The world was recently bewildered by a strange Jewish practice that apparently prevents a man from delivering his own baby. A husband whose wife was in labor flagged down a tow truck driver to deliver the baby because the husband was religiously forbidden to touch her. I believe that the husband’s actions are justifiable halakhically and practically, although normative rulings would not require such extreme action. The general rule is that a husband and wife may not touch each other during her nidah time. A woman about to give birth is also classified as a nidah (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 194:1; see in detail R. Zvi Sobolofsky, Hilchot Nidah, pp. 14-17). Therefore, a husband may not touch his wife while she is giving birth.

Tow Truck Baby

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I. Nidah and Childbirth

The world was recently bewildered by a strange Jewish practice that apparently prevents a man from delivering his own baby. A husband whose wife was in labor flagged down a tow truck driver to deliver the baby because the husband was religiously forbidden to touch her (link). I believe that the husband’s actions are justifiable halakhically and practically, although normative rulings would not require such extreme action.

The general rule is that a husband and wife may not touch each other during her nidah time. A woman about to give birth is also classified as a nidah (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 194:1; see in detail R. Zvi Sobolofsky, The Laws and Concepts of Niddah, pp. 14-17). Therefore, a husband may not touch his wife while she is giving birth.

II. Ill Wife

However, if she is sick and needs assistance that requires touching, then the husband may help her. The Rema (Yoreh De’ah 195:16) rules that if a sick woman who has a nidah status has no one to assist her yet greatly needs help then her husband may do anything necessary (mutar ba-kol). The Rema requires two conditions before the husband may help his wife: 1) she greatly needs help, 2) there is no one else to help. Meaning, the husband is forbidden to touch his wife if there is someone else to help. The Radbaz (Responsa vol. 4 no. 2) rules that the husband must even hire someone if no one will help for free. If we take the Rema at face value, then the husband who looked for someone else to help was doing the right thing.

The Rema’s position may not be that simple. While he clearly requires finding someone else to help a sick nidah wife (by help, I mean help that involves contact), he is not clear how sick the wife is. Is she seriously ill (ein bah sakanah) or deathly ill (yeish bah sakanah)? The Gra (ad loc., no. 20) assumes the discussion revolves around a wife who is deathly ill. Even in such a case, the husband must try to find someone else to help, if possible.

III. Seriously Ill Wife

However, most authorities assume that the Rema is talking about a woman who is seriously, but not deathly, ill. In such a case, a husband should hire a nurse to take care of his wife but if he cannot, then he can help her himself (Chokhmas Adam 116:11 [implied]; Arukh Ha-Shulchan, Yoreh De’ah 195:27; Beis She’arim, Yoreh De’ah 274; Darkhei Teshuvah 195:51; Badei Ha-Shulchan 195:187).

According to this second, normative view, does a husband have to look for someone else to help when his wife is deathly ill? R. Feivel Cohen (Badei Ha-Shulchan 195, Bi’urim sv. vy”o de-im) attempts to prove that the Rema is speaking about only a serious illness from the first condition listed above–the permission only applies if she needs his help a lot. If a wife is deathly ill, writes R. Cohen, then the husband may help if there is any need whatsoever for him (af be-tzorekh kol dehu). In other words, the Rema’s first condition does not apply to such a situation.

IV. Who Will Help?

I have not seen any authority rule that the Rema’s second condition does not apply in a case of a deathly ill wife, and for good reason. If someone else can help her in a fashion equal to or greater than the husband’s ability, why should he do it in an otherwise forbidden way when the other person can do it in an entirely permissible way? Let’s say the husband and a female nurse are standing beside the bed of a deathly ill woman who is a nidah and requires an arm massage to increase circulation. Of course the nurse should do it. She has no prohibition to override while the husband does. Better to do it permissibly rather than by overriding a prohibition.

However, delivering a baby is more complicated. We are not dealing with just the prohibition of a husband touching his nidah wife but also gazing at and and touching a woman’s private area (albeit during childbirth). Every Jewish man is forbidden to do this, regardless of whether the woman is his wife, absent a life-saving need.

V. Delivery

I suggest, albeit tentatively, that the husband who flagged down someone to help was doing the right thing in trying to secure either a woman or gentile to assist. He must even hire someone to help if necessary; certainly he must try to ask someone to help. If no help was forthcoming, then he should delivery the baby himself.

An additional consideration is that almost anyone is more qualified to deliver a baby than the father, who is usually so nervous that he cannot properly function. Add in the unusual roadside circumstances and you have a very jittery man. A stranger is probably better for the wife. Of course, the wife is probably uncomfortable with a strange man delivering her baby. The exact calculus of which is greater–the physical benefit of a clear-thinking man or the psychological detriment of a strange man–seems impossible to resolve on any general basis. Every case is different.

