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Is it ever permissible to break Shabbos in order to relieve someone (a human or an animal) of suffering? I am talking about excruciating suffering, not merely discomfort, and I am not talking about situations in which human life would be saved at the same time.

I am interested in to what extent Shabbos could be broken in such a situation--for example, minchag, chumras, Rabbinical prohibitions, more?

Please assume no Gentile is available to relieve the suffering.

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See MB 328:57. –  msh210 Mar 10 '13 at 16:59
Re. animals, see N'mukei Yosef (Bava M'tzi'a 17b): משום צער בעלי חיים. פסקו הגאונים ז"ל ורב אלפס ז"ל כרבא דאמר צער בעלי חיים דאורייתא והכי מוכח בפרק מפנין (דף קכח ב) דשרינן בטול כלי מהיכנו דרבנן משום צער בעלי חיים דאורייתא ומיהו דוקא בצער גדול אבל צער מועט לא דתנן בפרק משילין (דף לז א) גבי אותו ואת בנו שנפלו לבור דלא שרינן ליה להעלותו אלא יעשה לו פרנסה במקומו דלאו צער הוא כולי האי –  Fred Mar 10 '13 at 17:22
@Fred could you (or someone) summarize this in English? Sorry for my ignorance. –  SAH Mar 10 '13 at 17:24
@Fred Thanks!.. –  SAH Mar 10 '13 at 17:26
@SAH I made an error in my above comment (that I just deleted); he says that you can violate a d'rabbanan in general for an animal in great distress (bittul k'li meiheichano is soseir d'rabbanan, not a violation of muktzah). The citation from the gemara in Shabbos (128b) is: סבר מבטל כלי מהיכנו דרבנן צער בעלי חיים דאורייתא ואתי דאורייתא ודחי דרבנן (He holds that making a k'li muktza is a rabbinic prohibition and that cruelty to animals is a biblical prohibition, and a d'oraysa overrides a d'rabbanan). –  Fred Mar 10 '13 at 17:32

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