Given that one may not intentionally injure herself - see Rambam (Chovel U’mazik 5:1 and Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 420:31) who rules that it is forbidden for a person to injure herself. Moreover, many authorities have opined that the prohibition is a Torah Law (see Rashba 1:647; Tumim 27:1).

May one intentionally cause herself to experience pain by refusing painkilling medication offered during a medical procedure?

see also Bava Kama 90b

  • 1
    Looks like it. Thanks. I wonder, though, why you think the prohibition on self-injury may extend to self-pain-infliction. But I suppose answers can deal with that issue.
    – msh210
    Dec 13, 2012 at 17:30
  • @msh210 that's basically my point, we're getting to a more granular definition of injure
    – user2110
    Dec 13, 2012 at 17:43
  • 2
    Well, you go beyond self-pain-infliction to self-pain-non-avoidance, actually.
    – msh210
    Dec 13, 2012 at 19:52
  • I don't see how allowing yourself to feel pain is injuring yourself (really translation is damaging). In short words: allowing yourself to feel pain is completely Mutar because it's actual damaging. Dec 13, 2012 at 20:04
  • @HachamGabriel am I allowed to mentally abuse someone? Doesn't damage include tzar?
    – user2110
    Dec 13, 2012 at 20:22

4 Answers 4


Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel [EDIT: was rumored to have] refused to take medication for his Parkinson's [EDIT: supposedly] because he felt it reduced his mental acuity and feared it would interfere with/cause him to forget his learning.


A friend with Parkinson's recently told me that he had heard this rumor (which dates back over a decade; I heard it for the first time in 1997), and that he strenuously objects to the publicizing of the rumor. In his opinion, there are certain drugs associated with Parkinson's treatment that one is required to take, and by promoting this rumor as a means to inspire people, he feels it does an injustice to R' Finkel ZT"L's memory.

While my friend cannot refute the rumor (and I cannot substantiate it), he surmised that R' Finkel may have refused a particular drug, perhaps very long ago, which may have led to this story/rumor spreading.

I can attest as an eye-witness, having met R' Finkel twice, that he did exhibit severe Parkinson's symptoms that made it look like he did not take treatment, or at least not the treatments commonly used to reduce the spasms associated with the disease.

  • This is interesting, but here though it is injury to avoid a different injury.
    – Double AA
    May 14, 2013 at 4:22
  • 1
    En Lemedim Halachot MeMaasim. Aug 12, 2013 at 5:08
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    My friend asked R. Nattan Tsvi Finkel if the rumor was true, and he was dismayed and shocked that they were spreading false information about him. He insisted that he frequently takes medication (by now I forgot how frequently), and that the story was completely false.
    – mevaqesh
    Dec 8, 2017 at 0:14

If I'm not mistaken there's a responsum of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein that if a woman in labor prefers to go "natural", i.e. without an epidural, she may do so. If I recall from the language Rabbi Feinstein is sort of shrugging as to why a woman would want such a thing, "but if she believes it's better for her or her baby, alright fine."

I suspect a broader answer would have to do with a cost-benefit analysis. If someone would rather avoid the painkillers because their side effects (e.g. constipation) are worse than the pain, that's one thing. If there are theoretically no side effects and someone just wants to suffer, that's more of a philosophical question. Recall that Judaism is not a faith that values suffering per se -- we value strong commitments, and an ability to overcome suffering is a sign of great commitment. (Rabbi Shalom Carmy has an essay about this in regards to the "December dilemma" -- I don't want my kids to feel one iota of deprivation for being Jews, so I'll shower them with consumer junk every December and call it "Hanukah celebration." Then my kids never learn that Judaism can be worth it even if it's not always so easy.)

Rabbi Hershel Schachter is of the opinion that decisions whether to pursue medical treatment are left up to the patient, within a range of what's considered reasonable. Aggressive chemotherapy vs. palliative care for a 70-year-old with advanced cancer? That's probably the patient's decision. A 20-year-old will live to 70 if he has a limb amputated now, or else he'll die within a year? There's only one "reasonable" choice here. I'd be curious how that plays out with questions of pain management, rather than procedures intended to "cure" a condition.