Of course, this all assumes that he had sufficient time to find someone. If not, he would be endangering his wife’s and his baby’s lives. From the fact that he was successful, we can deduce that either he had enough time to ask for help or he was lucky. My two youngest children were extremely quick deliveries but I seem to recall time for brief discussion (by the doctor, not me) during the final moments.

In the end, I can’t condemn the man. He may have done the halakhically proper thing. It all depends on so many factors that we cannot evaluate from a brief news report. Most important to note is that he did not abandon his wife; he sought help. If no one was available to assist, he would certainly have delivered the baby himself rather than abandon his wife and newborn to child to an uncertain fate.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazine and the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

60 comments

  1. Charitable. Is there anything in the ShuT literature on a case where Reuven and his wife were travelling between towns and the wife went into labor?

  2. Labor? Not that I know of. Got ill? Yes, Radbaz col. 4 no. 2.

  3. “Gazing at _and touching_” are prohibitted?

  4. And even re gazing is there not some room todistinguish gaze from see, or to say tarud bimelachto (can that apply to nonexperts?). Not to mention that I think some are mekil in general…

  5. Forgive me if I’m misunderstanding the post, but regarding a woman who is in labor – we certainly treat her as a cholah sheyesh bah sakkana.

    As such it would be permissible for a husband to touch her even if it is not for a lifesaving activity, as we pasken that kol tzorchei hacholeh is mutar like the maggid mishna (i.e. holding her hand during the delivery), assuming that it is something she wants. In this instance I guess we don’t know if the woman was happier with a stranger delivering her baby…

  6. You didn’t mention what I believe is the major halachic construct at work here: Chasid Shoteh (I am using the term as it appears in the Gemara Sota 20a and not ethnographically, the article does not make clear what denomination the father is other than Orthodox).

    As R. Michael Chizkiyah makes clear in his sefer Refuas Hashabbos (available in English here http://www.targum.com/excerpts/medicine.html), all the “guidelines” re: preferred leniencies for treating a sick person, are when the situation is calm – then use a shinui, Shabbos goy, katan, pasken like daas yachid, etc. When the situation is critical, these considerations are overridden and only the saving of lives is regarded.

    I believe the same would apply here. The husband should call an ambulance and then be with his wife providing her with whatever she needs until professionals arrive on the scene, even if he needs to touch her, or accidentally looks at her ervah. If the husband is unable to function psychologically or technically, it would be reasonable to ask for help on those grounds, but not to endanger the lives of his wife and child because of halacha – isn’t that the whole point of v’chai bahem?

    When checking this out, I saw that R. Zilberstein rules the same way in Toras Hayoledes page 64. He starts by saying that if there isn’t time to make it to the hospital, one should wake up the female (presumably because of the issues you raise) neighbors even by making a ruckus to get help. BUT if he is alone, he must do everything necessary by himself DESPITE THE PROHIBITION OF NIDDAH (emphasis mine). He references Yoreh Deah 195:17 (referring to a doctor treating his wife) and then mentions that he should only do what is urgent until help arrives.

    Clearly we don’t have all the details in this case but from the tow-truck driver’s quote, we can surmise that the baby was very close to being born when the husband called for help.

  7. Noone in particular

    I think the phrase you are looking for is ‘chassid shoteh’.

    If you need to think so hard about how dumb what this guy did, you are missing something. Marc Shapiro posted once a story of (i think) rav a. shapiro who heard students asking if it was bal taschit if you removed some cucumber when you peeled it. the rav said it was assur t allow students to get to the point when they ask such dumb questions.

  8. see any relationship?

    http://www.vosizneias.com/108667/2012/06/25/jerusalem-charedi-woman-gives-birth-during-vow-of-silence-hiding-newborn

    Jerusalem – Charedi Woman Gives Birth During Vow Of Silence, Hiding Newborn

    Educational question-what is the preffered trade off for a society in terms of shmirat shabbat and negative medical outcomes(i.e. what if the cost of never having anyone violate shabbat in this manner is 10 negative health outcomes, is that the best?)
    KT

  9. Glatt some questions

    I think the first question to ask is whether or not a mother about to give birth to a child is an issue of sakana. If it is (and I think there is much halachic justification to make that assumption), then all of the other issues are trumped by the need to make certain that her life is preserved–and anything else that might be done to compromise her health is halachically prohibited, even if it is normally the proper course of action to take.

  10. It would seem to be axiomatic (zil kri bei rav) that help should be provided by whoever will be most effective since we treat labor as a dangerous event (cholah she yesh ba sakana.) That being the case, the husband may or may not have been correct to flag down the tow truck driver, depending on his emotional state and expertise. He was certainly wrong to say that Jewish law prevented him from assisting even in an emergency. It is astonishing to me that he didn’t know that.

