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Evacuating a Sinking Ship

 

Who evacuates a sinking ship first? Does the chivalrous rule of “women and children first” bear any resemblance to Jewish attitudes? With the horrifying vision in our minds of the sinking Costa Concordia ship last Friday, we can take the opportunity of this tragedy to soberly review what halakhah says about the order of evacuation

The Mishnah in Horayos (13a) states:

A man comes before a woman in matters of life (le-hachayos) and to return a lost item, and a woman comes before a man for clothing and redemption from captivity.

The apparent meaning of the first item is that if a man and woman are drowning, one should save the man first and then the woman. This has practical implications in triage situations. When, for example, EMTs are called for two emergencies at the same time and have to decide which one to pursue, should they always take the call for the man over the woman? Or when evacuating a boat, should the men leave before the women? Two great recent halakhic authorities address this issue in different ways: R. Moshe Feinstein answers by limiting the rule in the Mishnah while R. Eliezer Waldenberg rejects it entirely.

R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggeros Moshe, vol. 7 Choshen Mishpat no. 75) writes that the rule of the Mishnah only applies when all other things are equal. Thus, only if both emergency calls are of equal distance, and both diseases are equally treatable, etc., only then, in that rare case in which all things are equal, does the rule of the Mishnah apply.

R. Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer 18:1) notes that the rule of the Mishnah is not mentioned in Mishneh Torah, Tur and Shulchan Arukh. Why was it omitted? To answer this, he proposes a new interpretation of the Mishnah. He suggests that “matters of life (le-hachayos)” refers to feeding from charitable funds. Of course, he writes, when there is a literal case of life and death then we do not differentiate between people. However, when prioritizing limited charity funds and there is only enough food for one person, then according to the Mishnah the man receives priority over the woman.

This ruling of the Mishnah is contradicted by a baraisa in Kesuvos (67b) which states that, when there are limited funds for food, women are given priority over men. Thus, R. Waldenberg suggests, the posekim followed the conclusion in Kesuvos which contradicts the ruling in the Mishnah. Despite this approach being contrary to a Shakh (Yoreh De’ah 251:11) and Taz (ibid., 252:6), R. Waldenberg felt sufficiently confident in his ruling to utilize it in practical situations.

According to the above, it would seem that a sinking boat qualifies for R. Feinstein’s example of equal illness but not equal distance. If I understand his position correctly, he would advocate that evacuation should proceed according to proximity to lifeboats. In other words, everyone has to get on line and enter lifeboats in the order of that line. Similarly, R. Waldenberg would argue that the rules of priority do not apply and some other rule — perhaps also first come, first served — should apply.

 

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Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

45 Responses

  1. joel rich says:

    IMHO:
    1. The horiyot priorities (or any other ordering rule) apply to a third party trying to triage, not to the person himself (separate issue as to whether an individual can waive his right). Thus any idividual could grab a life vest and could not be forced to give it up (similarly a seat on the lifeboat)

    2.IMVHO R’EW may well have been pushed in the direction of rejecting the horiyot priority by the mimetic tradition but iirc he is fairly alone on rejecting it on this basis vs. the R’MF type approach of making it a tertiary tie breaker.
    KT

  2. Jon_Brooklyn says:

    This deserves a lot more than just exposition.

  3. IH says:

    Is there anything in Shoah-related responsa in this regard?

  4. Joseph Kaplan says:

    Can anyone imagine RMF, or any gadol, being in such a situation and saying take me first since I’m a man and that’s the halacha?

  5. Shlomo says:

    Of course, he writes, when there is a literal case of life and death then we do not differentiate between people

    You have to differentiate between people. We are talking about a case where there is only time/resources to save one of two lives. Perhaps you mean that there is no defined criterion for how you should differentiate.

  6. joel rich says:

    “matters of life (le-hachayos)” refers to feeding from charitable funds.
    ======================================
    just to be clear, in this matter r’ew was not proposing anything new but following a path to reconcile the gemara in horiyot with one in ktuvot (67a)
    KT

  7. David Tzohar says:

    There are of course other priorities other than gender. A Jew before a Goy, talmid chachamim before am haretz. But does the halacha accept the basic triage principle that the person who is most likely to be saved by the first aid is treated before someone whose condition is probably irrerversible? I am not sure.

