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Washington - Under Clinton Rabbi Gave Lew Permission To Answer Call From President On Shabbos

Published on: January 9, 2012 04:37 PM
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Jack Lew, the administration's current budget director, listens at left, as President Barack Obama speaks about the resignation of White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, Monday, Jan. 9, 2012, in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington. Obama announced that Lew will replace Daley. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)Jack Lew, the administration's current budget director, listens at left, as President Barack Obama speaks about the resignation of White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, Monday, Jan. 9, 2012, in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington. Obama announced that Lew will replace Daley. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Washington - As an Orthodox Jew, Jack Lew, President Obama’s choice as White House Chief of Staff,, observes the religious restrictions on the Jewish Sabbath, which runs from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. He leaves the office Friday afternoons in time to get home before sundown, and does not use electric or electronic devices, including the telephone.

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Once, while working in President Clinton’s director, Lew’s home phone rang one Saturday. He didn’t answer and a familiar voice could be heard from the answering machine, urging him to pick up the phone. Mr. Clinton said he understood the sanctity of the Sabbath, but that it was important that he talk to Lew. He even said, it was later reported, that “God would understand.”

Lew later consulted with his rabbi, who said that taking an important phone call from the President of the United States would be permissible on the Sabbath under the Talmudic teaching that work on the Sabbath is allowed in order to save a life.


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Read Comments (56)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Jan 09, 2012 at 05:00 PM rationalman Says:

just curious who is his rabbi

2

 Jan 09, 2012 at 05:04 PM Reb Yid Says:

He was OMB director--how was pikuach nefesh involved? I can imagine anti-Semites joking about this--"see, the Jews are so cheap they think a financial crisis is life-threatening"

3

 Jan 09, 2012 at 04:58 PM menachemwh Says:

i would think karov lemalchus is a better heter since it amtirs doraysas and pikuechc nefesh here may not be applicable.

4

 Jan 09, 2012 at 04:56 PM MosheM Says:

LOL. Show me your Rabbi and I'll tell you who you are.

5

 Jan 09, 2012 at 04:44 PM sandymoos Says:

maybe if he had spent a bit more time in cheder, he would have come to the right conclusion by himself. Even I know that we are obligated to violate Shabbos to save a life...

6

 Jan 09, 2012 at 04:51 PM Realistic Says:

why is an important call from the president pikuach nefesh?

arn't there other people that can replace him.

How is someone alowed to take a job that will require him to be mechalel shabbos.

By the way, who is this rabbi?

7

 Jan 09, 2012 at 04:57 PM Facts1 Says:

That's a stretch.

I guess he's more like a conservadox Rabbi.

8

 Jan 09, 2012 at 05:06 PM Chaim Says:

But note, he did not take the call.

9

 Jan 09, 2012 at 05:45 PM downtoearth Says:

no comment necessary. I would like to know who his rabbi is.

10

 Jan 09, 2012 at 05:47 PM shredready Says:

Reply to #4  
MosheM Says:

LOL. Show me your Rabbi and I'll tell you who you are.

yep

only your robonum know halacha all others are fakers

keep on dreaming

11

 Jan 09, 2012 at 06:08 PM bedford Says:

WHAT A JOKE! this guy sells out for fame and $$$

12

 Jan 09, 2012 at 06:28 PM FredE Says:

Reply to #3  
menachemwh Says:

i would think karov lemalchus is a better heter since it amtirs doraysas and pikuechc nefesh here may not be applicable.

I'm always willing to learn something. What exactly is a "karov lemalchus" heter? Are there sources for this? This is new to moi...

13

 Jan 09, 2012 at 06:48 PM Anonymous Says:

His rav is a very well known and respected frum rav in suburban maryland and a member of the Washington vaad. To those of you who question his psak, please worrry about the issue when you become the President's CoS but until then save your stupid comments about Obama to your self.

14

 Jan 09, 2012 at 07:15 PM frum jew Says:

I don't think it's chillul shabbos to use a telephone...

i believe we don't use a phone on shabbos because it's not socially acceptable... what's the isur?

