The upcoming Jewish holiday season, which includes three 3-day periods in which stoves cannot be turned off, presents risks of deadly carbon monoxide poisoning in homes in which the holidays are observed according to halacha, Jewish law. The holidays occur Thursday and Friday, followed by Shabbat.
The holidays are Rosh Hashanah/Shabbat, September 29-October 1; Sukkot/Shabbat, October 13-15; and Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah/ Shabbat , October 20-22. In each case, stoves cannot be turned off from the beginning of the holiday, on Wednesday evening, to the end of Shabbat.
The Orthodox Union’s Safe Homes, Safe Shuls, Safe Schools initiative issues warnings before holidays, such as Passover and Chanukah, when use of fire is part of the tradition. With the three-day observances, the risks of CO poisoning are now the area of concern. As part of the initiative, the OU urges families to replace their smoke/carbon dioxide alarm batteries prior to the holidays.
Examples of these risks occurred in the heavily Orthodox community of Teaneck, NJ during the two-day holiday (Wednesday-Thursday) of Shavuot in June in which 13 people were taken to hospitals Thursday morning with symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning from stoves that had been on since Tuesday evening. Fortunately, the injuries were not serious and most of the victims were quickly treated and released.
The Teaneck fire department noted that the risk is intensified because modern houses are better insulated with fewer air leaks than in the past, and that with the air conditioning on, windows are kept closed.
The department has noted “a spike in carbon monoxide calls in the Orthodox community,” according to a reporter for the local newspaper, the Bergen Record.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and potentially deadly gas. Because of the dangers, authorities in Teaneck met and came up with the following guidelines for carbon monoxide safety:
• All homes must have working CO detectors. We recommend the electric plug in models with a display and battery backup. A basic unit is adequate however. We recommend at least one on each level.
• NEVER HESITATE TO CALL THE FIRE DEPARTMENT IF YOUR ALARM GOES OFF! The fire department will respond quickly to check homes with multi-gas meters and remove the CO.
• Your house should have the hood above your stove vented to the outside. A hood that vents back into the kitchen will not help reduce CO.
• An alternate to the stove is an electric hot plate, UL listed, which has no flame, so does not produce CO.
• An electric crock pot, UL listed, is another alternative, which is insulated and reduces the chance of someone burning themselves.
• You should have a one foot non-combustible area around the stove and crock pot.
• NEVER use an extension cord with these devices! They require too many amps and could cause a fire. The above devices should be plugged directly into an outlet.
• If you must operate a stove, leave a window open near the stove at least one fist (approximately 4 inches), with a second window open at the opposite side of the house. This will allow some cross ventilation and a supply of fresh air.
• An electric stove with a warming drawer is another solution. This would keep food warm without generating CO.
• A future solution would be an electric stove that would turn on and off during the Sabbath and holidays as needed. The community is always looking for manufacturers who are willing to work with us.
• This is not a complete list, only recommendations.
The OU recommends that for specific questions, contact a local Orthodox rabbi.
OU | World's Largest Jewish Resource