  11. Mike S: He was certainly wrong to say that Jewish law prevented him from assisting even in an emergency

    I believe this is inaccurate. Jewish law only allows him to assist if there is no one else.

    All comparisons to Shabbos are incorrect. Hilkhos nidah is different.

  12. Use of the term “chasid shoteh” only applies if he would have let his wife die. I see no indication that this is correct and don’t understand why people are not being dan le-khaf zekhus.

  13. To Emma’s point — or at least my reading of it — it seems to me there is an underlying issue here that we have briefly discussed in the past: one’s view of halacha and (married) sex.

    Leaving aside the issue of menstrual cycles, my understanding is that Gil believes that a man is not allowed to enjoy sexual activity beyond his obligations to procreate or to satisfy his wife. I have no doubt that he has a textual basis for this, but I find it alien to my MO education (school and home) and frankly somewhat disturbing. But, I can’t help thinking that is a salient contextual issue coloring how one thinks about this reported incident beyond just being charitable to the (hapless) father.

    For me, the linkage — which I slept on, before commenting — was Gil’s paragraph what drew Emma’s attention:

    However, delivering a baby is more complicated. We are not dealing with just the prohibition of a husband touching his nidah wife but also gazing at and and touching a woman’s private area (albeit during childbirth). Every Jewish man is forbidden to do this, regardless of whether the woman is his wife, absent a life-saving need.

  14. IH: my understanding is that Gil believes that a man is not allowed to enjoy sexual activity beyond his obligations to procreate or to satisfy his wife

    Nonsense

    IH: “Every Jewish man is forbidden to do this, regardless of whether the woman is his wife, absent a life-saving need”

    If this is the passage you find troubling, I ask that you stay as far away from possible from my wife. Eishes ish is among the most serious offenses.

  15. Gil, you are correct.

    Niddah is different than Shabbos – having relations with a Niddah may be even more strict to the extent of yahareig val yaavor. But we are not talking about Niddah here. These are harchakos. Where is the D’oraisa? The husband’s OCD about not touching or seeing his wife’s erva should not be stronger than her caring about her physical well-being or the baby’s. Even if he feels unable to function – he should tell the driver that, and not that halacha prohibits. That way he could have avoided another important factor which I think may be at play here – chillul Hashem.

    Chassid Shoteh, as I understand it, is not defined by the outcome but by the (thought) process. If a woman drowns because the man doesn’t want to touch her, and then someone fishes her out and doctors manage to save her, the person who stood by is still a chassid shoteh? The point is (at least according to Rambam on that mishnah) is that he allows his zehirus to cloud his judgement.

    Your limud zechus is nice but IMO not correct and potentially misleading to others who will see contact between husband and wife as a relevant consideration when there is danger to life.

  16. First, this was never a discussion of what was halachically permissible but basic common sense in an emergency situation. At the point you allowed that the husband could have assisted his wife halachically, then it becomes a basic common sense question of why he did not.

    Halachically one might be allowed to burn down their empty house to impress the neighbors. That doesn’t mean it makes sense to do so.

    Also, lets disregard one argument made here: “An additional consideration is that almost anyone is more qualified to deliver a baby than the father, who is usually so nervous that he cannot properly function.” That would not be a religious argument (which was the supposed basis for the husband/father’s actions) and would have equal applicability to any father. Yet where does one see such an argument in this kind of emergency situation? You don’t. Which casts doubt on that line of reasoning.

    Your discussion barely touched on the life and safety of the baby, and how that should have interplayed with the chumra you are defending here. Moreover, even if you want to allow that behaviour was not idiocy – and that is overthinking this situation – you should not support his actions on public policy grounds. People should act to save lives in emergency situations and not be encouraged to partake in “stringency” that might contribute to tragedy.

    You’re saying he isn’t a chasid shoteh but would have assisted if it came to it and this story is distorted by the semi-falsehood the frazzled and panicked father told the non-Jew who assisted him because the Jew still had the presence of mind to act on this chumra; well, then, he opened himself (and us) up to this critique. What he told that guy was idiocy. And frankly to be so concerned about chumra when your the safety of your wife and unborn child is on the line is shocking … and idiocy. Instead of a Shabbos-goy we have the “Birthing-goy,” the strange guy you prefer to touch your wife’s privates and save your family when you will not.

  17. Eric: These are harchakos. Where is the D’oraisa?

    The Rema assumes that these are derabbanan and still only allows when there is no one else.

    The husband’s OCD about not touching or seeing his wife’s erva should not be stronger than her caring about her physical well-being or the baby’s

    OCD?!? We don’t know the details of the situation but arguably HE ACTED CORRECTLY according to halakhah. You call that OCD?

