This past Chol HaMoed Shabbos a near tragedy was averted by a quick-thinking Orthodox Jewish man, when he noticed that a driver was stopped at a stop sign on Empire Avenue right before the corner of Reads Lane. The problem was that the driver had fallen fast asleep with his foot on the brakes. The person noticed the imminent danger and acted quickly.
The car was running, but the Jewish man was unable to awaken the driver and all four doors of the sedan were locked. The incident occured near Mincha Time right in front of the Agudah of Long Island in Far Rockaway, New York.
“This is a very busy intersection with tons of foot traffic,” remarked Sam, a young man who witnessed the event.
If the driver were to inadvertently move his foot in his sleep, he could possibly run over innocent victims. Plus, the area was a heavily walked site next to two very popular synagogues with numerous kids around as well.
After calling the authorities to deal with the driver, the Orthodox Jewish man took a kitchen knife and punctured the tires so that the car would be unable to move forward. Later, firemen smashed the glass windows and placed the car in park. At that point, the sleeping driver awakened. A Hatzolah ambulance was also on the scene.
There are two questions. The first question is whether it is permitted to have punctured the driver’s tires on Shabbos or not. The second question is whether the person doing the puncturing should have made sure to puncture the tires in such a manner that the tires can still be repaired. When a tire is slashed on the sidewall it cannot be repaired. If it is cut on the treading of the tire itself then the tire may be plugged up at a tire repair shop. Is the tire-slashing hero responsible to pay?
In regard to the first question, the Halacha is quite clear.
The Shulchan Aruch (OC 316:10) explains that a wild dog may be killed on Shabbos even if it is not chasing a person. The reason is that it is considered a danger to other people in the neighborhood and for purposes of Pikuach Nefesh it is permitted to address that danger. Cars kill people on a regular basis and an unmanned car is certainly as great a danger as a wild dog.
Furthermore, the slashing of the tires is destructive in nature – mekalkel, which is only a Rabbinically forbidden prohibition. This is demonstrated throughout the Talmud and the Poskim (see for example Mishna Brurah 314:7). Certainly then, there is no doubt that it would be permitted.
As far as the second question goes, there is a fascinating passage in the Talmud (Bava Kamma 117b). Apparently, a donkey was travelling on a ship and started running amuck, going back and forth, endangering the people on the ship. Another passenger decided to throw the donkey overboard. Rabbah declared the person exempt because there was issue of Rodef involved.
One can make an argument that the person could have lassoed or knocked down the donkey and subdued him as well. Nonetheless, the Halacha is in accordance with Rabbah and the person is exemt.
Thankfully, the quick-thinking person was there and slashed the tires to save lives. We, the people of Far Rockaway thank him.
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