Parshah Halacha – Parshat Ki Tissa

Sources, Opinions and Halacha

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The Torah portion of Ki Tissa includes several verses about observing the Shabbat. G-d’s command begins with the words[1] “אך את שבתתי תשמרו – Indeed, you must guard My Shabbatot.” The Mechilta[2] says that the term “guard” means that not only must we refrain from doing actual labor on Shabbat, but we must also refrain from performing activities which might lead to doing labor.
In the words of the Rambam,[3] “This implies ceasing even the performance of certain activities that are not included in the categories of forbidden labors. The Torah left the definition of the scope of this commandment to the Sages, who forbade many activities as ‘sh’vut’ (activities from which we must desist on Shabbat by Rabbinic law). Some activities are forbidden because they resemble forbidden labors, while other activities are prohibited lest they lead one to commit a forbidden labor.”
Examples of Shvut
The Rambam[4] gives several examples of Shvutim (activities forbidden by Rabbinic Law on Shabbat):
·        Climbing Trees
On Shabbat, one may not climb a tree, hang articles from a tree, or lean on a tree. This was decreed lest it lead to detaching branches from the tree.
·        Smelling Fruits on a Tree
On Shabbat one may not smell fruit that is attached to a tree in case one forgets and plucks it.
·        Riding an Animal
On Shabbat it is forbidden to ride an animal lest one break off a branch with which to whip it.
·        Dancing and Clapping
It is forbidden to dance and clap on Shabbos in case one fashion a musical instrument.[5]
·        Taking Medicine
It is forbidden for a person to take medicine on Shabbat. (See below note 25 that it is permitted in the case of a serious illness.) This decree was enacted as one might then grind herbs to make the medicine on Shabbat.
There are opinions[6] that because nowadays most medicines are made in factories and the average person is unable to make them, the decree against taking medicine on Shabbat no longer applies. Although the halacha does not follow this view, one may rely on it if there are other reasons to be lenient.[7]One should consult a Halachic expert in this regard.
Medicine on Yom Tov
The Mishnah Berurah states[8] that on Yom Tov one may not take medicine as well as on Shabbat. This is based on the Magen Avraham which in turn is based on the wording of the Shulchan Aruch and the Tosefta.
Examining the Sources
Let us examine those sources in order to clarify the matter:
The Tosefta (Mo’ed Kattan 2:6) says that on Chol HaMo’ed one may drink medicinal water that emanates from palm trees[9] as well as water made from potions of herbs.
Based on this, the Shulchan Aruch (532:2) rules that “All forms of healing are permissible on Chol HaMo’ed.”
The Magen Avraham also infers from the wording of the Shulchan Aruch that it is only on Chol HaMo’ed that all forms of healing are permissible, whereas on Yom Tov one may not ingest medicine just as one may not do on Shabbat.
The Magen Avraham also points to Siman 496:2 which states that on the first day of Yom Tov one may not apply kohl to one’s eyes.[10] (Kohl, also referred to as stibium, is a grayish-blue substance that was applied to the eye in ancient times for both cosmetic and medicinal purposes.) The Pri Megadim[11]agrees with this view.
As mentioned above, the Mishnah Berurah rules in accordance with the Magen Avraham and forbids taking medicine on Yom Tov. (See below regarding the second day of Yom Tov.)
Opinions that Medicine May Be Ingested on Yom Tov
·        All Medicines
Rabbi Shlomo Kluger disagrees with the ruling of the Magen Avraham. He writes[12] that since in some cases grinding herbs for eating and drinking on Yom Tov is permissible, it should be permissible to grind them for medicinal purposes, at least by Biblical law.[13] (See Siman 504 that one may grind items which taste better when freshly ground, whereas one may not grind something whose taste is not discernably different if ground on the previous day unless one grinds it in an unusual manner. See also Shulchan Aruch HaRav (504:4) that, by Rabbinic law, one may not grind something that is normally ground in large quantities.) Since by Biblical law such grinding is permissible, the rabbis did not decree against the taking of medicine lest one grind herbs as our sages did not enact Rabbinic decrees to protect Rabbinic decrees.[14]
As far as the proof of the Magen Avraham from the wording of the Shulchan Aruch that “healing is permissible on Chol HaMo’ed” which seems to indicate that it is forbidden on Yom Tov, Rabbi Kluger argues that this may be referring to healing that involves labors other than grinding and cooking, for example letting blood, a practice popular in the old days.[15] Similarly, the fact that it is forbidden to apply kohl to one’s eyes on Yom Tov is because this involves painting the eyes. But ingesting a medicine would be permissible on Yom Tov.
·        Medicine that Works
The Ritva writes[16] that grinding herbs for medicine should be permissible on Yom Tov. The sages forbade it on the first day of Yom Tov only because the results are not guaranteed on Yom Tov. It has been suggested[17] that, according to the Ritva, medications the results of which are “guaranteed,” such as pain medication, would be permitted even on the first day of Yom Tov.
·        Medicine that Doesn’t Need Grinding
The Avnei Nezer writes[18] that on Yom Tov there is reason to allow the taking of medicine whose preparation does not involve grinding. He extends this to include medications whose preparation involves grinding but is prepared in distant places (such as factories) in such a way that the average person would not know how to prepare them. (The Avnei Nezer rules that, in practice, one should be strict in this matter as per the Magen Avraham, see below. But he uses this opinion as a basis for leniency in certain cases.[19])