15

 Jan 09, 2012 at 07:43 PM DR_CHUSID Says:

I would say that as the chief of staff to the president, there are a lot of issues that can happen, ( medical, environmental, security emergencies) that can have pikuach nefesh involved. It's not simple, and even if you do answer the phone, there are ways to mitigate the issur of shabbos. ( cell phone is better than a regular phone, only say what is needed, when to shut off the phone) my personal opinion, as I learned those from a Talmud of rav Moshe, is that it is not an easy topic and we should not bash his rabbi without knowing the details.

16

 Jan 09, 2012 at 07:51 PM Yehoshua Says:

As I am currently residing in the DC - Baltimore metro area; I am aware of a number of cases where the Rabbanim have given heterim for some people who are not in the medical field to go in to work on Shabbos if the matsav requires it.

Each situation is different but don't jump to conclusions.

I know of a frum yid from Baltimore who is apparently fluent in some dialect of Pashto, he went in on shabbos once, I assume that they had some urgent intelligence need. I know that a government car came to pick him up so he would not have to drive on shabbos.

17

 Jan 09, 2012 at 08:10 PM menachemwh Says:

Reply to #12  
FredE Says:

I'm always willing to learn something. What exactly is a "karov lemalchus" heter? Are there sources for this? This is new to moi...

yoef when taken out of prison took a haircut. The gemarah says it was rosh hashana. based on this and many other sources the gemarah says one who is cloe to the king may violate the torah laws since it protects the jewish people ultimately.

18

 Jan 09, 2012 at 08:15 PM rebbeofalltherebbes Says:

Ay, if only people were Medakdaik with their own Chamuros as much as with other's Kulos.

19

 Jan 09, 2012 at 08:23 PM sandymoos Says:

Reply to #4  
MosheM Says:

LOL. Show me your Rabbi and I'll tell you who you are.

Even Esau had a rabbi...

20

 Jan 09, 2012 at 08:27 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #15  
DR_CHUSID Says:

I would say that as the chief of staff to the president, there are a lot of issues that can happen, ( medical, environmental, security emergencies) that can have pikuach nefesh involved. It's not simple, and even if you do answer the phone, there are ways to mitigate the issur of shabbos. ( cell phone is better than a regular phone, only say what is needed, when to shut off the phone) my personal opinion, as I learned those from a Talmud of rav Moshe, is that it is not an easy topic and we should not bash his rabbi without knowing the details.

Your comments are very much on point. What do the clowns who made the earlier comments about shabbos think happens in EY when Netanyahu has to communicate with his staff on emergency issues? Do you think Bibi calls the designated shabbos goy to call the head of the IDF or his ambassador in Washington? I am never amazed how insular and parochial VIN readers can be regarding the realities of the world which sometimes require one to be mechallel shabbos.

21

 Jan 09, 2012 at 08:54 PM k9hara Says:

Why not just get a secretary to pick up the phone?? If it is something that can be dealt with through a message fine, and if it truly is pikuach nefesh (Israel being nuked ch"v) than yeah, pikuach nefash docha Shabbos.

22

 Jan 09, 2012 at 09:03 PM Anonymous Says:

Whose life was Clinton saving?

23

 Jan 09, 2012 at 09:04 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #14  
frum jew Says:

I don't think it's chillul shabbos to use a telephone...

i believe we don't use a phone on shabbos because it's not socially acceptable... what's the isur?

You probably also don't think it's assur to turn lights and other electric things on and off on shabbat.

24

 Jan 09, 2012 at 09:05 PM DR_CHUSID Says:

Reply to #20  
Anonymous Says:

Your comments are very much on point. What do the clowns who made the earlier comments about shabbos think happens in EY when Netanyahu has to communicate with his staff on emergency issues? Do you think Bibi calls the designated shabbos goy to call the head of the IDF or his ambassador in Washington? I am never amazed how insular and parochial VIN readers can be regarding the realities of the world which sometimes require one to be mechallel shabbos.

You are right except one thing. My rav made me emphasize to my staff that is not 1) considered mechallel shabbos, but you have to do it so you have it. My rav, who is a talmid of rav moshe and a big posek in brooklyn, told me That is not the way to look at it. One needs to look at a mitzvah and you and mechuaiv to do it, and therefore it is not even considered chillul shabbos. My case involved many sick children who needed a lot of medical care. Does it apply to the new chief of staff? He can ask his rav, who unlike post vin posters, knows all the halachahs.

