Peninei Halakha

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14. Seeing a Non-Observant Doctor

If a sick person whose life is not threatened needs to see a doctor on Shabbat for an examination or treatment, he should try to visit a religious doctor who knows how to avoid melakhot that are prohibited by Torah law. If he goes to a Jewish doctor who normally desecrates Shabbat, there is a concern that he will cause the doctor to desecrate Shabbat. For example, the doctor might turn on a light in order to examine him, write down his personal information, or write a prescription for him. We have already seen that only rabbinic prohibitions are suspended for the sake of caring for a sick person who is not dangerously ill, but Torah prohibitions remain in force. Furthermore, just as one should give preference to an observant doctor, one should also give preference to a hospital that operates in accordance with halakha. In hospitals that do not operate in accordance with halakha, he may encounter Jewish staff members who will transgress Torah prohibitions on his account.

If it is not possible to see an observant doctor or visit a hospital that operates in accordance with halakha, one may see a non-observant doctor as long as he requests that the doctor refrain from desecrating Shabbat by Torah law on his account. If the doctor insists on writing in the normal fashion or on doing other melakhot that are prohibited by Torah law, the patient should forgo the treatment to avoid aiding Shabbat desecration. Under pressing circumstances, when the exam and treatment are extremely urgent, the patient may rely on the lenient position and accept treatment from this doctor.[9]

[9]. R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (cited in SSK ch. 40 n. 32) says that when one is entitled to treatment covered by his health fund or HMO, he is entitled to go to the hospital and is not responsible to prevent the doctor from violating Torah prohibitions. Just as a creditor has a right to bring his debtor to court even if the debtor threatens to curse him, blaspheme God, and swear falsely, the creditor may still takeakeucedalized painstch this to Bactine or a  him to court. Similarly, one may accept the medical treatment to which he is entitled. SSK 40:10 rules this way in practice. This ruling can be combined with that of Shakh, which maintains that one does not have to worry about aiding the Shabbat desecration of a non-observant Jew who desecrates Shabbat regularly. However, according to Ĥavot Yair and most poskim, the prohibition of aiding Shabbat desecration applies even to him (Pitĥei Teshuva, YD 151:3).

In any case, many are stringent here because in practice, one who sees a non-observant doctor on Shabbat indeed causes him to sin. The Torah commands us to reprove our fellow Jew in order to help them avoid sin. Yet here the patient is aiding the Shabbat desecration of the doctor. Those who are stringent include Zivĥei Tzedek, OĤ 2:19; Ben Ish Ĥai in Rav Berakhot, ma’arekhet lamed, 3; and Yesodei Yeshurun. See Harĥavot.

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Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
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The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman