A Shabbos Tragedy


I was incredulous that your front-page story (March 11) on the Jewish character of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire omitted the most relevant fact: The fire occurred on a Shabbos (Sephardic transliteration would be anachronistic in this context). I learned the day of the week on which the fire occurred several years ago, and was also told that the employees were forced to come to work on Shabbos because that was payday.

The biblical phrase that comes to mind for Jews dying a horrible death while working on Shabbos is “Temba’ Elkin hi” (It is the finger of God). The ArtScroll Tanach (1996, p. 152) has an apt commentary on this verse in Exodus 8:15: Pharaoh’s magicians “would not acknowledge that the plague had come about for the sake of the Jewish people. Instead, they used the generic word for a deity, implying that it was a natural phenomenon.”

Similarly, the academics quoted in your story (most of whom have Jewish-sounding surnames) do not seem to want to acknowledge that Jews working on Shabbos — and being forced to do so by Jewish bosses — had anything to do with the horrific tragedy. Had these greedy and heartless bosses been judged by a Jewish court, they certainly would not have been acquitted of manslaughter charges.

Professor of Library 

and Information Science

St. John’s University, Queens