Selected Halachos relating to Parshas Vaeira
By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt
The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week.
For final rulings, consult your Rav.
MEDICATIONS ON SHABBOS: A FOLLOW UP
The last column, which reviewed the subject of using medications
on Shabbos in non-life threatening situations, elicited requests
for clarification of the halachic principles underlying the
rulings cited. In addition, several questions were posed
regarding cases that were not covered in the article. Although
we cannot address all of the issues which were raised, we will
attempt to address those which aroused general interest.
EXPLANATION OF THE RABBINICAL PROHIBITION AGAINST USING
MEDICATION ON SHABBOS:
To determine when one is allowed to take medicine on Shabbos
for non life-threatening conditions, we must focus on two
separate halachic considerations. First of all, we must
ascertain that none of the thirty-nine Shabbos Labors is being
transgressed in any way, either Biblical or Rabbinical.
Obviously, we cannot prepare medication by either grinding raw
material or mixing it; we cannot buy medication at a drug store;
we cannot put on a light to see where medication was stored, and
so on. In this regard - in determining that there is no
transgression of the thirty-nine forbidden Shabbos Labors -
there is no difference between this Shabbos prohibition and any
However, the prohibition against using medication on Shabbos
is also governed by a Rabbinical decree against using medication
on Shabbos even when no forbidden Shabbos Labor is performed.
The Rabbis prohibited unrestricted use of medication on Shabbos
for fear that it would lead to the violation of one of the
thirty-nine Shabbos Labors. The Labor which concerned the Rabbis
most was "grinding", since grinding some substance is a
prerequisite for almost every medicinal preparation(1).
Once the Rabbis prohibited using medicine on Shabbos, they
included in this prohibition any kind of treatment or procedure
which could involve the use of medicine - even if medicine is
not actually being used. The classic example in the Shulchan
Aruch is the prohibition against the old-time remedy of sweating
for medicinal purposes(2). Sweating can be induced in one of two
ways: a) by taking certain medicines which are prepared by
grinding, and b) by performing certain types of exercises. Even
though exercise is totally unrelated to taking medicine and
cannot possibly lead to "grinding", it is still forbidden to
exercise on Shabbos(3) since one could also induce sweating by
the first method - taking certain medicines which are prepared
If, however, the goal of the treatment or procedure can only be
achieved without the use of medicine, then it is permitted to
avail oneself of that treatment or procedure. For example, it is
permitted to press on a bump with a knife, since the goal, which
is to reduce swelling, cannot be arrived at by taking medicine.
Similarly, braces may be worn on Shabbos because there is no
medicine for aligning teeth properly.
Included in the Rabbinical prohibition are only actions which
heal a wound or alleviate pain. If the action merely serves to
protect a wound from infection(5) or to shield a healed wound
from being re-injured(6), it is allowed. It is permitted,
therefore, to clean and bandage a wound or to pour hydrogen
peroxide over it.
The Rabbinical prohibition includes medications only. Food and
drink, however, are permitted even when they are being consumed
for medicinal purposes. It is permitted, therefore, to drink tea
for a sore throat, to eat almonds to relieve heartburn and to
chew vitamins which serve as a food supplement(7).
QUESTION: Nowadays, when medicine is always prepared at a
pharmacy, there is no longer any fear that using medicine will
lead to "grinding". Why, then, is this Rabbinical prohibition
still in effect?
DISCUSSION: Although a minority of contemporary poskim are
inclined to be lenient with medication on Shabbos nowadays
because of the change in technique(8), the general consensus is
to reject this argument. Some of the reasons offered are as
Generally, a Rabbinical decree, once enacted, is not repealed
even when the reason behind it no longer applies(9).
There are several homeopathic remedies, such as natural herbs
and spices, which are still prepared at home and require
grinding. In fact, these types of medications are gaining
In underdeveloped countries, people have never stopped preparing
medicines in their own homes.
Some modern-day medication may lead to other Biblical Labors,
such as "smoothing" or "kneading".
In spite of the above, there are some poskim who feel that
nowadays we can be somewhat more lenient when interpreting the
Rabbinical decree. Although all the poskim agree that we may not
do away with the Rabbinical decree altogether, we may,
nevertheless, find some room for leniency in case of severe
distress or pain (even if the pain is localized and does not
require bed rest)(10).
QUESTION: Why did the Rabbis suspend the prohibition against
taking medicine when one feels weak all over or bad enough to go
DISCUSSION: The Talmud rules that the Rabbis suspended many of
their decrees for a person who can be classified as "ill", even
if not dangerously so. Thus, for example, it is permitted to
instruct a non-Jew to do anything which a patient may require on
Shabbos, since instructing a non-Jew is a Rabbinical
prohibition. Since taking medication on Shabbos is a Rabbinical
prohibition, it is suspended when the patient can be classified
as "ill". The poskim agree that when one has fever, feels weak
all over or feels bad enough to require bed rest, he can be
classified as a "patient not dangerously ill" and medications
are permitted to be taken(11).
