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A shul keeps a defibrilator in a closet. While passing the closet on Shabbat, someone hears the machine beeping. He opens the closet, and sees a warning light saying "low battery".

The shul has many elderly people attending services Shabbat morning, and they have had frequent situations where they have needed to use the defibrillator on Shabbat. As this machine can save a person's life, the machine must be readily operative in an emergency.

May a person change the battery on the defib on Shabbat so that it will be available for a possible emergency that may or may not occur on Shabbat?

My question is not limited to a defib. It's just an example. It can be generalized to knowing of one may do melacha on any equipment so that it will be ready for a possible emergency? E.g. on Shabbat, can one change a dead battery on an ambulance?

  • A low battery is still working. I don't see what the Pikuach Nefesh here is. – Double AA Jan 27 '17 at 16:49
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    @DoubleAA The battery may be dead at the point that you have to use the defib. The essence of my question is if one is allowed to take precautions on Shabbat. Changing the battery at the time of the actual emergency may take too long to save the person's life. – DanF Jan 27 '17 at 16:51
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    FWIW, I asked this question to a neighborhood rav. I also mentioned the comparison of what happens with Hatzalah, as shown in the answer below. He mentioned that the Willamsburg Hatzalah has Gentiles who drive the ambulance back from the hospital to the Hatzalah dispatch, as they do not rely on R. Moshe's leniency that allows Jews to do it. Similarly, the rav suggested that a Gentile should change the battery on the defib, if this is possible. If no Gentile is available, he said MAYBE a Jew can do it, but he wasn't certain. Needs more research. – DanF Jan 30 '17 at 3:24
  • Regarding the defib., the rav I spoke to asked how long does it take to change the battery. I am unfamiliar with this to know the answer. Does anyone know? He said that if it's a few seconds, then, probably no one should change it until the pikuach nefesh situation arises. – DanF Jan 31 '17 at 17:49
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We have Hatzallah members in our shul and our rav (as well as Rav Heinemann of Baltimore) instructed them to drive whatever vehicles needed to be used for an emergency back to the central location after servicing the emergency. If necessary, they are also to maintain the supplies and equipment in the ambulances at the appropriate level. They are also to have their cells turned on (and not just set to vibrate) and kept with them all Shabbos (including in shul).

This would seem to be an equivalent case to what you ask. Of course, someone should be in charge of checking the equipment before Shabbos so it would not be necessary to plug it in on shabbos.

I do not have time before shabbos to find an online citation.

  • See my comment, above. Apparently, not everyone follows the viewpoint that you mentioned regarding the ambulances. – DanF Jan 30 '17 at 22:28
  • Since we are in Baltimore, Hatzallah follow Rav Henemann's psak. Each community must follow the psak of its rav. – sabbahillel Jan 31 '17 at 0:34

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