    Even if he feels unable to function – he should tell the driver that, and not that halacha prohibits

    Did you read the post? Arguably, halakhah does prohibit if someone else is available. Do you think the Rema requires behavior that qualifies as OCD?

    Your limud zechus is nice but IMO not correct and potentially misleading to others who will see contact between husband and wife as a relevant consideration when there is danger to life

    So if my wife is going into labor, I shouldn’t take her to the hospital but should instead sterilize my tools and get to work?

  18. HAGTBG: First, this was never a discussion of what was halachically permissible but basic common sense in an emergency situation

    Yes, and I am saying that this was incorrect, perhaps halakhically faulty because it fails to judge the husband favorably.

    At the point you allowed that the husband could have assisted his wife halachically, then it becomes a basic common sense question of why he did not

    Who says he ever reached that point? If a man had flagged someone down for help, none of you would be complaining that he endangered his wife. But when he claims that halakhah required him to flag someone down, suddenly he’s a chasid shoteh.

  19. IH, Gil, my basic question was where the prohibition on “touching” comes from. I am only familiar w the sources re gazing. My second question was whether any incidental sight is necessarily “gazing.”
    A more fundamental disconnect is arising between those who see this situation primarily as “woman in danger” (itself not obvious – wome can usually deliver alone if abs necessary) or “naked woman who is a niddah.”. True, she is both. But our modern intuition finds it difficult to emphasize the latter given the obviously nonsexual context.
    Also, gil, you “stay away from my wife” comment was just obnoxious.

  20. >So if my wife is going into labor, I shouldn’t take her to the >hospital but should instead sterilize my tools and get to work?

    No, but if your wife is _birthing_ you should be at her side (or at her front) and not flagging down the tow-truck guy. Birth is a process that includes labor (often many hours) and delivery (usually a matter of minutes). I suggest that if the tow-truck guy gets out of the truck, reaches in and takes out the baby, that is not “going into labor,” that is delivery. There was no time and the baby could have been on the floor and/or losing or gaining blood from the mother. The time factor is the critical distinction here.

  21. This post is disconcerting to me, and apparently to several readers. I don’t understand how there is room for pilpul here. Is this a case of a Jewish person(s) life being in danger? If the answer is even POSSIBLY yes then doesn’t the halacha obligate you to do whatever is necessary to save that life? Isn’t it misleading to portray this in any other light? What if, God forbid, it leads someone else to act similarly with less successful results?

    Is there a reason to be melamed zechus on someone who put his wife and unborn child at risk?

    Rabbi, at the very least, I believe you need to clarify this post for your readers.

  22. IH:

    “Leaving aside the issue of menstrual cycles, my understanding is that Gil believes that a man is not allowed to enjoy sexual activity beyond his obligations to procreate or to satisfy his wife. I have no doubt that he has a textual basis for this, but I find it alien to my MO education (school and home)”

    you learned in your MO schools that man is allowed to enjoy (married) sexual activity?

    GIL:

    “We don’t know the details of the situation but arguably HE ACTED CORRECTLY according to halakhah.”

    but wouldn’t he have equally been acting according to halakhah had he delivered the baby himself?

    “From the fact that he was successful, we can deduce that either he had enough time to ask for help or he was lucky”

    i don’t understand the premise of this entire post. the question (in my mind) isn’t whether or not one has enough time to find someone else to deliver the body, but rather whether one has enough time to find a competent person to deliver the baby. barring unusual circumstances as in the present case, one has time to arrange for delivery by a healthcare professional, undoubtedly a competent person. but in an emergency to flag down a complete stranger whose level of competency is compeltely unknown?! we’re not talking about getting a shabbos goy to flip the lights in shul.
    i don’t understand the entire post. i understand your premise that one should try and get someone else

  23. GIL:

    “Arguably, halakhah does prohibit if someone else is available”

    a complete stranger?

  24. r’ gil – “We don’t know the details of the situation but arguably HE ACTED CORRECTLY according to halakhah.””

    so to if i treat my slave according to halacha. doesn’t make it acceptable. maybe you can say he doesn’t have to bring a korban chatat but to say he acted properly when his wife is endanger or he did not create a hillul hashem?
    maybe we should be machmir on pikuach nefesh like the stories of reb chaim on eating on yom kippur?
    btw, no one else was available – saw there was no real justification to flag anyone down unless he was incompetent.

  25. is it forbidden for a male doctor to see a woman’s genitalia?

  26. I think that R Gil explained the relevant halachic considerations, as well as the distinctions between Hilcos Nidah and Hilcos Shabbos. IIRC, doesn’t have R Henkin in ShuT Bnei Banim discuss the issue of a husband serving as a Lamaze coach for his wife?

  27. If a man had flagged someone down for help, none of you would be complaining that he endangered his wife. But when he claims that halakhah required him to flag someone down, suddenly he’s a chasid shoteh.

