Damsel In Distress
‘A Woman In Labor Is Considered Critically Ill’
The mishnah (on 128b) teaches that we may desecrate Shabbos on behalf of a woman giving birth. Exactly when, though, does she enter this stage of “giving birth”?
The Gemara defines this stage as beginning from when the woman’s womb opens. The sages from Neharda’ei (cited by the Gemara on 129b) maintain that this period lasts until seven days after she has given birth. Until then, she is considered critically ill – a choleh she’yesh bo sakanah. Until the third day we desecrate Shabbos for her sake unsolicited. After that, we may only desecrate Shabbos if she specifically asks that we do so.
The Lady Doth Protest
The woman protests – we violate Shabbos on the her behalf if a physician believes doing so is vital to her well-being.
Coals To Newcastle
Rashi (sv “davar she’ein bo sakanah”) indicates that, as a general rule, we may only desecrate Shabbos if not doing so may endanger her life. We may not, however, desecrate Shabbos to provide a patient with additional comforts not essential to her survival.
The Magid Mishnah (to Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 2:14) infers from the Ramban that we may desecrate Shabbos for a critically-ill patient even to provide heat to him or her – and even during the summer.
The Gemara (Shabbos 128b) states that not only may we kindle a lamp on Shabbos for a woman in labor, but we may even do so if she is blind (as it will provide her peace of mind).
Peace Of Mind
In Igrot Moshe (Orach Chayim I:132), Rabbi Moshe Feinstein discusses whether a husband may accompany his wife-in-labor in a taxi on Shabbos to give her peace of mind (just like one may kindle a lamp for a blind woman giving birth). Rabbi Feinstein concludes that he may do so because merely sitting in a car is not biblically prohibited.
Rabbi Yeshaye Karelitz (Kovetz Igros 141) not only permits a man to accompany his wife to the hospital but strongly urges every husband to do so.