  8. Anon. says:

    Please, there is no masechta called Horiyos. It is Horayos.

  9. Tamar says:

    David Tzohar:
    I think the implication from RMF’s teshuva — i.e., that we take into account the “pecking order” in Horayot only in the (very) rare case where no are other differentiating factors in the victims’ respective conditions and circumstances — is that the other factors take precedence. Unless RMF stated otherwise, I would imagine that he had in mind standard triage principles, or he would have expressly stated to the contrary since his piskei halacha are intended to be used as halacha l’ma’aseh..
    (Note, please, that I have not read RMF’s psak, and if he did state other factors that he thinks should be applied which conflict with triage, my assumption would be incorrect and I invite others to correct it).

  10. Moshe Shoshan says:

    No, there is Horayot and there is Horiyos. Thats how native speakers of each dialect pronounce the name.

  11. ruvie says:

    “If I understand his position correctly, he would advocate that evacuation should proceed according to proximity to lifeboats.”

    is there really a difference between number 1 on line and number2 or rather an emergency cal 5 min. away and another 10 min. away where one second could be life and death?

  12. joel rich says:

    actually R’MF only mentions chayei shaah vs. chayei olam (very temporary life prognosis vs. not so) as a decision point so I don’t think he had “standard” triage protocol in mind. Also once the doctor has started treating one patient he may not stop to treat another who comes in in the interim even though the latter had “higher priority”
    KT

  13. avi says:

    “Who evacuates a sinking ship first? Does the chivalrous rule of “women and children first” bear any resemblance to Jewish attitudes?”

    I think this article is based on a wrong assumption.

    The article implies, that the directive of women and children first, is somehow a rule about who’s life you should save. The truth is, that this rule is about saving all the lives.

    For example, on an airplane, a parent is told to first put oxygen on themselves, and then on their child. The reason for this is that if the parent passes out while trying to put the oxygen on the child, then both people get hurt.

    Same thing with “women and children first”. It is assumed that if the men go on the life boats first, then there will be nobody on the ship able to help other people or able to bring everyone to safety. But putting the women first we can be sure that the last people on the ship are able to take care of what needs to be taken care of.

    This is also similar to having the strongest person at the bottom of a pit be hoisted up last.

    So, while I would love to know the Torah sources on this topic, it seems to me that this post does not cover them.

  14. IH says:

    Tangentially, last night, I was reading Freeman Dyson’s review of Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” in the NY Review of Books. Summarizing Kahneman, he writes:

    Survival in the jungle requires a brain that makes quick decisions based on limited information. Intuition is the name we give to judgments based on the quick action of System One. It makes judgments and takes action without waiting for our conscious awareness to catch up with it. The most remarkable fact about System One is that it has immediate access to a vast store of memories that it uses as a basis for judgment. The memories that are most accessible are those associated with strong emotions, with fear and pain and hatred. The resulting judgments are often wrong, but in the world of the jungle it is safer to be wrong and quick than to be right and slow.
    System Two is the slow process of forming judgments based on conscious thinking and critical examination of evidence. It appraises the actions of System One. It gives us a chance to correct mistakes and revise opinions.

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/dec/22/how-dispel-your-illusions/

    With training, experience and, I suspect, a strong sense of ethics (/Torah, for Jews) and self-awareness, some people’s System Two overrules System One in the heat of an emergency (e.g. Captain Sullenberger on US Airways 1549). We call them heroes.

  15. Steve Brizel says:

    Isn’t this similar to a case of who gets a limited supply of medicine in a hospital ward with patients who need the identical medicine?

  16. joel rich says:

    R’IH,
    I thought of Roi Klein zll”hh when I read that. I have little doubt that the entire sugya of chayecha kodmin, diverting the arrow etc. flashed through his conscious (and unconscious) mind as he threw himself on the grenade -except we call them true bnai torah (bmotam tzavu lanu et hachayim).
    KT

  17. joel rich says:

    R’SB,
    No imho since that is a case of the third party deciding, again imho there would be no chiyuv for one not to walk over and take the medicine.
    KT

  18. joel rich says:

    Now if you want to think about an interesting question (imho) – are the priorities a torah or rabbinic requirement?
    KT

  19. Shmuel says:

    Is there an obligation on captain abd crew to go last ?