    Again, this is not a question of halacha but common sense in an emergency. Getting assistance at that point makes sense. Deferring to an authority in these things makes sense (i.e, had the truck driver said “I’m slso an EMT,” and then taken over the delivery I don’t think anyone here would question the choices made). But, the point where the husband preferred a strange man to do the delivery over himself, that became a decision based solely on religious-based scruples and not safety. And that is where people are faulting him. If he could do it himself -and, again, you have said he could halachically – he should have preferred to do so based on this situation. That is common sense. Instead, you defend such behavior by citing to stringent views concerning niddah. Your defense is we should assume it was never a true emergency but how would he have known, if he’s such a non-expert in these things and we are talking about things that took place over a few minutes?

  28. As long as we’re guessing, perhaps we might posit a situation where we have an individual who does not like to take responsibility and thus used halachic cover for what inherently was a psychological decision (not at all saying this was the case, but I have heard there are people who wrap themselves in the Torah to justify doing something that to others might appear to be driven by other stimuli)
    KT

  29. Obviously it’s different if he panicked and was unable to do it himself. But if his reasoning was purely halachic – what on earth made him think that whatever random person who stopped would be capable of delivering the baby? Note that this was very close to the end, so there was no time to call or depend on an emergency vehicle reaching them. If the husband was at all capable then he did indeed put both mother and child at risk, assuming he could rely on anyone who stopped, not to mention anyone stopping at all.

  30. my understanding (via the kitzur shulchan aruch) is that during childbirth, a woman can ask for anything she wants. So, if she wants a cheeseburger during labor, this is permissible.

    is this not correct?

  31. Again, according to halakhah he is supposed to be find someone else to deliver the baby, if possible. If not, he should do it himself. That is precisely what he did.

    Everything else is speculation, which I think we should (must?) do in his favor. That is what being dan le-khaf zekhus is about.

  32. I say that R Gil makes cogent arguments here, and I agree. The man, like others, may be queasy about such things. He quickly reached out for help. The “delay” did not endanger mother or child. Seeking help is not a delay. Asked by the tow truck operator why he couldn’t deliver the baby himself, the slightly embarrassed man sidestepped, and said it was religion.

  33. R’Gil,
    Yes for the past, but not to learn halacha lmaaseh as a general rule.
    KT

  34. Gil

    >Again, according to halakhah he is supposed to be find someone else to deliver the baby, if possible. If not, he should do it himself. That is precisely what he did.

    Until what point? Of course facts are few, but if the truck driver indeed delivered the baby before any emergency vehicle arrived (I don’t know if he called 911, but I assume at some point it was called) then there really was not much time at all. Surely the truck driver was not there for an hour before the baby finally emerged into the world. With so little time, how do we say he should have been standing on the side of the road flagging while his wife was so close to delivery?

    Elliot

    >The man, like others, may be queasy about such things. He quickly reached out for help. The “delay” did not endanger mother or child. Seeking help is not a delay. Asked by the tow truck operator why he couldn’t deliver the baby himself, the slightly embarrassed man sidestepped, and said it was religion.

    All the psychological explanations are fine as far as they are, but we don’t know what happened beyond what details we were told and that is how both Gil and the commenters are assessing it.

  35. Gil,

    Should the father have lied to the truck driver and said he is scared of the sight of blood (or some such excuse) instead of blaming his religion? Is it mutar to lie in such a case?

  36. GIL:

    “Again, according to halakhah he is supposed to be find someone else to deliver the baby, if possible”

    again, in a normal situation one secures the assistance of a health care professional. but in this type of emergency situation it is preferable to flag down a complete stranger? again, this isn’t the same as flipping the light switch in shul on shabbos.

    ELLIOT PASIK:

    “Asked by the tow truck operator why he couldn’t deliver the baby himself, the slightly embarrassed man sidestepped, and said it was religion.”

    there was another option. he could have kept his mouth shut. or yes, he should have lied. e.g., his cell phone was dead and he was trying to flag down someone to call 911, and then in the rush of things that person ended up delivering the baby. sounds plausable to me. surely we can come up with a pilpul permitting one to lie in this situation. (on the other hand, surely some will argue that what the man did was actually a kiddush hashem and he demonstrated to the world the fealty of the frum jew to hashem. sure they will look at us like we’re fanatic nuts, but they don’t understand our relationship to hakadosh boruch hu.)

  37. Nonsense

    Gil — I refer you to your comments in: https://www.torahmusings.com/2011/11/sexuality-and-jewish-tradition/comment-page-1/ Most specifically:

    […] what most people would conclude from learning Gemara, Rishonim, mussar, etc. Do the least possible and don’t enjoy it.

