Jun 23, 2020

Interesting Psak: Chilul Shabbos to Develop a Corona Vaccine

A doctor who is also a researcher at Mount Sinai Hospital, sent a question, via his own rabbi, to Rav Asher Weiss in Jerusalem. This doctor is a member of a small team doing non-stop research for the development of a vaccine against CoronaVirus.

This doctor sent the question asking if the research and development of this vaccine against Corona to save thousands of people is considered pikuach nefesh so that he could work on Shabbos to develop the vaccine, and could he have a non-Jew drive him to the hospital on Shabbos so he can do his work. He would also need to use his computer, which only violates rabbinic transgressions. So, Dr Researcher wants to know if for pikuach nefesh to save lives form the CoronaVirus in the future can he be lenient regarding the use of the computer and having a non-Jew drive him to the hospital to work on Shabbos?

Kikar is reporting that Rav Asher Weiss disagreed with the assertion that use of the computer is only a rabbinic transgression. Rav Weiss paskened that any use of electricity and electronics is a violation of a Torah-based prohibition of work on Shabbos.

Rav Weiss further paskened that one cannot be lenient about this. There are tens, or even hundreds, of medical institutions and research groups working hard to develop a vaccine. It will still take many more months before a vaccine will be ready for use among the general public.

Will all the people working on development of a vaccine not take a single vacation day or sick day to keep working on this non-stop because it is so important? Even during a crisis, that is how research works. It takes time and people don't work on it non-stop. Rav Weiss suggests that instead of working on Shabbos, he should go to work an hour or two earlier each day during the week.

The work is not considered pikuach nefesh because it is impossible to designate a specific amount of time for the completion of the work to develop the vaccine.

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  1. I am not questioning the psak, but find it strange that there is no indication that the Rav made specific inquiries as to the particular nature of this researcher's role and the nature of his work.
    Nor how his weekly absence would effect the progress of the research of this group.
    Nor whether the Mt Sinai group is pursuing a path that is uniquely promising.

    Instead, he makes all kinds of assumptions.

    Perhaps the questioner should have explained this in the first place, but we do have telephones and email today. How hard would it have been to ask for more information?

    It's not the psak that troubles me. If the facts are as the Rav presented them, then this very well could be what Hilchos Shabbos dictates.

    However, I am troubled by the process,a process whereby law is determined, seemingly without first making a serious attempt to ascertain the facts.

  2. to be fair, it is possible all that was discussed and clarified and the article about the psak just left out the boring details. or maybe not.

  3. The full psak is embedded in the article.
    Clearly, it hinged on the Rav's understanding of the facts, largely based on assumptions.

    For instance, that there is nothing especially promising about the Mt Sinai approach and that all vaccines and all researchers are essentially interchangeable. And that the work doesn't need to be done on a daily basis, as opposed to needing to be done over a certain number of hours every week. Or that the researchers work as a team and that they all have to be there at the same time. etc, etc, etc.

    1. Or that the researchers DON'T work as a team and that they all DON'T have to be there at the same time. etc, etc, etc.


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