The Yoledes In Halacha
Unless a doctor explicitly orders it for the safety of either mother
or child,(1) it is prohibited for a woman to schedule the birth of her
baby. There are various halachic, kabbalistic and philosophic reasons
offered by early and contemporary poskim for this prohibition:
The earlier time may be "in a bad mazal".(2)
Inducing an early birth may cause the child to die before his
It is possible to miscalculate the time of conception and erroneously
assume that the pregnancy is full term when it is, in fact, in its eighth
month.(4) Inducing birth would thus cause the baby to be born prematurely.
Giving birth on schedule is not considered a "life threatening"
situation, since that is the natural way of giving birth. But when a women
gives birth before her time, she may be placing herself in a dangerous
As the Mishnah(6) states, one enters this world "against his will".
To bring a baby into this world before his Divinely appointed time of
arrival is to contradict the Rabbinic dictum.(7)
Sometimes a woman requires the services of a specialist for
compelling medical reasons. If the specialist will be available only at
pre-arranged times, the delivery may be scheduled. A rav should be
Unless it is an emergency, a planned delivery [when permitted]
should not be scheduled for Thursday or Friday,(8) as no elective surgery
may be scheduled on those days.(9)
PREPARATIONS FOR A SHABBOS(10) DELIVERY
We have established that a woman giving birth is halachically
considered to be a dangerously ill person, and it is permitted, indeed it
is a mitzvah, to desecrate the Shabbos on her behalf. Once a woman is in
labor, she, her husband, or anyone else who is in a position to do so,
must do everything they can to ensure the safety of mother and baby.
Nevertheless, whatever can be done before Shabbos to minimize the
desecration of Shabbos, must be done in advance.(11) Indeed, an early
authority(12) mentions that a person should pray that his wife not give
birth on Shabbos. Accordingly, a woman who enters the early stages of
labor before Shabbos, although she would normally delay going to the
hospital for as long as possible, should travel to the hospital before
Shabbos begins so that she will not have to travel on Shabbos.(13)
From a halachic standpoint, there are two basic methods of
transporting a woman to the hospital on Shabbos: a) a non-Jewish driver,
e.g. a neighbor, ambulance or taxi service may bring her; b) a Jewish
driver, e.g., her husband or a neighbor may drive her.
If a woman can be driven to the hospital by a non-Jew without
compromising her safety or peace of mind, the Halachah requires her to
arrange -before Shabbos- for a non-Jew to drive her on Shabbos regardless
of the expenses entailed.
As stated earlier, once Shabbos begins, we must do everything in our
power to ensure the baby's safe delivery. Still, whatever we can do in
advance to avoid or lessen the desecration of Shabbos must be done. The
following can and must be done before Shabbos begins:
1. The phone number of the doctor and of a non-Jewish neighbor,
ambulance or taxi service should be noted in an easily accessible, non-
muktzeh location. When possible, payment should be pre-arranged.
2. Whatever house or garage lights that would be needed to
facilitate leaving for the hospital in the middle of the night, should be
turned on before Shabbos.(14)
3. Personal items the woman will need at the hospital should be
packed in a bag before Shabbos.
4. Arrangements for a baby-sitter to stay with other children
should be made before Shabbos.
5. If the hospital is outside the techum Shabbos (approx. 4000 feet
from the last house in the city), some poskim recommend that one should be
mafkir (renounce possession of) all the items that are being taken along
to the hospital.(15) Other poskim are not particular about this.(16)
TRAVELING TO THE HOSPITAL ON SHABBOS VIA A NON-JEW
As soon as a woman experiences steady contractions, even though she
is quite sure that she is far from giving birth, she (or any other person)
may call the doctor or the designated driver to take her to the hospital.
She should not wait for the latter stages of labor before going to the
When making the phone call(18) on Shabbos to the doctor or the non-
Jewish driver, the receiver should be lifted off its cradle in an unusual
manner, e.g., with one's elbow or teeth(19) - time permitting. The
conversation should be limited to a bare minimum, although it is permitted
to say "hello" and "thank you", etc.(20) After the conversation is over,
the receiver may not be returned to the cradle unless the phone line is
needed for the sake of the patient, or if not hanging up will tie up the
doctor's line. Then, too, the receiver should be hung up in an unusual
manner, as described above.(21)
Any item which the woman will need on Shabbos may be taken along,
even it there is no eiruv or if the item is muktzeh. If time allows, the
non-Jew should be asked to carry the woman's bag to the vehicle. [Unless
an eiruv exists, a sefer Tehillim should not be taken to the hospital on
Shabbos, for the merit of keeping Shabbos is greater than saying Tehillim.
This should be explained to the woman.(22)]
If, during the drive, labor stopped and the woman feels that she
does not need to go to the hospital, it is permitted to tell the non-Jew
to take her and her companion back home if they cannot return safely and
comfortably on foot ??which is almost always the case.