    Emma — thanks for the clarification.

    Abba — Yes, we were taught that sex was a gift that was to be enjoyed within the context of taharat ha’mishpacha. Gil’s message above was certainly never aired.

  38. On re-reading the thread, I note that I misstated that Gil believes this. He writes:

    I didn’t say I endorse it or follow it. That is what emerges from the clear majority of sources — including Rambam and Shulchan Arukh — and is the source of Rav Lichtenstein’s dilemma.

    I still believe the point I raised above, though: that this meta-issue of sex in halacha is a salient contextual issue coloring how one thinks about this reported incident.

  39. Although an issur caret, Niddah is not gilui arrayot (for example, the child of such a union is absolutely not a mamzer) and is certainly waived for pikuackh nefesh (the sugya is, IIRC in Sanhedrin; if I remember I might look it up). [It differs from the case discussed in Sanhedrin (I think 85a) of healing based on relations or even ogling a different women. And the poskim there debate the reason for not even permitting gazing to save him- but neither reason offered is applicable to his wife in childbirth] And that would be even if, somehow, actual relations were involved in the life saving. The harchackot are certainly waived for pickuach nefesh. I don’t know enough about the people involved or the circumstances to know whether he should have gotten help or delivered the baby himself. But there can be no doubt whatsoever that the safety of the mother and baby would override the prohibition of touching his wife. Look at it this way, if the father was an obstetrician and the baby a breach, would anyone suggest he should still flag down a tow truck driver?

  40. not so clear. Some think that it is gilui arayot

  41. IH:

    “Yes, we were taught that sex was a gift that was to be enjoyed within the context of taharat ha’mishpacha. Gil’s message above was certainly never aired.”

    really? in which school? i went to a pretty open school (YofF). we did have a section in halacha class in senior year on hilchos ishus, but i don’t recall learning that sex is a gift, etc. (of course neither did we learn the puritanical version.) truth is halacha was last two periods on friday and i had a tendency to leave early. maybe i missed it that class, but i’m sure would’ve heard about it on monday!

  42. MIKE S:

    ” if the father was an obstetrician ”

    who gave the father a heter to become an OB?

  43. RM: Yes, but they are, I believe, not normative. And in any event that would refer to relations and not harchakot.

    Nor is the fact that, in hindsight, no harm resulted from the time needed to flag down the driver dispositive. The question is did the delay increase the risk to either mother or child, not did they get lucky. The story has not been reported in enough detail for us to assess it.

  44. “The question is did the delay increase the risk to either mother or child . . . The story has not been reported in enough detail for us to assess it”

    Which of course does not stop the leitzanim from interpolating their own facts and condemning the man. The very opposite of being dan le kaf zechus, but hey, the man was probably Charedi, as that mitzvah does not apply with regards to him.

  45. “Nor is the fact that, in hindsight, no harm resulted from the time needed to flag down the driver dispositive. The question is did the delay increase the risk to either mother or child, not did they get lucky.”

    I think the question is whether the man PERCEIVED delivery was imminent or not. It has happened on many occassions that women in labor think they have several hours to go, and then they deliver quickly. (My wife told me a story about a woman in our town who was attending a dinner when her water broke. She stayed on a while, thinking she had plenty of time to get to the hospital. Her husband drove her there afterwards, and the baby ended up being born at the toll booth of the NJ Turnpike. So, yes, women in labor, and hence their husbands, sometimes don’t realize that delivery is imminent.)

  46. IH: Thank you for correcting your misreporting my view.

    I still believe the point I raised above, though: that this meta-issue of sex in halacha is a salient contextual issue coloring how one thinks about this reported incident.

    I believe that the respect given to issurim and the ability to read reports charitably colors how one thinks about this incident.

  47. The two beliefs are not in opposition. My initial comment was in agreement with respect given to issurim and the ability to read reports charitably. My second is a reflection on a meta-issue that may explain some of the divergence in views expressed.

  48. I’m not interested in passing judgment on someone I don’t know based on a brief media report; the number of things that could have been gotten wrong or omitted are boundless. However, I do find this defense, based on the facts known, to be puzzling.

    (1) I was told that when I was giving birth – in a hospital, surrounded by doctors – if something went wrong, and I panicked and grabbed my husband’s hand, that was permissible because I was a choleh sheyaish bo sakana and my perception of my own needs took precedence.

    (2) I cannot imagine any woman who would prefer to have some random stranger deliver her baby rather than her husband. I’m not saying such women don’t exist, but barring evidence to the contrary, I find it difficult to believe that this was the wife’s preference here. And when giving birth, especially without drugs, the wife’s state of mind is extremely crucial.

    (3) I also find it hard to imagine that a random stranger suddenly thrust into this situation would be more careful and painstaking than the child’s own father.

