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I have heard many times that the concept of the "hashkama minyan" in America began because frum people went to work on Shabbos in order to not be fired and feed their families, and wanted to daven first. I have never heard it discussed if what they did was justified on the grounds of pikuach nefesh. This question is probably not as relevant today, given our much better economy and the prevalence of government-assistance services and Jewish tzedaka organizations that can help people who are in poverty, though I think it may still exist, as homelessness is still a big problem and not everyone has the ability to find those resources.)

In any case, is anyone aware of any teshuvos from the Great Depression or other times which deal with this question?

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    Good question! There are some poskim that touched on it...R' Ovadia Yosef ztz"l did(don't recall where) and I feel confident many others did also. Of course, it wasn't permitted but still a difficult nisayon that many stood up to during those times. Thank God, the situation is better nowadays. – chacham Nisan Oct 31 '18 at 19:13
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I only outline the Halachic base for your title, as your final question narrows it to Poskim.

  1. No, if one's house is on fire and one is on his sure path to becoming homeless we are still forbidden to violate Shabbos (see Chapter 17 of Shabbos).

  2. To claim Pikuach Nefesh one should meet two criteria:

    • it should be much certain. In your cases the damage is not certain - one has a certain probability of becoming homeless, but it is far from certain.

    • it should have clear implications on health (just as in the case of permitting abortion, claiming that it affects woman's [mental and] physical health). So if one claims it will drive him totally crazy, he can be close to Pikuach Nefesh and allowed to violate Shabbos.

Halachic questions on violating Shabbos are given on a Personal basis through personal consultation with a Posek and are not to be published in public as a general Halachah, not to violate לפני עוור - let people decide for themselves and violate Shabbos willingly.

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    See Kitzur SA 85:8 - וְלָכֵן בִּמְקוֹמוֹת שֶׁהַיִשְׂרְאֵלִים דָּרִים בֵּין הַנָּכְרִים, מֻתָּר לְכַבּוֹת אֶת הַדְּלֵקָה - it's not as clearcut as you make it sound that if one's house is on fire and one is on his sure path to becoming homeless we are still forbidden to violate Shabbos - there obviously are some loopholes. – Danny Schoemann Nov 1 '18 at 12:05

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