Subscribe to a Weekly Series

By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt | Series: | Level:

A woman giving birth is considered in Halachah to be a dangerously ill person, and it is permitted, indeed it is a mitzvah, to desecrate the Shabbos[1] 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[2]. Indeed, an early authority[3] mentions that a person should pray that his wife not give birth on Shabbos so that the Shabbos need not be desecrated on her behalf. 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[4].

Once a woman enters her ninth month of pregnancy, she should prepare herself for the possibility of a Shabbos delivery. The following can and must be done before Shabbos:

  • 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.
  • Make available for use a phone that has the fewest number of “gadgets” possible, e.g., no lights, unnecessary sound effects or digital readouts. If possible, avoid using a cell phone, since a light turns on as soon as it is opened.

  • Program the phone numbers for the doctor and the non-Jewish driver into the phone memory, so that on Shabbos you need only press the memory button to complete the call.
  • When possible, payment for transportation should be arranged before Shabbos. If one cannot pay in advance, money should be placed before Shabbos in an envelope, which the driver can be instructed to pick up himself before driving to the hospital.

  • Whatever house, garage or yard lights that would be needed to facilitate leaving for the hospital in the middle of the night should be turned on before Shabbos[5].
  • Personal items the woman will need at the hospital should be packed in a bag before Shabbos.

  • Arrangements for a baby-sitter to stay with other children should be made before Shabbos.

Question: What is permitted to be done once a woman feels she is getting close to giving birth?

Discussion: As soon as a woman experiences steady contractions or her water breaks, even though she is not quite sure that she is ready to give birth, she (or any other person) may call the doctor and follow his instructions. If the doctor instructs her to go to the hospital, she should prepare herself to travel as soon as possible. She should not wait for the latter stages of labor before going to the hospital[6].

When making the phone call[7] on Shabbos to the doctor, the receiver should be lifted off its cradle in an unusual manner, e.g., with one’s elbow or teeth[8] — time permitting. The conversation should be limited to a bare minimum, although it is permitted to say “hello” and “thank you”, etc[9]. 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. Then, too, the receiver should be replaced in an unusual manner, as described above[10].

Question: What is the best way of transporting a yoledes to the hospital on Shabbos?

Discussion: From a halachic standpoint, the two choices are: a) a non-Jewish driver, e.g. a neighbor, ambulance or taxi service may bring her; b) a Jewish driver, e.g., her husband, a neighbor or hatzalah 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 expense entailed.

Question: What are the halachos pertaining to a yoledes being driven to the hospital by a non-Jew?

Discussion: As soon as the doctor instructs her to go the hospital, she (or any other person) should call the designated driver. The halachos mentioned earlier in regard to making a phone call to the doctor apply here as well.

When time allows, the door to the vehicle should be opened and closed by the non-Jew.

If no baby-sitter for the other children is present, it is permitted to ask the non-Jewish driver to drive the children to another person’s home or to pick up a baby-sitter from another location[11].

Any item which the yoledes will need on Shabbos may be taken along. If there is no eiruv or if the item is muktzeh, the non-Jew should be asked to carry the woman’s bag to the vehicle.

If it is the expectant mother’s wish and it would help to relax her, her husband, her labor coach or another person may accompany her to the hospital, even if their assistance is not medically warranted[12]. The person going along may also bring with him basic food necessities that will be required on Shabbos[13]. The non-Jew should be asked to carry the items into the vehicle and from the vehicle into the hospital.

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.

Question: What is the procedure for traveling to the hospital on Shabbos with a Jew?

Discussion: 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[14] ) to drive the woman to the hospital. A couple who is aware before Shabbos that the driver may be a Jew, should prepare before Shabbos for that eventuality. Therefore:

  • 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. Wherever EZ Pass is available, it is preferable to paying the toll with cash.
  • The car which will be driven must not be blocked by other cars or other obstructions.

