Halacha for Monday 14 Kislev 5781 November 30 2020

Uncertainty About a Life-Threatening Situation

Question: If one desecrates Shabbat on behalf of an ill person and it turns out that the action one performed that desecrated the Shabbat was actually unnecessary, does one require atonement for this transgression?

Answer: If one desecrated Shabbat for no good reason, such as driving on Shabbat under non-life-threatening circumstances, certainly when one repents for one’s sin, one will need to go through a repentance process for one’s terrible acts of desecrating the holy Shabbat. When Hashem sees one’s great suffering and remorse, He will in turn accept one’s repentance and forgive him.

However, if one desecrates Shabbat in order to help save a Jewish person whose life is in danger, one has performed a great Mitzvah, as we have discussed in previous Halachot, and this is actually required by the Torah. Indeed, our Sages tell us in Masechet Yoma that in such cases, Shabbat should be desecrated for the ill person by the generation’s greatest Torah scholars and there is no reason to try and facilitate the desecration of Shabbat by simple Jews; it is indeed forbidden to do so, for people might come to believe that there is something wrong with Shabbat desecration on behalf on an individual who is ill.

Some women had the custom that after they would desecrate the Shabbat on behalf of a woman who has gone into labor or any other sick individual, they would fast afterwards in order to atone for the Shabbat desecration that they performed. Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that this is a foolish and pointless thing to do, for the Torah commands that Shabbat be desecrated for the Mitzvah of Berit Milah (ritual circumcision) and we see many Mohalim (ritual circumcisers) who freely desecrate Shabbat in order to perform the Milah. Does it make any sense that a Mohel, who is commanded by the Torah to perform a Milah on Shabbat, would need to fast afterwards to atone for his sin?! The same applies here where one desecrates Shabbat in order to save the life of someone in a life-threatening situation, one has certainly performed a great Mitzvah and no form of atonement or repentance is required at all.

Even if it turns out later that it was not necessary to desecrate Shabbat for this ill individual, for instance, when a woman feels that she is going into labor on Shabbat and her husband rushes her to the hospital by car but she only ends up giving birth a few days later, the husband need not feel any remorse for what he has done, for he has acted in accordance with Torah law which dictates that Shabbat must be desecrated even when there is a doubt regarding a life-threatening circumstance.

This is indeed illustrated by Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch who writes that if an ill person needs to eat one fig (in order to restore his health) and ten people go and each one plucked a fig off the tree on his behalf, none of them are liable for Shabbat desecration, as all of them acted according to Torah law and “all of them will receive great reward from Hashem.”

In the Responsa Benei Tzion, the author was asked by a certain Torah scholar who was instructed by doctors to eat on Yom Kippur and after doing so and recovering, he began to regret what he did and he started doubting whether the doctors’ instruction were really accurate as he did not feel so weak to begin with and maybe he really did not need to eat on this holiest of days. The author responded that the Poskim write clearly that even if the ill individual states unequivocally that he does not need to eat but the doctors say that he does, he is entirely obligated to heed the doctors’ instructions. He continues, “And I am certain that he requires no atonement, as our Sages say that a sick person does not recover until all of his sins are atoned for in Heaven.” Thus, this question does not begin and the patient does not need to repent at all.

Summary: In a situation where there is a doubt regarding whether or not one is suffering from a life-threatening illness (or situation), Shabbat must be desecrated on his behalf. Even if later on, it turns out that there was no need for the Shabbat desecration, still, this does not constitute any prohibition, as this action was performed in accordance with Torah law which dictates that one must desecrate Shabbat even in instances of doubtful life-threatening situations.

Ask the Rabbi


8 Halachot Most Popular

Sucking On a Fruit

Question: If one sucks on an orange or a grapefruit but does not chew it with one’s teeth, must one recite the “Boreh Peri Ha’etz” like on other fruits or should one recite the “Shehakol” blessing like one would when drinking other fruit juices? Answer: Indeed,......

Read Halacha

Making Toast on a Hotplate on Shabbat

Question: May one place a pita or a slice of bread on a hotplate on Shabbat in order to turn it into hard and crunchy toast? Answer: There are two prohibitions we must discuss with regards to our question of making toast on Shabbat out of bread that was already baked before Shabbat. The first ......

Read Halacha

The Laws of Precedence Regarding Blessings (Continued)

In the previous Halacha we have explained that there are instances that priority is given to recite a blessing upon a certain food over another because of the innate significance of the given food, for instance, because it is a fruit that belongs to the Seven Species of fruits that the Land of Israe......

Read Halacha

The Laws of the Blessing on Fruits

In the previous Halachot we have explained that there is an order of priority regarding blessings. Thus, if one wishes to partake of apples and dates, one must recite the blessing on the dates, for they are one of the Seven Species. Precedence Regarding Blessing-Only Preferable Maran Ha’Be......

Read Halacha


Precedence Regarding the Order of Blessings (Continued)

Summary of the Laws Explained Thus Far In the previous Halachot we have explained that there is an order of priority regarding blessings, sometimes because of the innate importance of the food and sometimes due to the importance of the blessing. Priority of “Boreh Peri Ha’etz”......

Read Halacha

Sitting on Food Items

Question: Is it correct that one may not sit on top of a box containing food or beverages? Answer: The Gemara in Masechet Berachot (50b) states that it is forbidden to act in a degrading manner towards food. Thus, one may not, for instance, use a piece of cake to wipe up a drink that spilled on t......

Read Halacha

Salting Cucumbers on Shabbat

Question: Is it correct that one may not put salt on cucumbers on Shabbat? Answer: The root of this question lies in the fact that with regards to many Torah laws, we rule that “pickling is tantamount to cooking” meaning that a pickled food is considered like a cooked food. Thus, just......

Read Halacha

Washing Dishes on Shabbat Night and Pouring Water on Dirty Dishes

Question: Upon the conclusion of the Shabbat night meal, may one immediately wash the dishes for the Shabbat day meal or should this only be done during the day closer to the start of the meal? Also, is it permissible to pour water onto soiled dishes (which one no longer needs for Shabbat) so that i......

Read Halacha