25

 Jan 09, 2012 at 09:18 PM common-sense Says:

Reply to #20  
Anonymous Says:

Your comments are very much on point. What do the clowns who made the earlier comments about shabbos think happens in EY when Netanyahu has to communicate with his staff on emergency issues? Do you think Bibi calls the designated shabbos goy to call the head of the IDF or his ambassador in Washington? I am never amazed how insular and parochial VIN readers can be regarding the realities of the world which sometimes require one to be mechallel shabbos.

Netanyahu is not Shomer Shabbos, as he will admit, so he cannot be an example. The "realities of the world" do not permit chilul shabos. As for being "insular and parochial" we are as "insular and parochial" as the Torah.

26

 Jan 09, 2012 at 09:23 PM common-sense Says:

Reply to #17  
menachemwh Says:

yoef when taken out of prison took a haircut. The gemarah says it was rosh hashana. based on this and many other sources the gemarah says one who is cloe to the king may violate the torah laws since it protects the jewish people ultimately.

Please explain. This was before Matan Torah. There was no issue to take a haircut on a day which would, only later, at Matan Torah, take on the issurim of Yom Tov. Furthermore, Yosef did not give himself a haircut. It was, at most, Amira L'Nochri.

27

 Jan 09, 2012 at 09:28 PM haskail Says:

~1)picking up a phone is not a biblical issur.
~2)even that, it's, a rabbinical issur, is not definite.
~3)reuven ben arisoblus,got special permission,on some rabbinical issurs,regarding chukas hagoi.
~4)there is a Heter of Eiva,that to avert sinaas hagoi,and antisemitism,there is a chiyuv to do what has to be done,even if it entails to transgress on an issur.
~5)this requires a pesak,from a competent Rav.
~6)ein megalin eilah lazenuim,but nowadays all is public knowledge.

28

 Jan 09, 2012 at 09:46 PM REALIST Says:

Reply to #19  
sandymoos Says:

Even Esau had a rabbi...

I sincerely hope that's tongue in cheek.

29

 Jan 09, 2012 at 10:05 PM pbalaw Says:

Reply to #6  
Realistic Says:

why is an important call from the president pikuach nefesh?

arn't there other people that can replace him.

How is someone alowed to take a job that will require him to be mechalel shabbos.

By the way, who is this rabbi?

R u for real? What about doctors?

30

 Jan 09, 2012 at 10:37 PM SherryTheNoahide Says:

Reply to #6  
Realistic Says:

why is an important call from the president pikuach nefesh?

arn't there other people that can replace him.

How is someone alowed to take a job that will require him to be mechalel shabbos.

By the way, who is this rabbi?

"How is someone alowed to take a job that will require him to be mechalel shabbos?"


Um, doctors? EMT's?

And I'm guessing... probably those who work in HIGH offices of the President of the Land - a person responsible for all 300 million of us!

I mean come on!

If the President knows it's not a "life risk" & that his Cheif of Staff is keeping the Sabbath... I doubt he'll bug him!

He'll probably ask someone else for those 24 hours! He has respect for the religion of Judaism, despite what you probably think. He gave the first Cedar in the White House actually! :-)

Besides, how has Joseph Lieberman managed to hold down his job in politics?! He once ran for Vice President you know!

I doubt very seriously however, that he would have keep people "on call" during an emergency! But... if there was no emergency, then there would have been no problem!

Same situation here with Mr. Lew!

So why is everyone so worried?!

I've seen some of you defend a scoundrel like Newt Gingrich more than you're defending the appointment of a member of your own community, to a very high position in Washington!

Have a little faith in the man! What Sabbaths he'll keep will be between him & HaShem!

31

 Jan 09, 2012 at 11:19 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #23  
Anonymous Says:

You probably also don't think it's assur to turn lights and other electric things on and off on shabbat.

Actually - please explain to me what the issur is in using a phone or turning on a light - and don't say the light causes a spark because if you understand the mechanism of turning on lights

32

 Jan 09, 2012 at 11:26 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #23  
Anonymous Says:

You probably also don't think it's assur to turn lights and other electric things on and off on shabbat.