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • Where there is no eiruv, clothing, food, and other items that will be needed at the hospital[15] should be placed in the car before Shabbos. [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[16]. ]
  • If the hospital is out of the techum Shabbos, any belongings which are in the car [especially those that do not belong to the yoledes or her family[17] ] that are not necessary for the woman (car seat, tapes, maps, etc.) should be removed from the car[18].

One who failed to properly prepare himself or the car as outlined above must nevertheless proceed to the hospital in the safest[19], quickest way he can[20]. 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.

One may drive to any hospital that he wishes, as long as the preference is not determined by the desire to save money.

If, during the drive, labor stopped and the woman feels that she does not need to go to the hospital, it is not permitted for the driver to continue driving. They must find a non-Jew who will take her (and her companion) back home if they cannot return safely and comfortably on foot — which is almost always the case.

Once the driver 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[21]. The car door may not be closed upon leaving the car, if closing the door will cause the light to be turned off. The driver may ask a non-Jew to take the car[22], park it, and return the keys to him after Shabbos or leave them at the front desk or nurse’s station. Note: A woman in active labor[23] 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[24].

Question: What are some of the halachos pertaining to a yoledes at the hospital on Shabbos?

Discussion: At the time of admission, try to avoid signing in. If the hospital will not admit the patient without a signature, sign with your left hand if you are right-handed person, or with your right hand if you are a lefty.

Instructing the hospital staff to place a call on Shabbos that will notify the family back home about the birth of a baby — either by a predetermined number of rings or by leaving a message on the answering machine — should be avoided. When necessary, consult a rav in advance[25].

A hospital does not require eiruvei chatzeiros. Carrying in its corridors or from room to room is permitted[26].

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 Va’yechulu[27].

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 either 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[28].

* * *

Question: Is it permitted to schedule the birth of a baby?

Discussion: Unless a doctor explicitly orders it for the safety of either mother or child[29], 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[30].”
  • Inducing an early birth may cause the child to die before his allotted time[31].
  • 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[32]. 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 woman gives birth before her time, she may be placing herself in a dangerous situation[33].
  • As the Mishnah states[34], 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[35].

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 consulted.

Unless it is an emergency, a planned delivery (when permitted) should not be scheduled for Thursday or Friday[36], as no elective surgery may be scheduled on those days[37].

Question: What are some of the halachos pertaining to the husband of a yoledes?

Discussion: 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[38]. All poskim agree that it is strictly prohibited for him to observe the actual birthing process, either natural or caesarean[39].

A husband who is sitting shivah may accompany his wife to the hospital if she asks or needs his assistance[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 parents recite Shehecheyanu the very first time they see 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.

Ordinarily, one who mistakenly or negligently misses a tefillah, makes up that missed tefillah during the next tefillah (tefillas tashlumin). However, a woman (and her husband) who was preoccupied with her labor and childbirth throughout the entire time period allotted for any given tefillah, is not required to make up the tefillah which she missed[44].

1. Many of the following halachos pertain to Yom Tov as well.

2. Mishnah Berurah 330:1.

3. Sefer Chasidim 793, based on the Talmud, Niddah 38a.

4. 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.

5. Kaf ha-Chayim 330:1.

6. Mishnah Berurah 330:9.

7. 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-Tziyun 334:54.

8. Another option is to tie a string to the receiver before Shabbos, and then lift (or hang up) the receiver on Shabbos by lifting the string. 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 vol. 5, pg. 44-45 for an explanation.

9. Rav S.Z. Auerbach (quoted in Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 32:111).

10. 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 were taking place on a weekday.

11. 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 the mother.

12. Igros Chazon Ish 1:141; Igros Moshe, O.C. 1:132.

13. Minchas Yitzchak 8:30-1. It is questionable, though, if one may take along a siddur, etc.

14. Some poskim say that it is preferable to use an observant Jew rather than a non-observant Jew; see Toras ha-Yoledes, pg. 81.

