Question: May one take Tylenol or sleeping pills on Shabbat? Also, may Tylenol be administered to an infant who is running a fever on Shabbat?
Answer: In the previous Halachot we have explained that an individual who is not truly ill (i.e. lying down in bed) may not take medication on Shabbat. We have likewise explained the reason behind this enactment.
The Sefer Eshel Avraham (Chapter 327) writes that one may wash one’s head with an alcoholic beverage on Shabbat in order to be able to fall asleep easily. This is not similar to other forms of healing which are forbidden on Shabbat, for causing one to fall asleep is not considered healing.
Based on this, Hagaon Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l writes (in his Shulchan Shlomo, Chapter 328) that one may take sleeping pills on Shabbat. Although other luminaries of our generation disagree, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l rules that one who requires sleeping pills in order to fall asleep may use them on Shabbat, for this is not considered healing an illness since the lack of sleep is not actually an illness and is only extremely uncomfortable. The edict of our Sages therefore does not apply here. He proceeds to list several other reasons for leniency in this case (see Chazon Ovadia-Shabbat, Part 3, page 367).
Pain Relievers and Fever Reducers
Regarding taking Tylenol and the like, we have already explained that if one is so ill that one must lie in bed as a result of his pain or discomfort, one may take medication as needed, for the enactment against “crushing herbs” which prohibits taking medicine on Shabbat does not apply to one who is truly ill. Thus, although one may not act leniently and take Tylenol to relieve the minor discomfort of a light headache and the like, if one is truly ill and suffers from fever and major aches and pains, one may take such medications in order to relieve the pain and reduce the fever (Chazon Ovadia-Shabbat, Part 3, page 368).
The Law Regarding an Infant
There is room for leniency regarding an infant in any case, for we have written that one may administer any medication necessary to a child less than nine years of age. This is especially true with regards to infants since an increase in body-temperature poses a danger to them and one must therefore quickly balance their body-temperature.
Summary: If necessary, one may take sleeping pills on Shabbat. If one suffers from a slight discomfort, such a small stomach ache and the like, one should not take medication to alleviate the pain. However, if one’s entire body is in pain, for instance, if one must lie down in bed as a result of his pain or illness, one may take any medication necessary. It is permissible to administer any medication necessary to an infant on Shabbat in any case.
Important Note: Tomorrow, Friday, is the Tenth of Tevet, a public fast day for the entire Jewish nation. On a year like this when the Tenth of Tevet falls out on Erev Shabbat, the Rishonim disagree whether one should complete the fast until the onset of Shabbat or if one should not complete the fast so as not to enter Shabbat while suffering from the fast. Halachically speaking, the Rama (Chapter 249, Section 4) rules that one must complete the fast and continue fasting until nightfall. Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l rules likewise in his Chazon Ovadia-Arba Ta’aniyot (page 15) where he proceeds to prove that this is indeed the opinion of Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch as well. In New York City, tomorrow, sunset is at approximately 4:29 PM and halachic nightfall (the emergence of stars) is approximately twenty minutes later at 4:50 PM according to the Sephardic tradition. Thus, it is preferable for synagogues to pray Mincha somewhat earlier than usual at approximately 3:50 or 4:00 PM (bearing in mind that there is Torah reading and Birkat Kohanim during Mincha services) and then to speed up Kabbalat Shabbat and Arvit services as much as possible so that the members of the congregation will be able to arrive home, recite Kiddush, and begin eating as close to 4:50 PM (which marks the end of the fast) as possible out of concern for the opinions among the Rishonim who prohibit entering Shabbat while fasting. This is indeed the procedure that Hagaon Harav David Yosef Shlit”a announced would be followed tomorrow night in his prestigious Bet Midrash Yechave Da’at in Jerusalem. May Hashem change all of our fast days into days of festivity and rejoicing, speedily and in our days, Amen.