Eliahu Leiba from Israel wrote:
As we approach the Year 2000, many especially in the computer field will be asked by their management to provide round the clock support during the transition from December 31, 1999 to January 1, 2000. This transition occurs Friday night, on Shabbat. In many companies, an argument will be presented to the employees that their support is a matter of "pikuach nefesh" (life and death). Some employees will be told that the software they are knowledgeable about provides a vital service either in Israel or abroad (e.g. telecommunications, infrastructure, aircraft monitoring systems, water supply, etc.). Much pressure will be placed on the employee in an attempt to convince them to work that Shabbat. Please provide a general checklist of halachic criterion as to what constitutes pikuach nefesh with respect to requiring desecration of Shabbat. This would enable your readership to respond in a respectful and intelligent way when told, "We would like you to work on Shabbat, since if your software breaks, so and so can happen and it is a matter of life and death."
Dear Eliahu Leiba,
It is a commandment to break Shabbat in any and every manner for "pikuach nefesh" saving a life. Even in a case of a shadow of a doubt of a doubt. Example: A building falls, but chances are it was empty; and even if someone was inside, chances are he's already dead; and so on. Even so, we must dig out the rubble, even on Shabbat, in order to possibly save the life of someone who may be buried underneath.
If someone has the chance to save a life, but refrains from doing so because he fears breaking Shabbat, he is called a murderer. Certainly, then, if a person's services are needed to prevent possible loss of life, he is indeed required to work even on Shabbat.
But what constitutes a life-threatening risk in regard to the so-called Y2K bug? Is your job one that requires your presence at the turn of the "millenium?" And if so, are there ways to do your job just as well while minimizing the Shabbat desecration (for example, writing "macros" before Shabbat which minimize the amount of buttons that need pushing)? This is a complex issue with many factors. If you think your job requires your presence the night of Dec. 31, there's still time left to consult a rabbi who is a qualified halachic authority. The rabbi, after consulting technical experts in the field, will decide each case based on its own individual merits.
It's interesting to note that, besides being the millenium on the Christian calendar, this year is a millenium of sorts from a Jewish perspective too. This past Tisha B'av marked 1930 years that Jews have been living in the shadow of the destruction of the Second Temple. Add to this the 70 years of Babylonian exile between the First and Second Temples, and you get exactly 2000 years that the Jewish nation has lived without a Holy Temple.