15. Only items needed for Shabbos may be taken on Shabbos. Items that will be needed for after Shabbos, may not be taken on Shabbos.

16. Rav Y.S. Elyashiv (quoted in Toras ha-Yoledes, pg. 94). If the woman insists on taking a sefer Tehillim or any other item, she is permitted to do so.

17. See Minchas Shelomo 1:15.

18. Toras ha-Yoledes, pg. 20, 25, 101.

19. Rav S.Z. Auerbach (Nishmas Avraham, vol. 5, pg. 176) advises that in order to avoid possible accidents, normal driving procedures should be followed.

20. 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, etc.

21. Whenever possible, one should explore before Shabbos the available choices for parking and figure out the best solution for his particular case.

22. Hinting, when possible, is preferred to asking directly; see O.C. 307:19.

23. There are various definitions in the poskim for “active labor”; see Badei ha-Shulchan, Y.D. 194:30.

24. See Aruch ha-Shulchan, Y.D. 195:25-27 and Igros Moshe, Y.D. 1:90.

25. See elaboration in the Hebrew Notes, pg. ???.

26. Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:20-28; Rav S.Z. Auerbach and Rav Y.S. Elyashiv (quoted in Lev Avraham 13:122) based on Beiur Halachah 370:3 and Mahrasham 6:17. See also lenient ruling by Rav Y. Roth (Koveitz Beis Talmud, vol. 3, pg. 56). See, however, Minchas Shelomo 2:35-24.

27. O.C. 278:8.

28. O.C. 330:4.

29. Chazon Ish is quoted by Rav Y. Y. Kanievsky (Kryana D’igarta 184) as ruling that once two weeks into the tenth month have passed, labor may be induced.

30. Rokei’ach (Koheles 3:11).

31. Arizal quoted in Sefer ha-Kaneh. See also Ra’avad’s preface to Sefer Yetzirah.

32. Rav Y. Kamenetsky (Emes l’Yaakov, O.C. 331:5); Rav M. Hershler (Halachah v’Refuah, vol. 2, pg. 64). See also Kisvei Rav Henkin 2:85.

33. Igros Moshe, Y.D. 2:74; O.C. 4:105-6. See also Emes l’Yaakov, O.C. 331:5. See, however, Halichos Shelomo 3:16, Orchos Halachah 1, who disagrees with this argument.

34. Avos 4:24.

35. Rav S.Y. Elyashiv (quoted in Toras ha-Yoledes, pg. 11 and Eis laledes 1:14).

36. Some poskim forbid Wednesday as well; see Mishnah Berurah 248:4.

37. Rav Y. Kamenetsky,(Emes l’Yaakov, O.C. 331:5); Rav Y.Y. Kanievsky (Kryana D’igarta); Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 32:33. If, however, the doctor’s surgery day is only on one of those days, it is permitted (Rav S.Z. Auerbach, quoted in Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 32, note 97).

38. See Nishmas Avraham, Y.D. 195:3 and Teshuvos Bnei Banim 33 for an elaboration.

39. Igros Moshe, Y.D. 2:75.

40. Igros Moshe, Y.D. 4:45.

41. O.C. 223:1. In some communities this blessing is not recited; see Aruch ha-Shulchan 223:2.

42. Mishnah Berurah 223:2. This custom is not widely practiced; see Minchas Shelomo 2:4-32 and Halichos Shelomo 1:23-10.

43. See Toras ha-Yoledes, pg. 176.

44. See Mishnah Berurah 71:4; 93:8. If, however, she was occupied with her labor for only part of the zeman tefillah, but forgot or did not daven when she had the chance, she should then make up that missed tefillah.

Weekly-Halacha, Text Copyright © 2012 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and

Rabbi Neustadt is the Yoshev Rosh of the Vaad Harabbonim of Detroit and the Av Beis Din of the Beis Din Tzedek of Detroit. He could be reached at [email protected]