Is it still prohibited to heal on Shabbos? There is significant reason to assume that illnesses which are not typically treated by crushing herbs are allowed to be treated on Shabbos. (See, for example Mishnah Brurah 328:130). Nowadays, few people crush herbs for any illness. Would that categorically permit healing on Shabbos?

Are typical pills made of any ground material? Even if they were, would that be sufficient to prohibit, because private individuals don't grind?

I am not interested in the Ketzos Hashulchan's similar argument to permit Refuah nowadays -that the decree is no longer applicable. I am interested in the argument that there never was a decree against treating illnesses not cured by ground herbs, a category which all illnesses may fit nowadays.

Please provide all pertinent sources from the Gemara, Rishonim, Acharonim, and recent Teshuvos.

  • @Tatpurusha What is the relevance of those links?
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 18:15
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    4 commentless downvotes?
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 18:24
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    Can someone please explain the downvotes?Are they a reaction to my suggesting that a set of halachos no longer apply? Do they regard this as a breach of tradition? I reiterate that I am not suggesting that just because the reason no longer applies we shouldn't follow the gezairah (although the Ketzos HaShulchan is), rather that circumstances changed, so Chazal's original gezairah doesn't apply, even according to the way that they constructed it. Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 20:39
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    @IshPloniViKohen Are you only interested in permitting it, or also in sources that would indicate that such an argument is not valid? (unrelated to the downvote discussion - I was as puzzled as you) Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 20:22

1 Answer 1


The Tzitz Eliezer in 8:15:15:4 suggests a novel approach to the prohibition of Refuah BaShabbos, which is prohibited so that one does not come to crush herbs on Shabbos. The teshuva is too long to translate, so here is my summary of the main points found there.

The Rambam claims that the reason it is permitted to perform certain types of Refuos is because, “They are not using herbs, and he has pain from the ailments.” The obvious question is that the Gemara prohibits standing in cold water if it is obvious that he is intending to cure an ailment, although that is not a cure which involves herbs.

One answer might be that these ailments don’t fit the Rambam’s second criterion, that he has pain. However, this is not likely, because the guy is in pain…. Additionally, the Bach says that it is obvious that the decree of Chazal was not only on cures using herbs, but on all cures.

A more convincing answer is suggested by Rabbi Dovid HaLevi in his monumental work, Turai Zahav. He suggests that the Rambam requires the illness to be treated commonly with herbs. The Gemaros which prohibit curing illnesses even with cures which don’t involve herbs do so because the illnesses were commonly treated with herbs. The Mishnah Berurah in 328:130 also adopts this approach, although he doesn’t mention that it comes from the Taz.

This approach has radical implications for the laws of Refuah nowadays. Today, virtually no one crushes medicinal herbs at home (maybe for recreational use). Therefore, there may be no prohibition of Refuah nowadays at all, because all illnesses fall into the category of not being normally cured by herbs.

However, what’s left is the Rambam’s second criterion, that it’s only permitted if the has pain from the illness. The question is why it would be prohibited if the decree against refuah isn’t applicable. Rabbi Joseph Cairo (Also brought by Rabbi Avrohom Gombiner in his beastly commentary Magen Avrohom) is his awesome Bais Yosef suggests that it’s prohibited because it’s uvdin dechol, weekday activity. Why this is uvdin dechol is a debate between authorities. The Bais Yosef himself says that the issue is that it’s a bother on Shabbos, so presumably when it’s not a bother, (like taking pills), it would be permissible even if he has no pain. The Rabbi Mordechai Yaffe, in his competition to the Bais Yosef, the Levush, says that the refuah itself is uvdin dechol, because it is a weekday activity. If so, refuah nowadays would be prohibited unless the patient is in pain.

However, the entire heter is questionable, because although individuals don’t crush medicinal herbs, pharmaceutical companies do. The Tzitz Eliezer himself holds that because the reason of the gezairah has to do with the individual, it makes sense that Chazal’s gezairah would be based on the practice of individuals. This logic though isn’t certain, because it may be that chazal never foresaw the coming of industrial manufacturing of herbs, so they simply made their gezairah dependant on whether the illness was treated with crushed herbs, irrespective of who crushed them. The Tzitz Eliezer is somewhat vague when he addresses this issue. He just says “It is logical that it would go after the reason….”

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    "beastly commentary" :)
    – Double AA
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 4:57

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