On March 6 2022, several popular Facebook posts shared an image and story about how Ukrainian-speaking Chabad emissaries spent Shabbat making phone calls to urge Ukrainian Jews to evacuate; a version of the post was broken up into several tweets on the same day:
Shabbat is holy day of rest for Jews, with prohibition against working or using electronics. But these Ukrainian speaking #Chabad emissaries worked around the clock to save Jews in #Ukraine. Because Jewish law puts saving lives over everything. 1/ pic.twitter.com/EovpWOcqx4
— Arsen Ostrovsky (@Ostrov_A) March 7, 2022
The second chronological post on Facebook credited the text of the story to user Bruria Efune. Efune referenced the period between sunset on March 4 2022 and sunset on March 5 2022, and explained the event shown:
Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest. Religious observance of Shabbat includes a prohibition against operating electricity – which means not even touching phones and other electronic devices.
But this past Shabbat was different. Because Jewish law puts saving lives over everything.
Ukrainian-speaking Chabad emissaries and volunteers spent the whole day on the phone, trying to convince Ukrainian Jews to leave before it’s too late.
The volunteers went through every phone number they had, often patiently explaining to the elderly Jews the significant danger ahead, as missiles are now falling on civilian homes, and escape routes are closing in.
Then the callers provided detailed instructions on how to securely reach the busses and carpools arranged by Chabad that will bring them to safety outside of the battered Ukraine.
One such emissary was Rabbi Silberstein from Chernigov. His young daughter was distraught and confused.
“Tatty (daddy), it doesn’t feel like Shabbat when you’re on the phone the whole time.”
“You’re right,” he answered her. “But thank God we got to coordinate 13 cars to leave Chernigov over Shabbat! That’s 13 cars with 5 people in each one – we got to save 65 worlds! How fortunate we are!”
Pictured: A Chabad operations room, with volunteers organizing busses for Ukrainian Jews. This picture was not taken on Shabbat.
Efune alluded to a specific period of weekly observance (Shabbat), during which time observant Jewish people are not permitted to engage in certain activities. As noted, using the telephone is one such restricted practice:
The Sabbath (in Hebrew, Shabbat , pronounced shah-BAHT–or in some communities, Shabbos, “SHAH-bis”) may be Judaism’s most distinctive and characteristic practice, as well as one of its most pervasive and long-lasting gifts to Western civilization.
A weekly 25-hour observance, from just before sundown each Friday through the completion of nightfall on Saturday, Shabbat is more than just a day off from labor. It is a day of physical and spiritual delights that is meant to illuminate certain key concepts in the traditional Jewish perception of the world.
Chabad.org explains that the rules pertaining to Shabbat are “quite complex.” Preparations are made to avoid use of certain technologies, and a commonly observed restriction involves the use of a telephone.
Consequently, observant Jewish people almost always abstain from labor and use of technology in the 25-hour-long period cited:
The Shabbat laws are quite complex, requiring careful study and a qualified teacher. At first, it’s often overwhelming and seems like an impossible number of restrictions. But spending shabbat with others who are shabbat observant will show you that eventually, you, too, will become comfortable with the Shabbat laws, as long as you realize that becoming shomer shabbat (shabbat observant) is a gradual process rather than an overnight transformation … Let’s start with some basic activities from which we refrain on Shabbat:
- writing, erasing, and tearing;
- business transactions;
- driving or riding in cars or other vehicles;
- using the telephone;
- turning on or off anything which uses electricity, including lights, radios, television, computer, air-conditioners and alarm clocks …
One version of the image appeared on Reddit’s r/Judaism on March 6 2022, and it did not include the text of the Facebook and Twitter versions:
That post linked to a March 6 2022 article on Anash.org, which had a headline that shared the title of the Reddit post. It reported:
Russian-speaking Shluchim and bochurim in Eretz Yisroel and New York worked non-stop on Shabbos calling Jews in Ukraine and convincing them to flee the county before it’s too late.
Not your usual sight on a Shabbos afternoon.
Russian-speaking Shluchim and bochurim in Eretz Yisroel and New York spent the whole shabbos [of March 5 2022] on the phone, calling Jews in Ukraine to convince them to flee the county before it’s too late.
Dialing every cellphone and landline they could reach, the group of volunteers patiently explained to many elderly Jews the significant danger facing everyone who remains in the country as missiles and bombs fall on civilian areas.
Anash.org provided further context about outlying scenarios such as the effort described, adding:
In fact, the Alter Rebbe says in Shulchan Aruch, that when a situation of Pikuach nefesh arises, “Anyone who acts wholeheartedly to desecrate the Shabbos [prohibitions] in a situation of mortal danger is praiseworthy.” [Shulchan Aruch: Chapter 328 s. 13]
Viral, circulating Facebook posts described a March 5 2022 effort during which “Ukrainian-speaking Chabad emissaries and volunteers” took the unusual step of spending the Sabbath on the phone, frantically trying to contact and evacuate Ukrainians. The effort was chronicled by Anash.org, which involved volunteers in New York and Israel. As the text and the article noted, suspending observances “in a situation of mortal danger” is considered not just permissible, but admirable.