If it is the expectant mother's wish and it would help to relax her,
her husband or another person may accompany her to the hospital, even if
their assistance is not medically warranted.(23) The person going along
may also bring with him basic food necessities that will be required on
Shabbos.(24) The non-Jew should be asked to carry the items into the
vehicle and from the vehicle into the hospital.
When time allows it, the door to the vehicle should be opened and
closed by the non-Jew.
If no baby-sitter for the other children can be found, it is
permitted to ask the non-Jewish driver to drive the children to another
TRAVELING TO THE HOSPITAL ON SHABBOS VIA A JEW
In the absence of any other alternative or when arrangements were
not made in advance, it is permitted for a Jew [the husband or any other
person(26)] to drive the woman to the hospital himself. A couple who is
aware before Shabbos that the driver may be a Jew, should prepare before
Shabbos for that eventuality. Therefore:
1. The shortest possible route to the hospital must be checked and
planned. Exact change for any possible tolls should be prepared and placed
in the car.
2. The car which will be driven must not be blocked by other cars
or other obstructions.
3. The dome light bulb in the car should be loosened or removed
before Shabbos; the air conditioner, radio and tape recorder should be on
the "off" position.
4. Driver's license, registration, and other papers that are
required for driving or that will be needed at the hospital should be
placed in the car before Shabbos.
5. Where there is no eiruv, clothing, food, and other items that
will be needed at the hospital should be placed in the car before Shabbos.
6. If the hospital is out of the techum Shabbos, any belongings which
are in the car [especially those that do not belong to them(27)] that are
not necessary for the woman (car seat, tapes, etc.) should be removed from
the car.(28) If this is difficult to do, then those items [which are
theirs] should be pronounced hefker.
One who failed to properly prepare himself or the car as outlined above,
must nevertheless proceed to the hospital in the safest,(29) quickest way
he can,(30) If he did not unscrew or remove the dome light bulb before
Shabbos, then while the door is still open and the light is on, the
control knob should be turned [in an unusual manner] so that the light
will remain on after the door closes. If he forgot to do that, he should
[in an unusual manner] loosen the light bulb, so that the light does not
turn on again when the door is opened.(31)
One may drive to any hospital that he prefers, as long as the
preference is not determined by the desire to save money.
Once he arrives at the hospital emergency room, the car may be
placed in the "park" position, but the ignition and the lights may not be
turned off.(32) [If he failed to loosen the dome light bulb or to follow
one of the other options outlined above, then the door may not be closed
upon leaving the car, since closing the door will cause the light to be
turned off.] He may ask a non-Jew to take the car,(33) park it, and return
the keys to him after Shabbos.
A woman in active labor(34) is a niddah and her husband may no longer
touch her. If she cannot walk unaided, a woman should assist her. If no
woman is available, the ambulance attendant or taxi driver should assist
her. If only her husband is available to assist her, he may do so.(35)
The opinions of contemporary poskim are divided over whether it is
permitted or advisable for a husband to be in the same room with his wife
during delivery. When a woman, however, insists that her husband be with
her, it is permitted, so as not to unsettle her during the birth.(36) All
poskim agree that it is strictly prohibited for him to observe the actual
A husband who is sitting shivah may accompany his wife to the
hospital if she asks or needs his assistance.(38)
A hospital does not require eiruvei chatzeiros. Carrying on Shabbos
in its corridors or from room to room is permitted.(39)
A woman who gives birth, even to a stillborn child, is considered
a "dangerously ill" person for 72 hours after giving birth. As long as the
patient herself, the doctor, or nurse requests anything on her behalf, the
request should be fulfilled, even if it involves a Shabbos prohibition.
Whenever possible, it should be done in an unusual manner.(40)
Upon the birth of a son, the blessing of ha-Tov v'ha-Meitiv is
recited.(41) Although ha-Tov v'ha-Meitiv is not recited when a girl is
born, some poskim recommend that the parents recite Shehecheyanu the very
first time he/she sees their newborn daughter.(42) When twins (a boy and a
girl) are born, only ha-Tov v'ha-Meitiv is said.(43) The husband can be
motzi (exempt) his wife for these blessings.
A woman who gave birth on Friday night and was unable to say or hear
Kiddush, should say the Friday night Kiddush on Shabbos day, omitting
Ordinarily, one who misses a tefillah due to an emergency, makes up
that missed tefillah during the next tefillah (tefillas tashlumin).
However, a husband who was preoccupied with his wife's labor and
childbirth throughout the time period allotted for any given tefillah,(45)
is not required to make up the tefillah which he missed.(46)
It is not permitted to instruct the hospital staff to place a call on
Shabbos that will notify the family back home -?either by a predetermined
number of rings or by leaving a message on the answering machine -?about
the birth of a baby.
Rabbi Neustadt is Rav of Young Israel in Cleveland Heights. He may be
reached at 216-321-4635 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
1 Chazon Ish is quoted (in a written responsum by Harav Y. Y. Kanievsky,
published in Kryana D'igarta 184) as ruling that once two weeks into the
tenth month have passed, labor may be induced.
