Friday, August 27, 2010

Safety is also a Mitzvah

Remember the Versailles wedding tragedy of about 15 years ago? There was a third-story event hall in Jerusalem called "Versailles" which was hosting a wedding, and the floor suddenly collapsed, killing a number of people. At the time, there were the usual people talking about how it was a Divine punishment for mixed dancing, or lack of tzniyus, etc. I recall my late publisher Rabbi Moshe Dombey z"l marveling at how they were missing the obvious. The hall had been constructed using the "Pal-Kal" method - a way of building cheap and quick. There was no need to divine any cause other than the obvious: It is dangerously irresponsible to look for quick-and-easy shortcuts in something as serious as constructing tall buildings. And responsibility in such matters as construction is also a Torah obligation, be it the mitzvah of maakeh or venishmartem es nafshosechem.

Driving a car - a potentially lethal device - is also a serious business. I recall once seeing a responsum from one of the Acharonim (I'd be indebted if someone can provide the source) about a wagon-driver who got into an accident and killed someone. It was ruled that he has to fast twice a week for several years, support the victim's family for the rest of their lives, and pray for forgiveness every night for the rest of his life. We tend to think of Torah obligations as being davenning, learning, maybe even tzedakah, but driving safely and responsibly is also a Torah obligation. In that spirit, I am presenting a very, very disturbing video about texting while driving. It is very uncomfortable to watch, but if you ever text while driving, or even talk on a cellphone (and using a hands-free unit is almost as dangerous), you must watch it.

15 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting this. There's another, even more heartwrenching, video making it's way around which, while very difficult to watch, should be mandatory viewing for every new driver. Heck, everyone should watch it.

    Here's the link:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eC2SBX2nnUw

    I also appreciate you "rational" point about the wedding hall tragedy.

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  2. I am never leaving the house again.

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  3. Unfortuanately it seems that the average driving practices in the Haredi sector are quite poor in Israel.(I am bringing this up not to promote hatred but to promote safety among all Jews.)

    This is another example of what happens when Judaism is not rationalist enough.

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  4. There was a sign posted by the onramp of a highway that said something like: "Speeding can cause death" or "500 deaths occurred on highways last year due to speeding."

    A rabbi (perhaps a reader is familiar with this story and can identify him?) heard about this sign and felt the city was making a mistake. He thought the signs would be more effective if they said, (again, I'm quoting loosely), "500 tickets were given out last year due to speeding."

    The rabbi gave his reasoning, but I think your readers will figure it out themselves.

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  5. Here in Ontario (Canada) it is now illegal to talk or text on a hand-held cellphone while driving. If the police see you doing this, you will get a $100 ticket (they do enforce it).

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  6. >I recall once seeing a responsum from one of the Acharonim (I'd be indebted if someone can provide the source) about a wagon-driver who got into an accident and killed someone. It was ruled that he has to fast twice a week for several years, support the victim's family for the rest of their lives, and pray for forgiveness every night for the rest of his life.

    There are many many teshuvos on penance for accidental killing. What you've described is light compared to many of them. See the Teshuvos of the Rema #37. He says that an accidental murderer should go into galus for a year without spending two consecutive nights in the same place. He should fast every single day during that year, and say vidui each night. On the same day every subsequent year he should fast and mourn.

    Raavad of Narbonne deals with another accidental murder (#41). He says that the man should receive malkos morning and night for a year. He must support the children of the deceased. He should shave his head and beard, and he should fast.

    And these are for *accidents*.

    The classic precedent is the תשובת המשקל of the Chassidei Ashkenaz, which amounted to making oneself miserable to the point where the sin really could not have paid one bit. Teshuva is a piece of cake these days. I don't remember ever hearing about rolling naked in the snow, fasting 300 times or exposing oneself to bees from contemporary rabbis.

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  7. >Unfortuanately it seems that the average driving practices in the Haredi sector are quite poor in Israel.(I am bringing this up not to promote hatred but to promote safety among all Jews.)

    As a sensitive, wussy American I am in the position to inform you that you all drive like maniacs. It's hardly a specifically Haredi problem in Israel.

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  8. Such things remind me, particularly this time of year, how people speak more loudly of what suffering via deliberate terrorist attacks is to "teach us" more loudly than they speak of what we're to learn from the larger loss of life of Israelis killing Israelis with negligent driving every year. I remember R. Aviner pointed out something to that effect around 2002.

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  9. This is no news to me. Unfortunately, as far as many RW type Jews go, safety is just another example of a seriously important issue being ignored because is comes from the “goyim”.

    Diet and exercise is another example. As far as V’shmartem goes it should be an issur d’oreisi to be obese as it shortens the life span by 10-15 years. Yet none of this impresses them. The “chumra of the week” is definitely much more important.

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  10. I've heard about people texting while driving for a while now. I think I've even seen it once or twice. To be honest, I have yet to wrap my head around the idea. It just sounds like plain and simple lunacy. I get a real disconnect when I consider it.

    Which is why Jordan's post is even less comforting than you'd think. Oh, they give hundred-dollar tickets to people who, quite simply, shouldn't be allowed in sane civilization? And then what? Let them drive on?

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  11. Natan:
    I saw a teshuva in Minchas Yitzchak years ago, that if someone violates traffic laws despite being warned, it is permissible to inform the appropriate authorities, "no matter which government is in power" (in other words, even in the Zionist entity).

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  12. A positive anecdote: Some friends of ours were recently stopped by police in a dati/charedi area of Rehovot to check that everyone was wearing a seatbelt. The officer explained that R. Simcha HaCohen Kook had specifically asked the police to check cars in the dati/charedi area. Last year, the main shul in Rehovot displayed a letter from R. Kook urging everyone to wear seatbelts. We are very lucky to have him as a Rav.

    Also, R. Yoseph Tzvi Rimon, Rav of Alon Shvut, recently had a series of articles in the popular Shabbat B'Shabbato pamphlet about the halakhic obligation to avoid danger.

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  13. I once read a book called "Traffic" by Tom Vanderbilt. In it he talks about increasing safety while driving. He mentions this service, which, according to the evidence, is extremely effective:

    http://www.drivecam.com/Family/Family.aspx

    It is a special camera that monitors drivers' conduct on the road in situations where they need to brake, accelerate or turn rapidly. If those things happen, the camera sends twenty seconds of data (ten seconds before and after the incident) for analysis to the company. They send back a report. It shows drivers where they're making mistakes.

    If safety is a mitzvah, then it is a mitzvah to publicize this product, which increases driver safety. (I have no financial relationship with the company that makes this product).

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  14. in the hebrew press we have a new hero , along with rubiskin and grossman...the minibus driver YY...

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  15. Re accidental killers - among the classic teshuvas hamishkal discussions in the Nodah Beyehuda (there are several) is one concerning a woman who accidentally smothered her baby.

    Re safety in general - the talmudic teaching "all is in the hands of heaven except for colds and heat" is that men themselves are responsible for standard precautions; one cannot blame a cold on God if one failed to wear the right clothing. Safety is probably the same.

    Re texting while driving - its incredibly dangerous. We dont need more laws and more police and more beauracracy to deal with it. We need more videos like this one, and more people spreading it around.

    DFs

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