    (4) If this man had any expertise in childbirth, obviously he should have assisted rather than a stranger. If he had no expertise, then there is NO WAY he could have known just how close his wife was to giving birth (or to any unforeseen pre-birth emergency). So there’s also no way he could have known that flagging down a passing truck would not have caused a delay during a crucial moment.

  49. I believe that ALL women in labor are considered to have the status of ” cholah yeish bah sakanah”. If that is true, then we are dealing with a situation of pikuach nefesh vadai, and all other halachic prohibitions are pushed aside-including the laws of niddah- in order to assist the birthing woman- including the prohibitions of touching and gazing.

  50. Gil
    “IH: “Every Jewish man is forbidden to do this, regardless of whether the woman is his wife, absent a life-saving need”

    If this is the passage you find troubling, I ask that you stay as far away from possible from my wife. Eishes ish is among the most serious offenses.”
    I still don’t understand what additional prohibition over nida is being invoked in our case where they are married. Also, what about the woman’s issurim during nida, regardless of who the man is.

  51. “Everything else is speculation, which I think we should (must?) do in his favor. That is what being dan le-khaf zekhus is about.”

    In this case we should not be dan lekhaf zechut so no one will think that this is the right thing to do and do something so stupid if they are put in the same situation.

  52. Even if Gil is completely correct about his reading of the halacha (I’m not convinced that this situation, based on the facts we have, qualifies as “others are around to help”), or his assumptions about the emotional and factual background to the case (less plausible than other readings, but not impossible), the fact still remains that the husband’s decision to excuse his behavior by affirming that it is mandated by Jewish law was infuriatingly stupid.

    This has been, to say the least, a major chilul Hashem. All of my gentile coworkers – lovely people who are understanding and even admiring of religious practice – were flabbergasted by this story when it got out. And I don’t blame them. Even if the husband was as emotionally unstable as Gil insists, all he had to say to the trucker (and news reporters!) was, “I was too nervous to deliver my wife by myself”…and then this all just becomes a beautiful human-interest story about one stranger helping another. No chilul Hashem at all.

    No amount of apologetics in the world can erase this point.

  53. Unless we’re speaking of mipnei eivah, since when is halacha concerned with popularity or what other people think?

    —–

    My observation is that Gil will always find a way not to condemn some behavior if there is a smidgeon of textual support in halachic sources for that behavior. He may not endorse it, but he will defend it as legitimate enough from a halachic perspective to assert it should not be condemned as such.

    It seems to me the more interesting question is why some communities choose to teach such behavior when there are legitimate halachic alternatives that are more amenable to our metziut.

  54. Another point. As we can see that there is a fair amount of halachic complexity, even after the fact. Wouldn’t it be all the harder to be able to evaluate the halachic calculus during those moments of pressure?

    My neighbor is a Gerrer chosed and he claims that his “minhag” is not to even accompany his wife to the hospital when she gives birth. I, a stranger drove his wife to the hospital, along with my wife. Because his minhag is so harsh to begin with, if a new situation arose that added some complexity to his “usual” way of dealing with his wife’s childbirth, such as a sofek pikuach nefesh, as in this story, he’d probably lean to the side of chumrah. As is probably the point of his minhag, to cause him to be more “machmir”.

    I recall a psak of R’ Moishe regarding Hatzalah, something along the lines of Hatzalah being allowed to violate all the laws of shabbos without having to evaluate each one as it is happening to ascertain if it is fully necessary to save a life. Because the very act of thinking and evaluating, could waste valuable moments needed to save a life.

  55. I think, and I suspect that a number of commentators here have been really trying to say this, without managing to say it directly, that the real problem at the heart of the posting is a failure to see the wood for the halachic trees.

    Our problem as a community is that we do not understand the concept of tzniut. In our community it is all about sleeve length and skirt length. But tzniut ultimately means privacy, the protecting of the holy from inappropriate exposure. The preservation of marriage is bedrocked in the privacy of the couple, and much of the tzniut requirements are aimed at the preservation of that relationship.

    One of the few things that pushes this aside is the reality of the danger to mother and/or baby in a birthing situation. We put all this aside to allow trained medical personel to deal with the risk. But part of knowingly becoming a medic with involvment in this area is an awareness of this. When I was imminently about to give birth in a busy maternity waiting ward of a national health hospital in England, the medical personel had the presence of mind to take the brakes off the bed I was on and tear (at around 100 miles an hour, my husband said) down the corridor to the first room, any room, which was empty, and where, a few moments later, I gave birth. Not because I was Jewish and frum, but because of the basics of human dignity and of prying eyes.

    Thus, in a bedieved situation (which this clearly was), which approach, the husband delivering the baby, or some complete male stranger without the medical training to deal with it, having access to the most intimate parts of the woman, is most in consonance with the guiding principle of tzniut?