2 Rokei'ach (Koheles 3:11).
3 Arizal quoted in Sefer ha-Kaneh. See also Ra'avad's preface to Sefer
4 Harav Y. Kamenetsky (Emes le-Yaakov O.C. 331:5); Harav M. Hershler
(Halachah v'Refuah, vol. 2, pg. 64). See also Kisvei Harav Henkin 2:85.
5 Igros Moshe Y.D. 2:74; O.C. 4:105-6. See also Emes le-Yaakov, ibid.
6 Avos 4:24.
7 Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (quoted in Toras ha-Yoledes, pg. 11 and Eis laledes
8 Some poskim forbid Wednesday as well; see Mishnah Berurah 248:4.
9 Harav Y. Kamenetsky, ibid.; Harav Y.Y. Kanievsky (Kryana D'igarta 184);
Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 32:33. If, however, the doctor's surgery day
is only on one of those days, it is permitted (Harav S.Z. Auerbach, quoted
in Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 32, note 97).
10 Almost all of the following halachos pertain to Yom Tov as well.
11 Mishnah Berurah 330:1.
12 Sefer Chasidim 793, based on the Talmud, Niddah 38a.
13 Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 36:7 quoting Ketzos ha-Shulchan. See
similar ruling in Igros Moshe O.C. 1:131 concerning a doctor who may be
needed for Shabbos duty.
14 Kaf ha-Chayim 330:1.
15 Advice offered by Harav C. Kanievsky (quoted in Toras ha-Yoledes, pg.
25) based on O.C. 401:1.
16 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Minchas Shelomo 15; Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah
40:65). See also Minchas Yitzchak 9:37.
17 Mishnah Berurah 330:9.
18 When possible, the phone call should be made by a non-Jew or a minor.
When using a minor, it is better not to use one's own child; see Sha'ar ha-
19 When these options are not workable, the next best method is to use the
telephone with two hands or to have two people dial. See Nishmas Avraham
5, pg. 44-45 for an explanation.
20 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (quoted in Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 32:111).
21 It is important to stress, though, that all of the halachos that
pertain to making the phone call, hanging up, driving on Shabbos, etc.,
are to be followed only when time allows. Once heavy labor is under way,
everything should be done in the speediest, safest manner, as if the labor
is taking place on a weekday.
22 Harav S.Y. Elyashiv (quoted in Toras ha-Yoledes, pg. 94). If the woman
insists on taking a sefer Tehillim or any other sefer along, she is
permitted to do so.
23 Igros Chazon Ish 1:141; Igros Moshe O.C. 1:132.
24 Minchas Yitzchak 8:30-1. It is questionable, though, if one may take
along a siddur, etc.
25 This is permitted both for the safety of the children who will fear
staying alone (see Mishnah Berurah 328:38) and for the peace of mind of
26 Some poskim say that it is preferable to use an observant Jew rather
than a non-observant Jew; see Toras ha-Yoledes, pg. 81.
27 See Minchas Shelomo 15.
28 Toras ha-Yoledes, pg. 20, 25, 101.
29 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Nishmas Avraham 5, pg. 176) advises that in order
to avoid possible accidents, normal driving procedures should be followed.
30 If time allows, any carrying that needs to be done should be done with
a shinui, such as carrying the required papers under his clothing or hat,
31 Some cars are equipped with a switch that does not allow the dome light
to go on when the door opens. This is a better option than loosening the
bulb, since loosening the bulb may involve the prohibition of soser
32 Whenever possible, one should explore before Shabbos the available
choices for parking and figure out the best solution for his particular
33 Hinting is preferred to asking directly; see O.C. 307:19.
34 There are various definitions in the poskim for "active labor"; see
Badei ha-Shulchan Y.D. 194:30.
35 See Aruch ha-Shulchan Y.D. 195:25-27 and Igros Moshe Y.D. 1:90.
36 See Nishmas Avraham Y.D. 195:3 and Teshuvos Bnei Banim 33 for an
37 Igros Moshe Y.D. 2:75.
38 Igros Moshe Y.D. 4:45.
39 Igros Moshe O.C. 5:20-28; Harav S.Z. Auerbach and Harav Y.S. Elyashiv
(quoted in Nishmas Avraham 4, pg. 63) based on Beiur Halachah 370:3 and
M'hrasham 6:17. See also lenient ruling by Harav Y. Roth (Kovetz Beis
Talmud 3, pg. 56).
40 O.C. 330:4.
41 O.C. 223:1.
42 Mishnah Berurah 223:2. Harav S.Z. Auerbach, however, recommended
against reciting Shehecheyanu upon seing one's daughter for the first
time; see Halichos Shelomo 23:10.
43 Toras ha-Yoledes, pg. 176.
44 O.C. 278:8.
45 If, however, he was occupied with her labor for only part of the zeman
tefillah, but forgot to daven when he had the chance, he must then make up
that missed tefillah.
46 See Mishnah Berurah 71:4; 93:8.
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Rabbi Neustadt is Rav of Young Israel in Cleveland Heights. He may be reached at 216-321-4635 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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