of shelter and food. – Perry Webb Oct 10 '20 at 10:40

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