According to the various sources mentioned in this article one is not allowed to set a stopped watch on Shabbat.

Suppose that a surgeon is scheduled to operate on a patient on Shabbat afternoon. (Let's assume it's a life-saving procedure.) During shul, he notices that his watch has stopped. He wants to reset the time so that he will not be late for the surgery. Since he is a surgeon who cannot be late, can he override the prohibition because of piku'ach nefesh of someone else?

While technically, it is possible for him to ask someone else for the time, in this case, his being prompt is urgent, and there's no guarantee that he can find someone to ask, or have his mind set on asking at the proper time, as his mind is focused on the patient.

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    Why wouldn't he, instead, either (a) borrow a watch from somebody else or (b) proceed immediately to the hospital after shul to make sure he's not late? And how often is life-saving surgery scheduled far-enough in advance for this to come up, for that matter? Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 23:17
  • @MonicaCellio - I'm no surgeon, so I can't answer, exactly. But, I think such scenarios occur more often than you think. "Life saving" in this case doesn't equal "emergency". By life saving, I mean say on Fri. the doctor does X-RAY and says, "you need this procedure done ASAP. I have Shabbat 2p available to do it as the earliest time." That scenario. Emergency - you don't know about in advance.
    – DanF
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 3:06

2 Answers 2


I've been thinking about this question on and off for a while; even asking a frum surgeon I know for his thoughts. I didn't initially understand his answer, but now I think I do, based on my recent studies in the halachos of pikuach nefesh on Shabbos.

The rules for pikuach nefesh (saving of life) on Shabbos are that everything necessary must be done (Shemiras Shabbas K'hilchasa 32:1), even if there is only a concern (חשש) that there is present danger (ibid, 1, 18, 19), even if there is only a slim chance of survival (ibid, 20). We also do things if they make things easier for the patient (ibid, 18, 22; see also this MY question).

However, things that have nothing to do with saving the patient are not allowed to be done (SS"K 32:41, 47); and, at all times, things that are not needed either to increase quality of care or to speed things up when time is of the essence, are not allowed to be done, or should be done with a lower level of prohibition (e.g. a rabbinic prohibition instead of a biblical one, or one prohibition instead of two; see SS"K 32:27-30), or through a non-Jew.
Even things that don't directly heal, are allowed if they're needed or requested by the patient, but then only with rabbinic prohibitions and שינוי [where it's possible to do it with a שינוי] (ibid, 24-25)

Therefore, I would say that he should borrow a watch from someone, or go directly to the OR after davening.
If he can't, it depends:

  • If setting the watch must be done and there is no time to do it in any other way, the doctor is not only allowed to, but must do it himself.
  • If it's not necessary (which I think is probably the most likely as per my discussion with the surgeon, and a comment on the question), then he's not allowed to do it at all.
  • If it is needed, but it's not urgent (which, if it is needed, is the most likely case, IMO), then I would say to have a gentile do it; or, if no gentile is available, to do it in a different way than is usually done ("שינוי") [with his teeth?].

If having the correct time may save someone's life, then it's permitted. Even if it's possible to ask a non-Jew instead, if this might cause a life-endangering delay, it is permitted.

However, if there will definitely be a non-Jew available to ask, and asking will definitely not cause a life-threatening delay, or if not knowing the time won't cause a life-threating problem, or if there's any other way of knowing the time (which won't cause a problematic delay), it is forbidden.

  • Source????????????? Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 16:29
  • @GershonGold Source for what? That one may violate Shabbos to save a life?
    – Ypnypn
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 16:30
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    source that this is something one can violate Shabbos for. 1) A non Jew can easily do this. 2) He can borrow a different watch. 3) He can make sure to be on time some other way. 4) He can go to the hospital and wait there until the proper time without changing his watch. Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 16:33
  • @Ypnypn - Knowing the time is "secondary" to the action of saving the life, in this case. The surgery is what saves a life. Knowing the time helps in knowing when the surgery is. That's why I asked the question.
    – DanF
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 16:34
  • @GershonGold If any of these are options, then it's obviously forbidden.
    – Ypnypn
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 16:38

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