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War Makes for Novel Shabbat As Orthodox Glued to Radios

January 21, 1991
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The first Shabbat of the Middle East war proved a novel one for Israel’s strictly Orthodox community.

Coming in the immediate aftermath of two SCUD missile attacks on Israel from Iraq, pious Jews were not only permitted but encouraged by their rabbis and other halachic authorities to listen to their radios.

It is the handiest source of news and the most important means by which the authorities can communicate with the public during the national emergency.

Actually, the situation does not pose much of a dilemma to the observant, Orthodox sources in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Sunday.

Whatever involves "pikuach nefesh" — the mitzvah of saving or protecting life — automatically takes priority over Sabbath observance and indeed over all other religious restrictions.

The Chief Rabbinate and the various Orthodox rabbis with very few exceptions had no qualms about counseling believers to keep their radios on during Shabbat.

The Israel Broadcasting Authority provided a special "Orthodox band." It offers news every two hours but no entertainment or musical interludes in between.

A random sampling among Orthodox Jews, however, found that many kept their radios tuned to regular service, which intersperses its news flashes and analyses with entertainment.

Although Israel Radio and the army radio combined their staffs to provide the 24-hour coverage of events, many of the Orthodox were tuned to the BBC or Voice of America, which being "goyish" were halachically less problematic than Jewish broadcasting on the Sabbath.

Another halachic ruling delivered by rabbis in light of the special situation allowed people to start their Shabbat or weekday meals in their dining rooms and say Grace later in their "sealed rooms" if an air-raid warning intervened.

But a problem developed with gas masks. Unless they fit tightly, they offer poor protection against chemical agents. Very few strictly Orthodox males have cut off their beards to accommodate them, even though some rabbis have ruled they may in the circumstances.

There is widespread resentment in the religious community because the government canceled plans to provide special protective hoods for the heavily bearded.

The civil defense authorities decided it would simply be too expensive. Although Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir overruled them 10 days ago, he acted too late for the current emergency.

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