Actually if you're informed in the mechanism of telephones or turning on a light, there is nothing asur in doing both of those things. we don't do it because it's not "socially acceptable"

If you disagree please explain the mechanics of how they work and explain what's assur about it...

33

 Jan 10, 2012 at 01:57 AM Natan_Ha_Goy Says:

What ticks me off is President Clinton saying “G-d would understand.” So now he is also a rav? On the flip side, if one accepts a position of such responsibility that the President has your home phone number, you are surprised that he calls? Where is the planning ahead?

And yes, the position of Chief of Staff is easily important enough that matters of life might be affected. Do not some hold that a person's livelihood is also important enough to outweigh the Sabbath?

But see the reach of the US government: when the decision was made to dramatically increase the use of corn for fuel, shortages appeared all across the world for two years. These shortages, about which some had warned, led to riots. People died.

The Chief of Staff is intimately involved with negotiations with Congress over all bills.

34

 Jan 10, 2012 at 04:23 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #31  
Anonymous Says:

Actually - please explain to me what the issur is in using a phone or turning on a light - and don't say the light causes a spark because if you understand the mechanism of turning on lights

Go to an orthodox Rabbi and he will explain. Their are two thoughts of why it is ossur but it is ossur.

35

 Jan 10, 2012 at 04:42 AM AviKes Says:

Eli Yishai is shomer Shabbat and he answers phone calls. However, he has a special phone which apparently is less of a problem. However, #27 is correct. Answering a telephone is, according to most opinions, an issur derabbanan, which allows using for less than pikuach nefesh (Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach reportedly even questioned whether there is an issur involved in electricity other than incandescant lights at all). It could be that pressing legislation or policy decisions could doche even Tora prohibitions. For example, a decision on taking out Iran.

Regarding krovim lamalchut, they were given heterim regarding rabbinic prohibitions of wearing Goyish clothing and having Goyish haircuts as brought down in Yoreh Deah. This was for the purpose of impressing the rulers for the benefit of the Jewish community. I do not think that it was extended to other rabbinic prohibitions.

#2, he was Special Assistant to Clinton and was involved in major poicy matters, one of whichcould have been doche this issur. He then went over to OMB. It could be that there was some pressing fiscal matter which would doche this issur.

36

 Jan 10, 2012 at 04:42 AM Avreich1 Says:

Reply to #10  
shredready Says:

yep

only your robonum know halacha all others are fakers

keep on dreaming

Others may mock you, shredready, but you do have a knack of getting right down to the nitty-gritty.

Keep it up!

37

 Jan 10, 2012 at 04:51 AM AviKes Says:

To all of the sarcastic commenters: what about lashon hara and hotzaat shem ra? This involves violations of many positive and negative Tora mitzvot as well as exposing the violator to several Tora curses. Learn the introduction to Sefer Shemirat HaLashon. When you keep the Halacha you can start thinking about chumrot - for yourselves (as stated in Messilat Yesharim on Chassidut) and privately without fanfare (Rav Abramsky uued to be machmir to hear the megilla on both the 14th and 15th as according to Rav Tuchichinsky his neighborhood was not samuch venireh to the Old City of Yerushalayim. When somebody revealed this fact he announced that he would no longer keep it).

#30, never mind Gingrich, what about the "frum" megafrauds?

#33, only if one's livelihood nivolves pikuach nefersh. For example, if an emergency responder would lose his license.

38

 Jan 10, 2012 at 07:17 AM sandymoos Says:

Reply to #28  
REALIST Says:

I sincerely hope that's tongue in cheek.

You can look it up: In Vayishlach, Esau says: "Yesh lee rav."

39

 Jan 10, 2012 at 07:21 AM WiseDude Says:

The only explanation of why possibly using the phone "might" be a problem on Shabbos from a purely "melachos" standard is the very questionable idea that the use of an electrical device creates a circuit of electrons, and is therefore 'boneh". This is very weak, but it is the accepted rationale why the use of a phone might be a problem on Shabbos. Basically, we avoid the phone because it is not in the spirit of Shabbos...

40

 Jan 10, 2012 at 07:32 AM Anonymous Says:

In the photo Mr. Lew doesn't appear to be very happy about his new job.

