I don’t read the daf yomi, but I started listening to a daily shiur by Rov Moshe Elefant. On Yoma 84 (on the aleph and into the beis) there is discussion on taking medication on Shabbos. Some of the Rabbi’s allowed taking medication for a sore throat which doesn’t really seem very life threatening by today’s standards. I think there was also discussion on how it’s permissible to take medication for chronic conditions.
In any event, what is the halachah on this? I previously thought the rule was that we only take medicine on Shabbos when it was medically necessary (say for diabetes, epilepsy, heart conditions, etc.). Obviously it’s not that simple.
The background of my question is that I know there’s generally a prohibition on applying a salve on Shabbos, but is a skin irritation any different than a sore throat? For example, I have dyshidrotic eczema. Essentially, if I’m exposed too much soap, dust, or stress my hands start to form a rash that if not treated right away turns into blisters and then flaky, dry skin. If left untreated for several weeks, it could get infected. As a general rule I always found this condition to be uncomfortable, but not necessarily life threatening – except the few times it got infected – so I generally don’t apply the prescription steroid cream or lotions on Shabbos. This can be difficult some times because we have 5 children so I do a lot of food preparation on Friday which dries my hands out and starts a rash that I can’t exactly treat until Saturday evening. This is even more of an uncomfortable situation on the two (and sometimes combined three) day yom tovs.
So my question is in two parts. First, based on Yoma 84, is it permissible to apply prescription or non-prescription creams on Shabbos to prevent my eczema from getting out of control? Second, is scraping off the dry skin considered the prohibited activity of “smoothing” on Shabbos (i.e., should I be careful not to scrape the dry skin off which I do many times without even thinking about it)?
Thank you for your question. It is nice to see that although you don’t real the gemora, you are still listening and participating in the daf hayomi. Great!
Regarding the sore throat, the gemora states that they had a certain ailment, that would start in the throat, and then spread to the stomach and internal organs, which they knew saw life threatening. We are allowed to take medication for any internal ailment especially one that can lead to a life-threatening situation such as diabetes, epilepsy or a heart condition. In fact even if a person is bedridden, such as with temperature or the flu, he may take medication to heal himself or alleviate the pain. The only time we may not take medication on Shabbos is for minor aches and pains, such as a minor headache, that he person doesn’t become bedridden from it, and can continue his day, even though he is uncomfortable. Having said that, there is a difference between taking medications, such as swallowing a pill, or an aspirin, to having to transgress one of the melachos in order to heal the person. In order to permit transgressing one of the biblical prohibitions, such as to cook for a sick person, to take them to the hospital, etc. the person has to be in a life- threatening situation.
Regarding your eczema, it is halachically considered minor aches and pains, (b”h it isn’t more than that!), therefore we can’t apply medication to it on Shabbos or Yom Tov. You can apply the ointment right before Shabbos which might help prevent it from starting in the first place, and that might help you.
Regarding the dry skin, the issue with scrapping the dry ski off is an issue of melechas gozez – shearing or removing appendages to the body. You should not scrap off the dry skin on Shabbos. Actions that will not inevitably make the skin detach, (and it isn’t a psik riesha) such as rubbing the skin lightly, which will not inevitably cause skin to detach would be permitted. Sources:
O:CH 328-1, Shmiras Shabbos Khilchoso 14-49, Poskim