Shabbat 115 - What can be saved from fire on Shabbat

In general, one is not allowed to extinguish fire on Shabbat, and this extends even to cases where that fire is destroying his possessions. Since one can't extinguish the fire, all he can do is save his possessions from it. Even here, there are limitations: one can only save specific items and in specific amounts. What is the rationale for this view?

A man is naturally nervous when he sees his possessions being destroyed by fire, and he may come to extinguish it, thus violating Shabbat. In order to prevent this, the Sages established a set of rules on how to behave in the face fire on Shabbat. Being mindful of these rules, one will not come to extinguish the fire. According to this, one is permitted less than not in the presence of fire, and we are talking about carrying from his house into a courtyard. On another theory, one is permitted slightly more, and we are talking about carrying into the semi-public street, or a " karmelit ". The rationale though remains the same - to stop a man from violation.

It should be mentioned that if there is any danger to human life, one should by all means extinguish the fire. Also, since in many time periods the neighbors, on seeing a Jewish property burn, might start plundeing it, then any fire became a matter of saving one's life, and any fire is to be extinguished, with the possible exception of a barn far away from people. Still, in the next few pages we will learn the laws as they were formulated in the times of the Talmud.

First, can one save holy scriptures? The answer here is yes, whether it refers to the Torah of the writings of the prophets, and whether one can read them or no. Back then, people did not read the writings of the prophets on Shabbat. That was prohibited because the writing were considered entertaining, and being absorbed in reading them one might have missed a public lecture which was filled with practical laws. Such lecture was very important to the populace, and one was supposed to attend it rather than read the prophets. Nevertheless, even such writings, unusable on Shabbat, could be saved.

Art: Egbert van der Poel - A house on fire at night with peasants coming to rescue