Dear Members and Friends of EB,

By now, you have surely heard about the terrible tragedy that struck a Jewish family in New York this past Shabbat. The Sassoon family of Brooklyn, who had just moved to the United States from Israel a year ago, lost seven of their eight children in a horrible fire that began in their kitchen with a Shabbat hotplate. The tragedy is unfathomable and it personally took me two days to begin to digest what has befallen the family. I was so numbed by the tragedy, I could not even begin writing this letter.

Aside from grieving alongside the parents and remaining daughter - identifying with the trauma of the family, it is incumbent upon us to learn some lessons from the incident and apply those lessons in our own lives. It is in that spirit that I write you today.

As we approach Passover, the issue of how to both run our kitchens in keeping with halacha and custom - and ensuring the safety of our families - demands our attention.

Let me restate the obvious: Pikuah Nefesh - the saving of a life - pushes aside the restrictions of both Yom Tov and Shabbat! Even a possible danger to life - "safek pikuah nefesh" - overrides the prohibitions of Shabbat and Yom Tov. Anything that must be done to save a person from danger is not only permissible to do, but is an unequivocal mitzvah to do!

That said, not every situation is considered a danger that pushes off Shabbat and Yom Tov; for less urgent situations, like a sprained ankle, or an upset stomach, there are different guidelines. Feel free to contact me for advice in such situations. Those who end up traveling on Shabbat or a Yom Tov to a hospital or clinic should also be aware of proper procedure once the urgent situation has been dealt with; I am also available to discuss these situations at your convenience.

Of course, we want to avoid unnecessary danger. Please feel free to contact me by email ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) if you wish to discuss proper procedure in your kitchen for Shabbat and Yom Tov and how to balance Jewish custom with personal safety. I will be sending out an additional email before Passover reviewing many of the things we have to know prior to the Hag.

A colleague of mine sent a list of recommendations out to his congregation. I have reprinted his recommendations following this letter.

Wishing you a Pesah Alegre and a Happy and Kosher Passover!

Rabbi Meyers

A partial list of recommendations by Rabbi Akiva Males

1) Each floor of our homes should have at least one smoke detector
2) Each home should have at least one carbon monoxide (CO) detector near the sleeping areas (please ensure all smoke / CO detectors are in working condition)
3) The batteries in those detectors should be tested / replaced whenever the clock is changed
4) Every home should have a simple-to-use and highly accessible fire extinguisher on each floor
5) Create and familiarize your family with a fire emergency plan
6) Shabbat / Yom Tov candles should be lit in a safe place (i.e. on a sturdy and non-flammable surface, away from curtains, out of reach of children / pets, etc.)
7) If gas stoves / ovens are left on, a kitchen window needs to be left open a few inches to provide ventilation (thereby avoiding potential CO poisoning)
8) Electrical appliances (i.e. hot water heaters, crock pots, hot plates, etc.) should be UL listed
9) Extension cords should not be used for kitchen appliances
10) Only 'heavy-duty' electrical timers should be used with kitchen appliances
11) In all emergencies, do not hesitate to call 911