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Someone is driving and stuck in a blizzard on the highway when Shabbat begins. It would most likely be life threatening to leave the car on the side of the highway and walk in a blinding blizzard. It's also life threatening to remain in the car in the cold with the engine off and leaving it on all Shabbat may cause CO build-up.

Given all these factors, can a person continue driving until he reaches the closest safe area? What if he is unfamiliar with the area he's in, but can manage to get to his home, which, in the snow, may take a few hours, but, at least, there, he knows he will be safe. Can he continue driving on Shabbat?

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It is a mitzvah to violate Shabbat to save a person's life (see e.g. SA OC 328:2). When doing so, the minimum possible Shabbat violation should be done (SA OC 328:16 and the Mishna Berura there). So if continuing to drive on Shabbat is the only way to save the person's life, then it should be done.

It should be noted that driving (a gasoline-powered car) is assur mi'deoraita according to pretty much all opinions on Shabbat. Therefore, pretty much any alternative would be preferable. If there is another less-problematic option, continuing to drive would still be forbidden.

I am also talking here about the case where the person is seriously in a life-threatening situation (like he needs to get home in the next 30 minutes to take his insulin or the temperature is life-threateningly cold even for a short exposure). The person should honestly consider whether this is indeed the case. If being in the shelter of a turned-off car for 30 minutes doesn't pose a serious risk of death, it may be preferable to try to wait it out and see if the blizzard passes and getting home without driving becomes possible (CYLOR).

  • +1 for a good answer. IY"H, I will pose this one to my OR, and try to post his advice, here, afterwards. What you have provided are the general guidelines. Generally, blizzards (at least in NYC area) last 12 - 18 hours, so staying in your car is prob. inadvisable. If the blizzard is severe, you will probably be stuck there for up to a day after it is over, and at that point, you certainly wouldn't be able to drive or walk in deep snow, esp. if you aren't sufficiently dressed. (Hypothermia, at least would hit you quickly just being outside.) These factors, I think, need to be calculated also. – DanF Dec 30 '15 at 16:21
  • @DanF Generally blizzards in the NYC area are not particularly life-threatening to walk around outside for a little while to find shelter (even without heavy clothing), so I don't think this question really applies to those. Plus you can almost certainly get a ride from someone else. Of course I'm talking in generalities. What is not life-threatening for a young person might indeed be life-threatening for an elderly person. That's why it's important to talk to a trusted rabbi. – Daniel Dec 30 '15 at 16:22
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He should not risk his life. Instead, he should violate Shabbat in order to stay safe.

The first thing a person should do when they see that Shabbat is approaching and they are likely to get stuck, is get on the phone with a Rabbi, ideally one several time zones over. (Always good to have a Californian Rabbi in your phone).

He should seek to minimize Shabbat desecration as much as possible. If is at all possible to find a Gentile to drive, he should do so. He should try to find a safe place as close as possible, since each continuing driving is a separate issur. Any standard motel would constitute a safe location. So would a Jewish community nearby. Even if the nearest place is his hometown, he should not continue driving home, but rather stop at the first safe house.

He may not be allowed to turn the car off or even close the car door.

While generally one should minimize issurim while driving on Shabbat, in a blizzard, that is not so applicable. (He should obviously signal, etc. as it would constitute a danger.)

  • The second paragraph confuses me. First of all, if it's after Shabbat, calling a rav in California would be a melacha on your part. Next, it would be dangerous to call while your driving, unless you're "voice command" dialing. Finally, what would the rabbi in California understand well enough about your exact situation when he is on the beach with his gemarrah while you're getting white knuckles from the blizzard? Perhaps, your best option is to call hatzalah. – DanF Dec 30 '15 at 18:57
  • @DanF Using a phone is a derabanan prohibition. Violating the derabanan could save you from accidentally violating a deoraita. That's why rabbis always say if you think you are about to (e.g.) give birth on Shabbat, you should call your doctor to confirm that you should come to the hospital before getting in your car in case the doctor says that you have time to wait. You could call a rabbi who is familiar with snowy conditions (after-all what good rabbi isn't originally from New York anyway) but even if none is available, still better to talk to a rabbi than risk making wrong choices – Daniel Dec 30 '15 at 19:16
  • @DanF I'm tempted to agree with Daniel on this one, though I can't confirm that the Halacha is like he says. I was referring to calling before Shabbat. The reason I said to call a Rabbi further west is to avoid bothering a Rav so close to Shabbat. Try a Chicago Rabbi if you want someone with more experience. : ) – LN6595 Dec 30 '15 at 20:34
  • @LN6595 Got it. I wasn't considering that nuance. I assume that you live in Chicago. I may be there end of Jan. for about 2 days, so I may contact your anonymous rabbi. And, BTW, in my shul, there is a rabbi originally from Chicago who now lives in NY. It goes both ways :-) – DanF Dec 30 '15 at 21:28

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