41

 Jan 10, 2012 at 07:45 AM victim Says:

Please be aware that it is not so clear that there is an issur Shabbos to pick up a non-electric phone on shabbos.

42

 Jan 10, 2012 at 08:00 AM Raphael_Kaufman Says:

Reply to #23  
Anonymous Says:

You probably also don't think it's assur to turn lights and other electric things on and off on shabbat.

See Minchas Shlomo (Shlomo Zalman Aurbach)

43

 Jan 10, 2012 at 08:09 AM Futzer Says:

For the record he is a frum jew. Its unbeleivable how many people comment on who is his rabbi, or he is looking for money and fame. Why cant we grow up and understand life.

44

 Jan 10, 2012 at 08:40 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #39  
WiseDude Says:

The only explanation of why possibly using the phone "might" be a problem on Shabbos from a purely "melachos" standard is the very questionable idea that the use of an electrical device creates a circuit of electrons, and is therefore 'boneh". This is very weak, but it is the accepted rationale why the use of a phone might be a problem on Shabbos. Basically, we avoid the phone because it is not in the spirit of Shabbos...

Spirit of shabbos is a weak explanation since it's subjective (what if you call a relative and it gives you simchas shabbos to speak with them).

With regards to creating a circuit of electrons, by opening a light you're allowing the electrons to flow freely - not so sure that's boneh, like you said, "very weak"...

so for all the "naysayers" i don't think Mr. Lew or any other jew is mechalel shabbos by answering the phone (or even turning on a light), even if they don't get a heter.

It all has to do with "not socially acceptable"

45

 Jan 10, 2012 at 08:53 AM SherryTheNoahide Says:

Also I just want to ask those of you who are speaking out against this man behind his back about taking this appointment & already questioninghis commitment to keeping his mitvot before he's done a thing wrong to show you he'd be weak in that area...

Are you saying all of this stuff because you are legitimetly concerned w\his soul...or because you're upset that he took a job working for "Hussein Obama"?!

Cuz if your beef doesn't got to do w\worrying about his soul...is it worth the risk of speaking against him? What's wrong w\saying congratulations, and davening that he'll have good luck in his career & will do well?

Just sayin!

46

 Jan 10, 2012 at 09:53 AM haltkup Says:

Reply to #44  
Anonymous Says:

Spirit of shabbos is a weak explanation since it's subjective (what if you call a relative and it gives you simchas shabbos to speak with them).

With regards to creating a circuit of electrons, by opening a light you're allowing the electrons to flow freely - not so sure that's boneh, like you said, "very weak"...

so for all the "naysayers" i don't think Mr. Lew or any other jew is mechalel shabbos by answering the phone (or even turning on a light), even if they don't get a heter.

It all has to do with "not socially acceptable"

but if it is boneh or macke bpatish like the chazon ish says very strongly than you dont just have a slight problem p.s. the chazon ish doesnt say weak svaros maybe your weak

47

 Jan 10, 2012 at 10:03 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #14  
frum jew Says:

I don't think it's chillul shabbos to use a telephone...

i believe we don't use a phone on shabbos because it's not socially acceptable... what's the isur?

If you don't know, you are obviously not frum or a flamer.

48

 Jan 10, 2012 at 10:33 AM FredE Says:

Reply to #39  
WiseDude Says:

The only explanation of why possibly using the phone "might" be a problem on Shabbos from a purely "melachos" standard is the very questionable idea that the use of an electrical device creates a circuit of electrons, and is therefore 'boneh". This is very weak, but it is the accepted rationale why the use of a phone might be a problem on Shabbos. Basically, we avoid the phone because it is not in the spirit of Shabbos...

Electricity on Shabbat is an enormously complex topic. R Shlomo Zalman Auerbach Z"TL wrote an entire sefer on this called "Chashmal B'Or Halacah". The Encylopedia Talmudit's article on "Chasmal" (electricity) is many pages long. Your post gives the impression the topic is trivial and a social thing. It is not.