  • but if she believes it's better for her or her baby, alright fine. Doing what you believe is best for your baby is hardly proof that it is permissible to cause yourself pain in a normal case.
    – mevaqesh
    Dec 8, 2017 at 0:15
  • Almost none of this, if any, is relevant to the question at hand. "Is it permissible to voluntarily undergo physical pain". Not "It is permissible to perform one medical operation instead of another".
    – mevaqesh
    Dec 8, 2017 at 0:17

Beezrat Hashem, I quote from Britannica online encyclopedia:

Pain is a complex experience consisting of a phsyiological and a psychological response to a noxious stimulus.

Pain is a warning mechanism that protects an organism by influencing it to withdraw from harmful stimuli.It is primarily associated with injury or the 'threat' of injury.

Pain responses are learned in early childhood and are affected by social, cultural, psychological, cognitive and genetic factors among others.

Chronic pains are attributed "to a functional disorder or persistent irritation of the nervous system"

Pain, in other words, is your feeling of 'there is something wrong and I have got to do something about it'.The 'what to do'however, varies.

At times the call is to act and at times the call is to convince yourself of having done your part and thus vier your thoughts elsewhere and let the pain subside saying 'message heard'.

A person thereby need not have pain even without administering any painkillers.One can choose to persuade himself of his playing his part already and thereof not feel any pain for there is no message for him via the pain being sure that he has done his part.

Now that we clarified somewhat the essence of pain,truthfuly speaking, administering painkillers may be comparable somewhat to one ignoring the root and placing a bandaid in its stead.Although it is not expected of anybody to strive towards that direction, however one who's heart is telling him 'perhaps you are ready for that'would do a comendable act, as for him to(soak up or)receive painkillers would vier from an opportunity of growth on that account.

Although we don't foresee one to acquire the strength of psyche and personality to conform and yield himself to compliance gare, and thereof have pain when not administering painkillers, nevertheless having let oneself decide on his plan of action and be at ease with the moment's condition and hereby put effort into a step forward towards complacency and contentment by enduring his lot that in itself a fulfilment of life's objective and deserves to be lauded.

Being that pain is there as a tool to show you how to (perform,and yes performing will also get you somewhere or) operate from there, it is not considered tsaar but rather something joyous and if you take advantage of the message and do something about it this is precisely what you were asked to do.

Therefore one who chose to decline painkillers and face it wholeheartedly which when done fully would make him pain free, although he has not reached that state, nevertheless did grow and arrive closer to life's objective of Bitachon and serenity, and has cultivated that attribute in partialness into his psyche.

His pain was there but was advancement heading pain.

This is not equivalent to someone withholding from wine which Chazal condemn, being that this situation was brought upon him rather than him putting himself into the situation.

I thereby conclude that may one choose the no painkiller path he chose an attaining path and did get nearer to his destination.Yes, he was in 'pain' but did 'obtain' a stronger 'sane'.

  • Therefore one who chose to decline painkillers and face it wholeheartedly which when done fully would make him pain free, although he has not reached that state, nevertheless did grow and arrive closer to life's objective of Bitachon and serenity, and has cultivated that attribute in partialness into his psyche. That may or may not be true, but regardless it is irrelevant. There is a prohibition of havala, even one oneself. The question is whether that prohibition includes paining oneself, or just harming oneself (and in turn whether assuming the former, that includes not relieving pain)
    – mevaqesh
    Dec 8, 2017 at 0:21
  • Something may have some value, and some arguable benefit in the realm of self growth, but that doesnt mean that it doesnt fall into an existing prohibition, which is what the question was.
    – mevaqesh
    Dec 8, 2017 at 0:22
  • God, not wanting earth to be 'boredom planet', created differing personalities and human experiences which shape one's stand on any given issue.That being the case, I thank you ,mevaqesh,for your input and arguments and along with that still value my understanding of the matter,and consider it cruel to withhold someone from searching Mi Yodea and finding himself ,perhaps, reading his own mind in my essay. Dec 8, 2017 at 15:47

Yes, it seems that the issur is to intentionally bring yourself pain. For Rav Moshe Fienstien explains in the Darash Moshe that Avraham Aviinu could have davened for the pain of his Brit Mila to go away but he refused because he loved the pain of the mitzva. It did not seem he was obligated to daven to get healed. Refusing to be healed and inflicting yourself are way different. Nacham Eesh Gam zu was in boils had no arms in lots of pain. You think he couldnt of healed it if he wanted to by praying to God. He wanted the atonement.

  • En Lemedim Halachot MeMaasim. Aug 12, 2013 at 5:09

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