My shul has a few doctors who carry their cell phones with them. When their phones buzz (B"H, they are smart enough to put the phones on vibrate mode while davening.) with a text message, they, of course, read the message to see if it's an emergency.

Occasionally, the message is NOT an emergency. Granted that they have read it accidentally. I'm curious if even this accidental reading of the message is considered still an aveira (sin). IIRC, there are different categories of "accidents" regarding violation of Shabbat melacha, e.g. - forgetting it was Shabbat, not knowing what you did was forbidden, or accidentally brushing against a light switch & turning on the lights (which is similar to this texting event).

Does this scenario fall into any of those categories?

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    They really should turn off all non-emergency communications before Shabbos starts...this may be why some frum doctors I know carry beepers on Shabbos -- no non-emergency texts ;-)
    – MTL
    Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 15:41
  • @Shokhet My thinking is that the cell phone is really the more practical option. It is one device, but more importantly, they can immediately call back and verify the severity of the emergency. They can also call for assistance and get additional vital info more quickly. With a beeper, they would have to find another phone. That's additional time that they may not have.
    – DanF
    Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 15:48
  • The Hatzolah volunteers I know carry walkie talkies on Shabbat in addition to their phones (which are left off until V'hu rachum of Maariv). Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 16:36
  • @NoachmiFrankfurt This ounds better than the beeper. However, I still think that a cell phone is the best option. Any emergency worker should have quick access to as many resources as possible as quickly and as easily as possible. E.g. Hatzalah can call the patient's personal doctor, or the hospital to prepare them. All these make a huge difference.
    – DanF
    Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 16:42
  • I don't disagree, however that's the practice there. I guess it's also something to do with minhag hamakom. Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 17:44

2 Answers 2


It is a Mitzva to desecrate Shabbat to save lives (OC 328:2), even if it is only doubtful if a life is in danger (329:3), and one should even do this Mitzva with alacrity (329:1).

The Shulchan Arukh writes (328:15):

אמדוהו (פירוש התבוננו במחלתו ושיערו) הרופאים שצריך גרוגרת אחת ורצו עשרה והביאו לו כל אחד גרוגרת כולם פטורים ויש להם שכר טוב מאת ה' אפילו הבריא בראשונה:‏
If [the doctors] evaluated that he needed [to eat] one fig [to be healed] and ten people ran and each brought one fig, all of them are exempt [from liability for breaking Shabbat] and they have good reward from God, even if [the sick person] healed after the first one [arrived].

Accordingly, Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchatah (2nd ed. 32:7) rules:

מי שחילל את השבת לצורך פקוח נפש ואחר כך התברר שלא היה צורך בכך, כגון שהשתפר מצבו של החולה, או שהחולה נפטר, או שאדם אחר כבר עשה עבורו את הנדרש לעשות -- אף על פי כן עשה מצוה ויש לו שכר טוב מאה ה' ית' עבור מחשבתו הטובה.‏
Someone who desecrates Shabbat for Pikuach Nefesh and afterwards finds out that there was no need for that action, such as if the sick person already got better, or that the sick person died, or that someone else already did what was needed -- even so he did a Mitzva and he has good reward from God on account of his good intentions.

(See footnote 19 there for more about the nature of this exemption.)

Thus the doctors in your case actually get rewarded for checking their phones to see if there is something that requires their assistance.


Shulkhan Arukh 329:3 says that for a safek pikuach nefesh we violate Shabbat even in a situation where there are many safekot combined. In fact, if this were not the case, the doctor wouldn't be able to carry his phone on Shabbos at all!

Presumably the reason the doctor is carrying his phone is because there is a significant chance that he could be contacted for a pikuach nefesh situation. That makes any attempt to contact him on that phone a safek pikuach nefesh, and he would be permitted to use that phone any time he gets a message to the extent necessary to verify that the contact was not a pikuach nefesh situation. Once he has verified that there is no pikuach nefesh situation, he should immediately cease violating Shabbat except for things that can be done to make responding to the next potential pikuach nefesh situation faster (for example, stop scrolling through the message; don't push the button to make the smartphone screen turn off).

  • The Hatzolah team based out of Orach Chaim in NYC is makpid to return their ambulance to their waiting point after a hospital call-up. I was told that this is because they wish to make it easier for the dispatcher to know if they're closest. Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 16:35
  • @NoachmiFrankfurt same for hatzalah in Baltimore, especially if they have to return to the central point from the hospital being used (which may be a distance away). Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 21:25

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