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Tragic loss in Brooklyn sounds alarm across the Jewish world

During a time when we are preparing our homes and communities to celebrate the joyous festivities of Passover, a painful tragedy has muted our joy.
[additional-authors]
March 26, 2015

During a time when we are preparing our homes and communities to celebrate the joyous festivities of Passover, a painful tragedy has muted our joy. 

Last Friday night, a malfunctioning electric hot plate set off a fire that killed seven children in Brooklyn. The world lost seven beautiful souls, children of Gabriel and Gayle Sassoon: sons David, 12; Yehoshua, 10; Moshe, 8; and Yaakov, 5; and daughters Eliane, 16; Rivka, 11; and Sarah, 6. The mother Gayle and 15-year-old Siporah managed to escape by leaping out of the second-floor windows and are in critical condition, in need of our prayers.

God didn’t sacrifice these children to convince us that keeping Shabbat is dangerous or an anathema to modern life. God didn’t take these precious lives from the world because of our sins. God took these seven souls back, away from this terrestrial existence, for reasons beyond our comprehension. It leaves a gaping hole in the lives of their family members, and such a shocking loss reverberates throughout the Jewish world.

However, as a parent, and as an observant Jew who uses an electric hot plate and a holiday candle, the tragedy is a loud alarm to me, and hopefully to everyone, about the need for increased vigilance and safety in our community. 

May God comfort the families of those precious children who perished and heal the injured.

The Torah commands us protect our lives, and those of others: “Guard yourself and guard your soul very much” (Deuteronomy 4:9). According to Jewish law, it is a duty to take all due precautions and avoid anything that may endanger life. “Anyone who violates such prohibitions, saying, ‘I’m only putting myself at risk — what business is that of anybody else?’ or ‘I’m not particular about such things’ deserves a lashing, while those who are careful about such things will be blessed” (Choshen Mishpat 427, 8-10).

Every family that cares for keeping the sanctity of the Sabbath also must care for the sanctity of life and take extra precautions to ensure the safety of our homes. 

Following are some guidelines in accordance with Jewish law:

All families must install dual-sensor smoke and fire alarms and additional carbon monoxide alarms around their homes, test them weekly, and gently vacuum them monthly. They should be installed in bedrooms, hallways, attics and basements; you can check the National Fire Protection Association website for details.

[MORE: Food safety guidelines for Shabbat observance in accordance with halachah:

To enjoy warm food on Shabbat, electric hot plates should be used with an appliance timer, which turns off at bedtime and back on in the morning. On Shabbat, solid foods should remain on the cooled hot plate overnight. On yom tov, when it is permitted to cook, any food can be placed back on the hot plate in the morning. 

Cholent or hamim can be cooked safely in an electric slow-cooker overnight. Remember to remove the pot insert from the slow cooker before serving the cholent in order to avoid stirring a cooked food in a cooking vessel. Also, the slow cooker can be put on a timer to turn off after your meal time.

Leaving a gas range on a low flame is common practice whether on Shabbat or on yom tov among Orthodox families — please be very cautious. Try to find alternatives. On Shabbat, use a metal blech to cover a low flame. On yom tov, any time the flame is not being used for cooking, cover with a pot of water. If a flame goes out  — turn off the gas immediately.

Ovens that have built-in Sabbath modes — which override the auto-shut-off function for the duration of a three-day holiday — have been tested for this use and are designed to safely operate for 72 hours.

We have a sacred duty to protect life. By educating ourselves, and protecting our families and communities with diligence in these and other safety issues, we are fulfilling that mitzvah. 

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