Rabbi Yaakov Spivak focused on halachas that apply to hurricanes and other hazards. He recalled that last year, during Hurricane Irene, a 50-year-old Monsey father of four saw a 6-year-old boy entangled in downed electrical wires. Without hesitation, he instantly attempted to save the child. The man was electrocuted and died immediately. The boy died eleven days later.
After Hurricane Irene, several organizations issued halachic hurricane manuals. A question in one was, “If someone sees a power line fall [on Shabbos] and it poses a danger, can one contact the authorities?” That particular guideline directs that “A person should never venture out during or right after a hurricane. Coming in contact with downed power lines could be fatal. Unless the power line could cause a serious danger to the people in the home, one should wait until after Shabbos to report it.”
Rabbi Spivak, however, responding to a question from the Conference chairman, stated that authorities must be contacted immediately, even on Shabbos.
Rabbi Spivak then raised the question of when one is permitted to risk his own life to save another. He quoted Rabbi Ephraim Oshry, zt”l (1914-2003), Kovna Rav who survived the Holocaust, became the rav of Beis Medrash Hagadol of the Lower East Side, and authored Mimamakim.
Rabbi Oshry (Mimamakim 2:1) discusses the case of Dovid Itzkowitz zt”l Hy”d, who was asked by Rabbi Avraham Grodzinski, zt”l Hy”d (1883-1944), mashgiach of Slabodka Yeshiva, to intercede with Lithuanian jailers on behalf of captured yeshiva students.
The jailers were his presumably friendly neighbors who were appointed by the Nazis to cruelly deal with Jews. That attempt at intercession could possibly be dangerous if the Lithuanians turned on him. The question comes down to possibly endangering one’s self on behalf of another Jew who is in definite danger.
After considerable deliberation, Rabbi Oshry indicated that no positive obligation exists. However, if one voluntarily feels he is beholden to a higher calling, he may endanger his own life. The petitioner did indeed intercede on behalf of the students of the yeshiva and he was successful. But, Rabbi Oshry noted, the petitioner was deported and ultimately murdered in the Holocaust.