  20. Anon. says:

    I don’t know of any kehilah that pronounces a kamatz or patach like a chirik.

  21. joel rich says:

    IMHO it’s the mimetic tradition :

    http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15674434,00.html

    With his actions, Avaranas was accused of breaking an ancient seafaring law: “The captain is always last to leave a ship in an emergency.” But is this an actual regulation, or simply a legend?

    Jenisch says the captain alone is responsibleUwe Jenisch, an expert on international maritime law and a professor at the University of Kiel in northern Germany, says there’s no clause in any law that specifically states this.

    But, he adds, the rule could be deduced from other regulations: “On every ship, one person is in charge. There is a prescribed hierarchy on all ships. The captain alone is responsible at the top. He assumes command. He must direct the evacuation; so long as the ship exists, he is responsible.”

    Aside from that, it’s simply good seamanship for the captain to steer his ship like a father would his family – and that’s how the rule developed historically, Jenisch explains. “You can almost speak of customary law. However, it’s not written down anywhere,” he said

    kt

  22. shaul shapira says:

    R DR Akiva Tatz has a book on medicine, that also deals with triage issues, which I assume could be applied here.

  23. IH says:

    except we call them true bnai torah

    Fine, but both emergency leadership (this post) and altruism (e.g. soldiers sacrificing themselves to protect comrades) are universalist behaviors. The latter may even be genetic.

  24. IH says:

    typo: should be universal behaviors.

  25. Ephraim says:

    Rabbi Student,

    Isn’t there a famous Teshuva from the Chacham Tzvi about who a community should redeem if they are faced with the opportunity of Pidyon Shevuyim for two captives & they only have enough money to ransom either the man or woman?

    I don’t remember his conclusion, but I think it’s relevant to this conversation.

  26. shaul shapira says:

    Avi- The oxygen mask on the airplane is an exeption to the rule. There are plenty of oxygen masks and time to put them on. A normal case of limited number of lifeboats, a single respirator or too few vaccines, assumes the very real possibilty that you’re sacrificing one life for another.

    Anon.- It’s a lost cause. Speak to the people who say mesechtas Yuma.

  27. Holy Hyrax says:

    >Thus, only if both emergency calls are of equal distance, and both diseases are equally treatable, etc.

    How on earth would you know if the two cases are in any way equal, unless you actually go and see for yourself. You would have to first treat them somewhat to see what it ailing them. For that to occur, you have to FIRST decide to whom you go. Seems like just another loophole

    I would really like to see anyone, in any emergency situation, evaluating the equal nature of it and not helping rescue, at least the children first.

  28. joel rich says:

    R’HH,
    If the doctor can’t tell, R’MF suggests a coin flip (actually iirc a lottery)
    KT

  29. Shlomo says:

    Anon.- It’s a lost cause. Speak to the people who say mesechtas Yuma.

    Speak to the people who live in Lud or Hulon. I’ve spoken to a few…

  30. Isaac Balbin says:

    Are you suggesting this analysis on the basis of no formal rules being in place? Once there are formal rules in place, whether it’s this case, or the determination of medical priorities, or the priorities in battle. The rules that are in place may be formal or may well be “accepted rules of society”. On the latter, one can refer to saving a non jew on shabbos, which we permit Mishum Eivah. If it was a Jewish cruise boat, is someone suggesting the captain take a roll call and then save the Yidden first, and then the Goyim. These are most difficult questions. I’d suggest that any choice or decision will be met with some moral critique. I guess the thing to do for someone who is a frum captain, is to take their conditions of employment and the rules of engagement to a respected Moreh HoRaah, and work out the ground rules. Very very hard.

  31. avi says:

    “Avi- The oxygen mask on the airplane is an exeption to the rule. There are plenty of oxygen masks and time to put them on. A normal case of limited number of lifeboats, a single respirator or too few vaccines, assumes the very real possibilty that you’re sacrificing one life for another.”

    Lifeboats are not the same as a respirator or vaccines.

    Sailors, and men, can break apart the ship that is sinking and create their own lifeboats. They can build makeshift flotation devices, and can otherwise save themselves.