    None of the peoples of the world with any sense of modesty and morality would make this mistake – no Muslim would, no religious Xtian would. This is why the Persians of this world are praised (see Brochos 8b) for their modest behaviour. The point is that even if the husband’s action could be halachically justified, it should still fall within the category of naval b’reshut haTorah.

    Tzniut (real tzniut, not competitive, sleeve length tzniut) is a component of derech eretz, and like all forms of derech eretz, needs to be kodem l’torah. If one does not know and understand basic morality, one can end up doing very odd things with halacha, and justifying being metameh a sheretz. That, I think, is the real problem here.

  56. shachar haamim

    I’d have to say that this story fits into the “new religion” category http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/frumer-than-god/2012/07/02/0/

    “We are not dealing with just the prohibition of a husband touching his nidah wife but also gazing at and and touching a woman’s private area (albeit during childbirth). Every Jewish man is forbidden to do this, regardless of whether the woman is his wife, absent a life-saving need.”

    what’s the basis for saying that this is forbidden?

    “My neighbor is a Gerrer chosed and he claims that his “minhag” is not to even accompany his wife to the hospital when she gives birth.”

    the “customs” of Gur chassidim in all that has to do bein ish leishto are probably the peak of extremity when it comes to “new religion” orthodox Judaism. Gur chassidim effectively rape their wives once a month (and perhaps more if they get permission from their marital relations commandant). You think a man such as this – who was probably raised in a household that suffered from the problems caused by years of this – is even remotely capable of accompanying his wife to deliver a baby and to deliver the emotional support needed??? trust me the wife is probably much better off with a “normal” friends husband.

  57. shachar haamim

    “It seems to me the more interesting question is why some communities choose to teach such behavior when there are legitimate halachic alternatives that are more amenable to our metziut.”

    because “new religion” in this area filters down – even to the modern orthodox community.

    Thankfully some people are doing something about it.
    http://musaf-shabbat.com/2012/06/08/%d7%9c%d7%93%d7%91%d7%a8-%d7%90%d7%aa-%d7%94%d7%aa%d7%a9%d7%95%d7%a7%d7%95%d7%aa-%d7%9c%d7%90-%d7%9c%d7%94%d7%93%d7%91%d7%99%d7%a8-%d7%90%d7%95%d7%aa%d7%9f-%d7%9c%d7%99%d7%98%d7%9c-%d7%a7%d7%a4/#more-8982

    Even in Gur there is an anti “derech of the Beis Yisroel” movement.

  58. shachar haamim

    “Do you think the Rema requires behavior that qualifies as OCD?”

    why do you take it as a given that NOTHING that was codified in halacha reflects OCD type behavior?

    “(2) I cannot imagine any woman who would prefer to have some random stranger deliver her baby rather than her husband. I’m not saying such women don’t exist, but barring evidence to the contrary, I find it difficult to believe that this was the wife’s preference here. And when giving birth, especially without drugs, the wife’s state of mind is extremely crucial.”

    in many traditional societies the men never participated in child birth. Now its true that the Western world has evolved and Judaism has gone along with most of that. But don’t believe for a second that a haredi woman who doesn’t want here husband at the birthing bed – or a husband who doesn’t want to be there – has anything to do with harking back to some quaint orthodox Jewish version of little house in the shtetl where the womenfolk gathered around and boiled water in anticipation of childbirth.
    No – it has to do with perversions in the education of matters connected to beyn ish leishto which have filtered into mainstream orthodox thought.

  59. Jerry wrote:

    “This has been, to say the least, a major chilul Hashem. All of my gentile coworkers – lovely people who are understanding and even admiring of religious practice – were flabbergasted by this story when it got out. And I don’t blame them. Even if the husband was as emotionally unstable as Gil insists, all he had to say to the trucker (and news reporters!) was, “I was too nervous to deliver my wife by myself”…and then this all just becomes a beautiful human-interest story about one stranger helping another. No chilul Hashem at all”

    Where is the Chillul HaShem? The husband merely was following what he understood what was the accepted halachic protocol-try to find someone else to deliver the baby so as to obviate any possible transgression of Hilcos Nidah. Like it or not, we cannot and should not expect our secular Jewish and/or Gentile co-workers to comprehemd or admire our practices which seem foreign to contemporary sensibilities-and Hilcos Nidah would be one of many in this regard which would fit that definition.

  60. “Rema requires two conditions before the husband may help his wife: 1) she greatly needs help, 2) there is no one else to help. Meaning, the husband is forbidden to touch his wife if there is someone else to help.”

    I know this is a few days old, already but it seems to me that the Rema’s second condition is specifically if there is a doctor around to help. Not just anyone. That seems to me to make a difference in this case.

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