Morphine has been widely used as a pain reliever for a very long time (according to Wikipedia, it's been in use at least since 1804!). It's even listed (twice!) on WHO's list of essential medicines. However, it isn't really used for treatment of diseases -- its only real use is for pain relief.

Since we know that one may only violate Shabbos for a חולה שיש בו סכנה (patient who is in danger for his life) for things that have to do with saving that patient's life (see Rambam, Hilchot Shabbos 2, Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 328), if we would have to be מחלל שבת in order to administer morphine1, would we be allowed to violate Shabbos for morphine?

1 It's debatable whether any injections are Biblical Shabbos transgressions, see שמירת שבת כהלכתה ch 32:58, and footnote 151 there; morphine is actually affected by this discussion because it's most often administered by IV. For the purposes of this discussion, let's assume that there is some universally agreed-upon Biblical transgression involved, such as driving a car in order to get it or something.

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    I hope the NSA isn't tracking my recent Wikipedia and Google searches.... :P
    – MTL
    Nov 20, 2014 at 6:22

1 Answer 1


Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ruled that one may violate שבת for the injection of morphine.

See שמירת שבת כהלכתה, chapter 32, footnote 150, where Rabbi YY Neuwirth writes that he heard from Rav Shlomo Zalman that since זריקת מורפיום (morphine injection) does not have any healing properties, and it's just for the relief of pain, it should be forbidden; however, one is allowed to violate שבת for morphine because pain can cause danger to a person's life (modern science believes that the emotional state of a patient has an effect on his well-being).

In that footnote, he also cites footnotes 32:70, and 34:36, which sound like it may be better to violate שבת in this case through a non-Jew, perhaps comparable to עקירת שן, the removal of a tooth (see Rama to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 328:3, and שמירת שבת כהלכתה, ch 34, halacha 7). Of course, if there is an urgent and life-threatening dental emergency, a doctor should be consulted; I would imagine that the same is true here (that without any qualification, it would only be permissible through a gentile; but if it were to be urgent and life-threatening, then one should do everything).

See also שמירת שבת כהלכתה, (chapter 32, halacha 56), where Rav Neuwirth writes that a חולה שיש בו סכנה (patient in danger of his life) may take medicines on Shabbos, even those that are not directly related to saving his life (like painkillers), so long as he is careful to avoid biblical transgressions.

  • 2
    congrats on 4k!
    – user6591
    Nov 20, 2014 at 11:13
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    @user6591 I missed it -- congrats on 5K! :P
    – MTL
    Nov 21, 2014 at 5:21
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    but... usually it's not a separate injection. Your arm's usually already tapped and morphine is just added to the saline or whatever else is going through you. Nov 24, 2014 at 3:17
  • @CharlesKoppelman I thank God I've never needed morphine (though I have had IVs put in several times)....if I understand the discussion surrounding IV properly, the only deoraysa bit is the insertion (see footnote cited in question). All the same, according to the above, other deoraysas are allowed, such as driving to get it or writing a prescription for it, if needed.
    – MTL
    Nov 24, 2014 at 3:44

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