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Yom Kippur in the Emergency Room?!

Yom Kippur in the Emergency Room?!

Photo: Robert Linder
Photo: Robert Linder

Dear Rabbi,

I have been feeling guilty since Yom Kippur. Rather than spend the day in synagogue, I was forced to rush a friend of mine to the emergency room and spend the day in the hospital. It was a true medical emergency, and I did fast, but I still feel bad that I did not have the ability to pray as I normally do...

What can I tell myself?


I am sorry for the delay in my response. It's been a busy week as, thank G‑d, my family was just blessed with a baby boy!

Actually, I was leading services at the end of the Neilah prayer, the peak of the prayers on Yom Kippur, when I got a tap on my back to tell me that my wife was going into labor. Another rabbi took over as cantor, and I ran to take care of my wife.

Jewish law tells us that we have to save a life, even if it means violating G‑d’s commandment. Taking your friend to the emergency room was the correct thing to do on this awesome day; and you can be assured that helping save a life did not take away from what you were meant to accomplish on the holiday. On the contrary, this good deed made your Yom Kippur especially meaningful.

In fact, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, related that once, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad Rebbe, left the synagogue during services on Yom Kippur to prepare food for a woman who had just given birth and had no one around to help her.

When asked why he did this himself instead of sending over one of his students (after all, weren’t the Rebbe’s prayers the most necessary ones in the congregation?), Rabbi Schneur Zalman replied that the law requires the leaders of the community to be the ones who violate a commandment when doing so will save a life.1 As Maimonides states, “the saving of the life should be administered by the leaders of Israel and the wise.”2

You should be assured that in saving this person's life, you did not violate a commandment or sever your connection to G‑d on this holy day. In fact, you have fulfilled a great commandment that takes precedent over Sabbath and Yom Kippur.3

Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar

Ask the Rabbi @ The Judaism Website –


See the Rebbe’s Reshimat Hayuman, p. 361. See the Talmud, Yoma 84b.


In his magnum opus on Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah, the laws of Shabbat 2:3.


Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chayim 328:13.

Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar is a Chabad rabbi in Cary, North Carolina. He is also a member of the Ask the Rabbi team.
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Anonymous Germany October 6, 2016

Nothing to forgive - because nothing wrong! Ok, that hint wasn't understood, so I'll explain it, because it is very important: One needs forgiving, if he or she has erred. There was no rule broken when saving a live on y kippur, so there is nothing to forgive - the rule (save a life > nearly everything) was actually followed, as rabbi Cotlar explained!
So in case of pikuach nefesh, we mustn't think long or ask for permission, because that costs time, and also it sheds a bad reputation on ones rabbi, because it is as if he didn't teach the importance of life then.
Have a great year 5777! Reply

Lisa Providence, RI April 6, 2015

It' IS Forgivable! Sheldon Steinlauf of Park Ridge, IL, I DID read the rabbi's input, and I stand by what I said! Reply

Sheldon Steinlauf Park Ridge, IL October 29, 2014

Nothing TolForgive. @Lisa. There was nothing to forgive. Please reread the Rabbi's input. Reply

Lisa Providence, RI May 4, 2013

Yom Kippur in the Emergency Room Extreme emergencies happen, and Judaism understands that.

DON'T feel ashamed at what you did, because G-d won't punish you for helping a friend. Just tell your rabbi what happened.

G-d WILL forgive you! Reply

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