49

 Jan 10, 2012 at 01:18 PM ShmuelG Says:

Reply to #15  
DR_CHUSID Says:

I would say that as the chief of staff to the president, there are a lot of issues that can happen, ( medical, environmental, security emergencies) that can have pikuach nefesh involved. It's not simple, and even if you do answer the phone, there are ways to mitigate the issur of shabbos. ( cell phone is better than a regular phone, only say what is needed, when to shut off the phone) my personal opinion, as I learned those from a Talmud of rav Moshe, is that it is not an easy topic and we should not bash his rabbi without knowing the details.

Except that under Clinton Jack, the highest position Jack held was Director of the Office of Management and Budget, NOT Chief of Staff. What possible "budget emergency" could make him even think of being mchalel shabbos? Most likely it was that Clinton urgently needed some pocket money to pay for the services that didn't want Hillary to know about.

50

 Jan 10, 2012 at 01:09 PM YECKY Says:

Reply to #20  
Anonymous Says:

Your comments are very much on point. What do the clowns who made the earlier comments about shabbos think happens in EY when Netanyahu has to communicate with his staff on emergency issues? Do you think Bibi calls the designated shabbos goy to call the head of the IDF or his ambassador in Washington? I am never amazed how insular and parochial VIN readers can be regarding the realities of the world which sometimes require one to be mechallel shabbos.

I am never amazed how insular and parochial VIN readers can be regarding the realities of the world which sometimes require one to be mechallel shabbos. ”

It is so refreshing to read a comment such as this. I often wonder about this. I read these comments regularly and question what the world will come to if all become so insular and narrow minded .

51

 Jan 10, 2012 at 01:21 PM ShmuelG Says:

Reply to #44  
Anonymous Says:

Spirit of shabbos is a weak explanation since it's subjective (what if you call a relative and it gives you simchas shabbos to speak with them).

With regards to creating a circuit of electrons, by opening a light you're allowing the electrons to flow freely - not so sure that's boneh, like you said, "very weak"...

so for all the "naysayers" i don't think Mr. Lew or any other jew is mechalel shabbos by answering the phone (or even turning on a light), even if they don't get a heter.

It all has to do with "not socially acceptable"

No, the boneh here is that you complete the circuit that was theretofore broken, i.e. for all intents and purposes nonexistent, not exactly that you "allow the electrons to flow freely." This should be poshut enough even for a simple modern so called orthodox to understand, no?

52

 Jan 10, 2012 at 12:48 PM AviKes Says:

#48, the point is that

1.a rav could definitely be meikal in certain situations

2. many of the commenters here are over on very serious Tora prohibitions as I previoulsy posted

3. apparently they are beside themselves with jealousy.

53

 Jan 10, 2012 at 02:33 PM leahle Says:

Reply to #11  
bedford Says:

WHAT A JOKE! this guy sells out for fame and $$$

The mindless hatred some people have for Obama borders on pathological. Lew will earn $172,200 per year, which is a nice salary, but hardly $$$. As for fame, I challenge you to name a chief of staff under Bush. Reagan? Clinton? Remember any?

54

 Jan 10, 2012 at 04:20 PM Brisker Says:

It says in the Sefer Chillul Shabbos Kihilchusoi that there is an issur D'diraisa of T'lisha each time you pick up a phone on shabbos!

55

 Jan 10, 2012 at 04:59 PM luv_pancake Says:

Reply to #14  
frum jew Says:

I don't think it's chillul shabbos to use a telephone...

i believe we don't use a phone on shabbos because it's not socially acceptable... what's the isur?

better change your name....it doesn't match to your comment;)

56

 Jan 10, 2012 at 05:04 PM marcia Says:

Reply to #15  
DR_CHUSID Says:

I would say that as the chief of staff to the president, there are a lot of issues that can happen, ( medical, environmental, security emergencies) that can have pikuach nefesh involved. It's not simple, and even if you do answer the phone, there are ways to mitigate the issur of shabbos. ( cell phone is better than a regular phone, only say what is needed, when to shut off the phone) my personal opinion, as I learned those from a Talmud of rav Moshe, is that it is not an easy topic and we should not bash his rabbi without knowing the details.

I want to know, WHO, HOW, WHY, WHERE was it decided that accepting an emergency call on a cell phone on shabbos is "better" than a "regular" phone??!! AND then to SHUT IT OFF IMMEDIATELY before G-d finds out????What kind of rationale is this? No wonder Obama's ideas make sense to many of you!

57

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