Rebutting the Rebuttal – Shabbat and Yom Tov Go Together
In defense of the Magen Avraham, the Avnei Nezer[20] explains that there are opinions[21] that when the sages made decrees for Shabbat, they sometimes included Yom Tov in those decrees although the reason for the decree doesn’t seem as relevant for Yom Tov. Thus, although normally our sages would not enact a decree to prevent grinding herbs on Yom Tov which is only forbidden by Rabbinic decree, since they enacted the decree to forbid medicine on Shabbat (when grinding is Biblically forbidden), they also included Yom Tov in this decree.
Medicine Is Not for Everyone
In addition, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach explains[22] that since the average person doesn’t need medication (although everyone needs health), the Torah’s allowance to do labor on Yom Tov doesn’t apply to making medicine.[23] As such, the rabbis applied their decree against taking medicine on Yom Tov as well.
In Practice
In practice, it is proper to be strict and refrain from taking medication (for minor ailments[24]) on the first day of Yom Tov as per the opinion of the Magen Avraham and the Mishnah Berurah.[25] Nevertheless, if one is lenient and takes medication, he cannot be faulted as there are many opinions that allow it as explained above.[26]
Second Day of Yom Tov
On the second day of Yom Tov which is observed in the Diaspora, one may take medicine even for minor ailments.[27]
Second Day of Rosh HaShana
The second day of Rosh HaShana has the same status as the first day as far as taking medicine is concerned.[28]
May G-d send a speedy and complete recovery to all those who need it!
[1] Exodus 31:13
[2] The Mechilta on Exodus is a Halachic Midrash the authorship of which is ascribed to Rabbi Yishma’el (1st and 2nd century)
[3] Laws of Shabbat 21:1
[4] Ibid, chapters 21 and 22
[5] But see the notes on Shulchan Aruch HaRav 339:2 that the Chabad custom is to be lenient regarding dancing and clapping in the context of simcha shel mitzvah, joy associated with a mitzvah.
[6] See Tosfot (Beitzah 30a D.H. Tenan Ein Metapchin) who says that since we don’t know how to make musical instruments, one may clap and dance on Shabbat and Yom Tov. The Rama (339:3 cites this opinion, and the Magen Avraham 338:1 uses this opinion to explain the custom to have bells on the parochet (curtain in front of the Holy Ark). The Ketzot HaShulchan, Siman 134, note 7, ot 2, writes that according to the opinion of Tosfot it should be permissible to take medicine on Shabbat. He cites the Torat Chessed (O.C. 17 by Rabbi Shneor Zalman Fradkin of Lublin and Jerusalem) who discusses this matter at length.
See also Piskei Teshuvot (328 note 22 in the 2015 edition) who cites the opinion of the Sefer HaChaim (by Rabbi Shlomo Kluger of Brody, 1785 – 1869, Siman 328 chapter 6) that it is only forbidden to take medicine the preparation of which involves only the forbidden labor of grinding whereas medications that are also prepared through cooking and other labors are not forbidden.
[7] Ketzot HaShulchan, ibid and Piskei Teshuvot, ibid
[8] 532:5
[9] The Talmud (Shabbat 110a) explains that there was a stream of water in Israel that came out from between two palm trees. Ingesting the water of this stream would cause diarrhea which was sometimes desired to cleanse one’s system.
[10] See Beitzah 22a
[11] Eishel Avraham 2
[12] Sefer HaChayim, end of Siman 511
[13] In Siman 328, chapter 6, the Sefer HaChayim writes that because medicine is not necessary for the average person, it is forbidden by Biblical law to grind herbs to produce medicine. Nevertheless, he writes that this prohibition has the force of a positive rather than a negative commandment and, as such, the rabbis’ decree to refrain from taking medicine lest one grind the herbs should not apply.
[14] See Encyclopedia Talmudit, entry Gezeirah LiGezeirah
[15] The Sefer HaChaim doesn’t address the Tosefta, which, as mentioned above, is the source of the Shulchan Aruch. The Tosefta is clearly talking about ingesting medicine (potion water and palm water) and the implication of the Tosefta is that such ingestion is forbidden on Yom Tov.
But see the Pirush Nachal Eshkol (by Rabbi Tzvi Binyamin Auerbach of Halberstadt, Germany, 1808 – 1872) on the Sefer Ha’eshkol (by Rabbi Avraham ben Yitzchak of Narravone, the father-in-law of the Ra’avad), Hilchot Mo’ed Kattan, chapter 43, ot dalet (page 147 in the version printed in Halberstadt, 1868) who suggests that the Tosefta is referring to producing the medicines as opposed to ingesting them. This is only permissible on Chol HaMo’ed and not on Yom Tov. Whereas merely ingesting them is permissible on Yom Tov as well.
But see Avnei Neizer (O.C. 394:13) who points out that this is not the simple meaning of the Tosefta.
[16] Quoted in the Shitah Mekubetzet on Beitzah 22a
[17] See Tzitz Eliezer, vol. 8, 15:16, ot 5
[18] O.C. 394:4 – 12
[19] See ibid, ot 23
[20] Ibid
[21] Rosh, Beitzah 2:12 based on Beitzah 18a. See Pri Chadash 495:2 who cites this opinion.
[22] Shulchan Shlomo, Erkei Refu’ah vol. 2, page 202
[23] See Shulchan Aruch HaRav 511:1 and 5
[24] In case of any serious (albeit non-life threatening) illness, one may take medicine even on Shabbat (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 328:19).
[25] Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchato, 34 note 2
[26] Tzitz Eliezer, ibid ot 8
[27] See ibid 496:4, Mishnah Berurah 496:5, and Yom Tov Sheini Kehilchaso, 1:22
[28] Shulchan Aruch HaRav 496:5. See Avnei Nzer ibid, ot 14 and on
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!

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