Question: Is one permitted to schedule an operation for a broken bone or a C-section for one of the days preceding Shabbat?
Answer: In the previous Halachot we have discussed that one may not begin a sea voyage on the days immediately preceding Shabbat, for one will not be able to adequately enjoy Shabbat since one will likely be suffering from dizziness, nausea, and the like on Shabbat. Additionally, we have also explained that one may not begin a journey into the desert on the days preceding Shabbat, for one traveling through the desert will certainly be required to desecrate Shabbat because of the danger present there. One is therefore permitted to travel into the desert in the beginning of the week; if one is then forced to desecrate Shabbat because of life-threatening circumstances, one may do so. If one is traveling for the purpose of a Mitzvah, whether one is setting sail on a ship or travelling through a desert, one may even begin one’s journey on Erev Shabbat, for our Sages never established this injunction in a situation where a Mitzvah is involved.
Regarding our question, if one must undergo a surgery, may one schedule it for one of the days preceding Shabbat or must one schedule the operation specifically for the beginning of the week?
Explanation of the Question
It seems that the two concerns mentioned above apply to an operation, for one who undergoes an operation close to Shabbat will likely suffer from pain on Shabbat which will thus prevent the patient from properly fulfill the Mitzvah of enjoying Shabbat. Furthermore, one who undergoes an operation on one of the days preceding Shabbat commonly requires Shabbat to be desecrated on his behalf in order to heal him on the days following the surgery. If so, it seems that the operation should be scheduled specifically for the beginning of the week similar to one who must travel through a desert, as long as the operation is not urgent.
The Opinion of Hagaon Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Indeed, Hagaon Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l writes in his Sefer Shulchan Shlomo (Subsection 3; also see Shemirat Shabbat Ke’Hilchata, Chapter 32, Section 33 and Chapter 36, Section 4) that a non-urgent operation, such as tonsil removal and the like, should be scheduled for the beginning of the week, i.e. Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday, if possible so as to avoid a lack of enjoyment of Shabbat. Only if one has no other choice, such as if the expert surgeon is only available at the end of the week, may one schedule the surgery for the end of the week, for the surgery is certainly an important necessity and it can be equated to a “Mitzvah purpose” for which our Sages allowed one to begin one’s journey even on Erev Shabbat.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l writes in a response (quoted in the Sefer Halacha U’Minhag, Volume 1, Chapter 129) that besides for having to postpone the operation because of a lack of enjoyment of Shabbat, it is likely that the doctors will need to run tests and administer treatments following the operation and this will cause them to desecrate Shabbat on the patient’s behalf; one must therefore postpone the operation for the beginning of the week. This is especially true if the attending physicians are Jewish and they must run tests that are not vital to a life-threatening circumstance in which case the letter of the law prohibits scheduling such an operation for the days immediately preceding Shabbat (see also Responsa Tzitz Eliezer, Volume 12, Chapter 43).
The Opinion of Maran zt”l
Halachically speaking, Hagaon Harav David Yosef Shlit”a writes in his Sefer Halacha Berura (Volume 13, page 372) that he has heard from his father, Maran zt”l, that the correct ruling on this matter follows Hagaon Harav Auerbach and the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l and one should either postpone or arrange for the operation to be held earlier, during one of the days in the beginning of the week in order to prevent Shabbat desecration due to a life-threatening situation that may arise.
The same applies to a non-emergency, elective C-section, i.e. a pre-scheduled C-section, where Maran zt”l writes (in his Chazon Ovadia-Shabbat, Part 3, page 322) that if there is no concern for danger, the procedure should preferably be postponed until after Shabbat and held in the beginning of the next week.
Nevertheless, if one cannot postpone the procedure until after Shabbat, it seems that one need not schedule it for earlier that week, for every extra hour that the fetus stays in its mother’s womb is beneficial for it (see Taharat Ha’Bayit, Volume 2, page 54) and this is certainly considered a “Mitzvah purpose.” It therefore seems that it is improper to schedule a C-section for the beginning of that week; only if it is possible to have the procedure postponed until after Shabbat should it be held in the beginning of the week. Indeed, Maran zt”l replied as such to a question we posed to him several years ago. All this applies to a situation where the procedure is non-urgent; however, if it is an emergency, this is considered a “life-threatening circumstance” and nothing stands in the way of such a situation.
Summary: Whenever possible, any operation or complex medical procedure should be scheduled for the beginning of the week, namely, Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday. Regarding a C-section, however, refer to what we have written above.