Since "requiring bed rest" and "weak all over" are subjective
terms, it is up to each individual to determine his personal
pain threshold. Consequently, one who feels that he must lie in
bed for his condition, may take medication on Shabbos even
though other people in the "same" condition would not go to bed.
As stated earlier, there is no requirement to be overly
stringent when judging the degree of illness(12).
In addition, healthy infants and babies till the age of three
(and according to some poksim even older children till the age
of six(13) or nine(14)) are also halachically classified as
"patients not dangerously ill", which means that the Rabbinical
prohibition against taking medication is suspended. They are
permitted to take all forms of medicine(15), provided that no
Biblical prohibitions are transgressed.
QUESTION: Often, orthodontists instruct their patients to place
a wax-like material on their braces in order to prevent
soreness, or to prevent the braces from cutting into the gums,
cheeks or lips. The wax is placed on the braces and then pressed
on the teeth. Is it permitted to do this on Shabbos? =
DISCUSSION: Merely placing the wax on the braces and pressing it
on the teeth should be permitted. There is no Biblical
prohibition being transgressed, nor does this procedure fall
under the Rabbinical prohibition against medicine, since the wax
does not heal any condition. Rather, it protects the area from
potential abrasions or cuts which is permissible on Shabbos.
A problem could arise, though, if the wax-like material is
smoothed down on the braces when (or after) it is applied on the
braces. To smooth it down may possibly be a transgression of the
Biblical Labor of "smoothing" and would be prohibited. It is
proper, therefore, to instruct those who need to use wax on
Shabbos not to smooth it down. The wax should just be dabbed on
the braces and pressed down.
[It is possible to argue that smoothing down this wax-like
material is not considered "smoothing" at all. Natural wax,
which is strictly forbidden to smooth down, is a drippy
substance which needs to be smoothed down in order for it to
harden and serve as a filler. [The natural wax described in the
Shulchan Aruch(16) is used to fill a hole in the wall of a
barrel]. The texture of the synthetic, pliable wax-like material
usee in orthodontics, however, is altogether different and is
meant to be pounded and pressed into a number of shapes and
thicknesses. "Smoothing" may not apply to it at all(17).]
The clumps of wax should be broken off before Shabbos, because
it is questionable if it is considered "tearing" to do so on
1. Mishnah Berurah 327:1.
2. O.C. 328:42.
3. When the purpose of the exercise it to work up a sweat, see
Beiur Halachah, ibid. If the purpose of the exercise is to work
up an appetite, it is questionable - see Sha'ar ha-Tziyun 301:9.
If the purpose of the exercise is to lose weight, it is
prohibited, since weight loss can be (partly) accomplished by
taking pills. If the exercise is for pure enjoyment, it may be
permitted according to the basic halachah. A rav should be
4. Mishnah Berurah 328:130.
5. O.C. 328:23 as explained by Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras
Shabbos K'hilchasah 35, note 17). See Tzitz Eliezer 11:37 who
permits drinking certain oils (like castor oil) to aid in the
6. O.C. 328:27. See Igros Moshe O.C. 3:54.
7. Note, however, that the purpose of many vitamins is not to
serve as a food supplement but rather to strengthen a weak body
or to relieve certain symptoms. In the opinion of many poskim,
those vitamins may not be taken on Shabbos, see Igros Moshe O.C.
3:54 and Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 34, note 85, quoting Harav
S.Z. Auerbach. See, however, Titz Eliezer 14:50 who takes a more
lenient approach concerning vitamins on Shabbos.
8. The complex preparation entailed in manufacturing modern
medicine is another reason for leniency, since it may be argued
that the Rabbis were fearful that "simple" and quick Labors such
as grinding would be transgressed; they did not fear that
someone would engage in the lengthy and involved processing
9. See Igros Moshe O.C. 2:100 for a general explanation of this rule.
10. See Minchas Shabbos 91:9; Ketzos ha-Shulchan 134:7; Chelkas
Yaakov 4:41; and Tzitz Eliezer 8:15-15. See also Minchas
Yitzchak 3:35 who permits taking aspirin for a headache when one
is in severe distress.
11. Entire paragraph based on O.C. 328:17 and 37 and Mishnah
Berurah, ibid. [Note that although Shulchan Aruch rules that a
shinui is required for Rabbinical prohibitions to be suspended,
the general consensus of the poskim is that this restriction is
waived when taking oral medication. When using other
medications, however (such as ointment) it is proper to employ a
shinui, see Mishnah Berurah 328:85 and 130.]
12. See Tzitz Eliezer 14:50-7 and 17:13.
13. Tzitz Eliezer 8:15-12.
14. Minchas Yitzchak 1:78.
15. [Note, however, that not all of a baby's needs are exempted
from the prohibition against medication, see, for instance,
Mishnah Berurah 328:131 and 330:36. See Tehilah l'David 328:24
who deals with this difficulty.]
16. See O.C. 314:11 concerning this case.
17. See a somewhat similar ruling in Tikunim u'Miluim 14:39
concerning pliable ear plugs, where Harav S.Z. Auerbach rules
that no smoothing applies.
18. See Beiur Halachah 340:13
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