5. All sacred books, whether they be handwritten or printed, may be rescued from a fire, a flood, and the like, even to a yard or an alleyway to which it is forbidden to carry due to the lack of an eruv, provided the yard or alley is constructed in a manner that an ‘eruv chatzeiros’ (joining of a courtyard) or ‘shitufei mevo’os’ (joining of an alley-street) could be set up. (Footnote #16: Where only a lesser d’rabanan is involved. Shulchan Aruch Harav permits carrying sacred writings even to a karmelis.) [Ed: A bit of background may be in order here to explain the terminology: Carrying into a reshus harabim (true public domain) is prohibited from the Torah. Most streets in our neighborhoods do not qualify as a veritable reshus harabim; rather, they are a karmelis (semi-public), where the prohibition to carry there is mid’rabanan/Rabbinic. When we say that a Jewish community has an “eruv”, two things are implied: 1) a karmelis (because a true reshus harabim could never be enclosed by an eruv) became enclosed within a “walled” area, by means of a series of “doorways”, constructed of walls and/or wires, and 2) The entire enclosed area was joined – lit. m’urav – into a single legal entity. (The machanics of how this joining is accomplished is complex and beyond the scope of this lesson.) In the olden days, a courtyard containing multiple dwellings was usually already enclosed by a wall, and all they needed to do was the “joining” of the dwellings into a single entity. Today, without natural walls, we first have to construct the enclosure, and then we can go on to step 2, the joining. What the halacha is stating here is that permission to carry sacred writings outside extends only to an enclosed area (step 1), that had not been joined (step 2). According to many authorities, it does not extend to a karmelis that had not been enclosed at all (i.e. lacking step 1). The footnote which cites the more lenient opinion of the Shulchan Aruch Harav extends the permit even to the karmelis without the enclosure.]
It is permitted to ask a non-Jew to rescue these books even if it means carrying through a public domain (Footnote #18: where the prohibition is mid’oraisa/Torah-ordained. Where there is no alternative, you may ask a non-Jew to extinguish the fire in order to save the sacred books. Some authorities rule that asking the non-Jew to extinguish is preferable to asking him to carry the books out. Others disagree and prefer asking him to carry out into a karmelis.)
6. Once you are rescuing the sacred books (which includes tefillin), you may rescue their bags and covers as well.
7. A Sefer Torah should be rescued before other books and tefillin.
8. When life is endangered, you may extinguish the fire yourself. Therefore, in areas that Jews reside among non-Jews, you may extinguish the fire even if it is in a non-Jew’s home. It all depends on the circumstances. It remains forbidden to desecrate the Shabbos in any way (even where a d’rabanan is involved) in order to save valuables (other than sacred books, as we have learned.)
Ed: After having quoted from the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, on the topic of emergency fires on Shabbos, I would like to quote from a more contemporary and comprehensive work, The 39 Melachos, by Rabbi Ribiat, Vol. IV, pp. 1264-1265:
“As a general rule, one may not directly extinguish a fire if it poses absolutely no threat to life, even if he stands to lose his entire fortune. For example, if he knows for a fact that his burning house or building was completely evacuated and can see no Pikuach Nefesh (danger to life) threat to any other dwellings, he may not pour water on the fire or spray it with a fire extinguisher or garden hose… One may also not call the fire department in this case, nor may he explicitly instruct a non-Jew to extinguish the blaze. However, he may notify a non-Jewish neighbor of the fire, and may even indicate, indirectly, that the non-Jew will be rewarded for calling for help or extinguishing the flames (e.g. by saying ‘Whoever calls the fire department will not go unrewarded!’)”
“It should be emphasized, however, that most home fire-emergencies are Pikuach Nefesh situations. This means that is it usually permitted to put out a sudden fire immediately and directly. Most house fires are Pikuach Nefesh because it is rare that one can be immediately certain that a home or building threatened by fire can be quickly and safely evacuated without any dangerous ramifications. This is especially true in large cities because:
- City residents are housed in large apartment buildings and multiple-dwellings that are difficult or impossible to safely evacuate.
- Buildings and structures are close to each other, thereby speeding the spread of fire and increasing its danger.
- Once a city or any part of it is ablaze, it is inevitable that at least some individuals will be caught in the flames and unable to escape.”
So, please review all that we have learned, by asking yourself some questions:
What can be done when, due to a fire-emergency, there is risk only to property? To sacred books? To human life?
In addition to all we have quoted, there remain many detailed halachos of how to indirectly put out a fire or deter its spreading, without having to directly extinguish it. These are numerous and we will not cover them all in our abridged treatment of this topic. May we never have to use these halachos!