- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Observant Jews from the Pittsburgh area say the tragic house fire that killed seven children in New York City on Saturday has reinforced the need to use reliable kitchen equipment and smoke detectors for Sabbath use.

“It definitely highlights the importance of people being extra-careful that whatever is done is being done in a safe manner,” said Rabbi Yisroel Altein, director of Chabad of Pittsburgh, an Orthodox organization.

Authorities said the middle-of-the-night fire started with a malfunctioning hot plate, a device often used to keep food heated on the Sabbath - when traditionally observant Jews do not cook or light burners between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday.

Compounding the tragedy was the apparent lack of smoke detectors above the basement level. The flames consumed the home’s only stairs, trapping the Sassoon family members on the second floor, authorities have said.

The tragedy reverberated throughout observant Jewish communities worldwide, including Pittsburgh’s. “It’s definitely something we’re thinking about,” said Rabbi Sam Weinberg, principal of Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh, an Orthodox Jewish day school in Squirrel Hill. “We take safety very seriously.”

While there haven’t been organized campaigns specifically about Sabbath precautions, “there always is informal discussion,” said Rabbi Weinberg. “People are always concerned about fire safety.” The school has given lessons on fire safety during the December holiday of Hanukkah, which involves the lighting of candles on a menorah.

The detailed regulations of Sabbath observance have ancient spiritual roots.

The Torah, or Jewish law, includes an obligation to observe the Sabbath as a day of rest and worship, hearkening to the first chapter of the biblical book of Genesis, which says God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day of the week.

The eminent 20th century theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote that for religiously observant Jews, the Sabbath is a “sanctuary in time,” carving out a sacred time much as a cathedral creates a holy place.

And like a cathedral, the Sabbath day involves an intricate architecture that sets it apart from workdays - dozens of dos, such as prayers and communal worship, and don’ts, such as prohibitions on sowing, reaping, cutting, cooking and lighting a fire.

In modern times, rabbis have interpreted fire-lighting to include turning on an electrical switch, although a fire lit before the Sabbath can be kept burning.

As a result, observant Jews typically prepare their meals for the Sabbath before sundown on Friday.

Some use hot plates, turned on before sundown Friday, to keep the food warm or such things as slow-cooking crockpots.

Others keep a burner lit on a stove, which is then covered by a copper or other material known as a “blech,” derived from the Yiddish word for tin, according to the website of Chabad, an international Orthodox organization. Pots and pans can be moved around on the blech depending on the heat needed.

Many modern ranges, which typically have an automatic shut-off after a given number of hours, have a “Sabbath mode” which overrides that feature and also disables such things as the oven light so that it doesn’t turn on when the door is opened.

Still other families plan to eat cold meals to avoid the need for keeping a burner going.

Several people noted that while there have been some tragic Sabbath kitchen fires in past years in New York, many thousands of Jews use such appliances without incident each week.

Liz Greenfield of Squirrel Hill, a secretary at the academy, said she typically uses an electric skillet, whose temperature can be more precisely set than an old-fashioned hot plate.

But, she added, “the number one thing is a smoke detector.”

For those who might struggle to afford newer and safer kitchen equipment, the Hebrew Free Loan Association of Pittsburgh might be able to help, said Aviva Lubowsky, director of client and community relations. The nonprofit agency, more than a century old, offers no-interest loans for home improvements to people regardless of religion based on financial need.

“It’s all well and good to know” the safest measures, she said. “But some of these things can be costly, depending on the improvements that need to be done.”

___

Online:

https://bit.ly/1CYa5DR

___

Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, https://www.post-gazette.com


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide