Non-Critical Illness on Shabbos
1. A person who feels discomfort ("mechush be'almah"), but makes an effort
to carry on his normal activities like a healthy person, may not perform or
apply any medical remedy ("refuah") on Shabbos, even if the performance of
a melacha (biblical prohibited activity) is not involved (1). It is
forbidden even to apply oil (2). This is true whether the remedy is
performed by the person himself, by another individual, or by a Gentile (3).
(1) The Sages prohibited all forms of medical remedy ("refuah") on Shabbos,
because if people saw someone being treated medically, they might think
that even grinding up the herbs to make the medication is permitted on
Shabbos. Grinding ("Tochen") is one of the 39 categories of prohibited
creative activity on Shabbos ("Melachos"). This prohibition applies only to
activities performed exclusively for the sick (see note 2). We shall see
many clarifications of this rule during the course of this chapter, so
please hold your questions until you feel that a specific case has been
covered and we've moved on to a different case.
(2) Applying oil is only forbidden in a place where people apply oil only
as a medical remedy. In a place where a certain oil was also regularly
applied by healthy people, it is permitted to apply that oil on Shabbos,
even if one is using it to alleviate discomfort. This is true because in
this case, people will not know that it is being applied due to the discomfort.
(3) As we saw in HY 90:17, if a person is considered slightly ill (that is,
more than just "discomfort"), most authorities agree that one may ask a
Gentile to perform an act that is rabbinically prohibited in order to help
that person; in this case, one could ask him to apply the medical remedy,
an act which is rabbinically prohibited for a Jew to perform.