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Chapter 91:8
Non-Critical Illness on Shabbos

8. A person who feels discomfort in his eyes, should not treat them with undiluted saliva (that is, saliva from his mouth before he has eaten that day), since it is obvious to all that he is applying it for medicinal purposes (1). A person who cannot open his eyes is allowed to apply this type of saliva to them, since he is not doing so as a remedy for the discomfort, but merely so that he will be able to open his eyes (2).


(1) This remedy is mentioned in the Talmud (Shabbos 108a), and obviously was only considered a solution at a time when modern eye medications were not in existence. The value of mentioning the prohibition of using saliva, is so that we can refine the general principle that any activity which is clearly a medical remedy, may not be performed on Shabbos. The more cases we are given, the more defined the general principle becomes.

In HY 91:3, we saw that it is permitted to rinse one's mouth with vinegar for a mild tooth ache, as long as one swallows it rather than spitting it out (spitting it out makes it obvious that one is using it as a remedy). One of our subscribers thankfully pointed out to us, that vinegar nowadays comes in different strengths, and only 3% or less vinegar should ever be swallowed. The subscriber personally knew of a young boy who swallowed vinegar, burned his throat very severely, and had to be hospitalized. Therefore, if you have a mild toothache, whiskey would be a safer (and more enjoyable) choice.

(2) In cases of severe eye pain or infection (non-life threatening), one may take or apply whatever medication is necessary, as long as this doesn't involve additional Shabbos violations (that is, in addition to the rabbinical prohibition against taking medication, which, in the case of severe pain or infection, doesn't apply). In this case, one may also ask a Gentile to perform even Biblically prohibited activities.

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