    Who’s ever heard of “Women and children first” in relation to vaccines!?

  32. Hareidiman says:

    Speak to the people who live in Noo Yawk or Bahsten.

  33. Hareidiman says:

    Krakow or Krukeh. Warsaw or Varshe. Rszeszow or Raisheh.

  34. Anonymous says:

    “Sailors, and men, can break apart the ship that is sinking and create their own lifeboats. They can build makeshift flotation devices, and can otherwise save themselves.”

    Huh? What if they can’t? I’m a man and can’t swim a lick.
    And if you watch the Olympics there are plenty of women that can.

    “Who’s ever heard of “Women and children first” in relation to vaccines!?”
    Irrelevant. Who’s ever heard that Talmidei Chachamim get first dibbs in certain economic situations?

  35. shaul shapira says:

    Previous comment was me

  36. emma says:

    I have to agree with Avi. It’s women and children first at sea specifically because the idea is that the most people (men and women) will survive if the most physically vulnerable are taken care of by the stronger people, and the stronger people then take care of themselves (including in makeshift ways). That men/women doesn’t exactly map on to strong/weak is irrelevant. It’s an imperfect proxy, but a proxy no less.
    There is also an idea that real men would save their women before themselves, but I don’t think that the rule is formulated exclusively for zero-sum (who takes the pie) situations. Rather, the idea is that “women and children first” makes the pie bigger, as it were.
    It is very relevant that we don’t see this rule in other situations – situations where there is not a hava amina that the people with bigger biceps will be better able to fend for themselves (such as vaccines).

  37. Nachum says:

    I think we’re reasoning too much here. “Women and children first” exists because of chivalrous rules, in which men are expected to be men and sacrifice themselves for others. Anything else is just trying to keep the concept going in an age in which chivalry is, alas, considered sexist, and the very concept of “being a man” can get one prosecuted.

  38. avi says:

    “I think we’re reasoning too much here. “Women and children first” exists because of chivalrous rules, ”

    Nachum, those chivalrous rules exist because of what Emma said, which is what I meant, but she said it better than me.

    The fact that we no longer see the “truth” of that logic is an entirely separate issue. I’d wager it’s also why the rule is not actually written anywhere.

  39. IH says:

    I suspect we’re also being ethno-centric. See what happens when, in Japan, you motion a Japanese lady to exit an elevator before you (if you’re male).

  40. emma says:

    IH, no one is claiming these are universal rules. The post was a comparison of a particular rule, which no one has said is anything other than specific to a particular culture, with halacha. Others question whether that rule is as it is presented.
    Go to Pakistan and see who gets treated first – a woman having a stroke or a man with a sprained ankle. The answer is completely irrelevant to how westerners evacuate ships.

    I should also add to my previous point that I can also imagine a chivalrous idea that a “real man” would take a bullet for a lady (though probably not a low-status woman). that is more of the zero-sum situation halacha is talking about, but again i don’t think it is quite the same as the sinking ship…

  41. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    seats on the exit row of an airplane are not available for advance reservation.

    gate agent / stewardess must physically see the passenger, and determine he / she can assist with evacuation, and not hinder.

    thus, handicapped, old timers, “weak” ppl cannot sit in those rows closest to evacuation.

  42. IH says:

    So, it turns out the origin is: a) modern; and, b) specifically British (not “Western”):

    On 26 February 1852, while transporting troops to Algoa Bay, she was wrecked at Danger Point near Gansbaai on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa. There were not enough serviceable lifeboats for all the passengers, and the soldiers famously stood firm, thereby allowing the women and children to board the boats safely. Only 193 of the 643 people on board survived, and the soldiers’ chivalry gave rise to the “women and children first” protocol when abandoning ship, while the “Birkenhead drill” of Rudyard Kipling’s poem came to describe courage in face of hopeless circumstances.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Birkenhead_%281845%29

  43. Sam says:

    Rav Moshe’s tesahuva indicates that if a boat is sinking, the men should be saved before the women.

    Btw, the Shulchan Aruch does cite this halacha in Yoreh Deah 252:8: “And if they both [a man and a woman] are going to drown in a river, one should save the man first”.

 
 

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