Monday, May 16, 2005

Visiting the Sick

For those keeping up, this past שבת we read daf 12 in שבת, talking about visiting the sick. There was one line which struck me as a difficult emotionally.

ואמר רבי חנינא: בקושי התירו לנחם אבלים ולבקר חולים בשבת.

According to רבי חנינא, it was only with great difficulty that the rabbis allowed the comforting of mourners and the visiting of sick on שבת. While I understand that when it comes to the sick, we don’t request that they be healed on שבת, but how can we say that having people visit should be a difficult thing to permit? And even if we argue that the visit is a method of healing, which removes the request aspect of ביקור חולים, so how can this be so difficult to permit?


At Monday, 16 May, 2005, Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

If I remember correctly, R' Steinsaltz says that the issue is that when the בריא goes to the חולה, the former, who is currently enjoying the pleasance of Shabbath, will see the pain of the latter, and thereby become depressed.

The moral/semitheological issue that jumps out at us is: which is better, that I should have 100% ענג שבת and my sick friend should have 0%, or that I should have 75% and he or she should have 45%?

At Tuesday, 17 May, 2005, Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

You wrote:

And even if we argue that the visit is a method of healing, which removes the request aspect of ביקור חולים, so how can this be so difficult to permit?

It appears from the stories in the New Testament of the noytzerim that in late Second Temple times, healing on Shabbath was considered a serious אִסּוּר. It is interesting that our Sages made it only דרבנן, as a גזרה שמא ישׁחק סממני רפואה. If healing was considered so serious, it makes sense that the Sages would find it difficult to allow any תולדת of healing on Shabbetha.

If, indeed, רפואה is the reason for the difficulty in permitting בקור חוֹלין on Shabbetha, this would show that the Rabbis considered בקור חוֹלין to be a serious form of רפואה.

At Tuesday, 17 May, 2005, Blogger Bryan said...

If I understand this comment correctly, you are positing that the gezeira might result from some form of distancing ourselves from the early Judeo-Christians.

At Tuesday, 17 May, 2005, Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Bryan-- that's not what I am positing, but it's an interesting idea.

What I am saying is that according to the New Testament, the Pharisees considered healing on Shabbath to be a grave sin. In Matthew 12:9-14, right after a story in which Jesus has plucked grain (מלאכת קוצר) on Shabbath and gotten in trouble with the Pharisees, we find the following story (New Oxford Annotated Bible translation; I'm sorry, but I don't have time right now to do my own translation from the Greek; אי"ה I'll look at the Greek later in the week):

"He left that place and entered their synagogue; a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, 'Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?' so that they might accuse him. he said to them, 'Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.' Then he said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him."

See parallel texts in Mark 3:1-6 and Luke 6:6-11.

My argument actually has nothing to do with early Christianity, and is using the New Testament merely as a source for late second-temple Judaism. What I am arguing is that the Pharisees (and possibly other groups) believed that healing was a grievous violation of Shabbath, what we would cal דאורייתא. (Notice their question to Jesus, "is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath", which seems to me to be sort of like התראה.)

However, the rabbis must not have been able to fit רפואה into their scheme of lamed-tes melokhos, yet they knew that it was something that they didn't do. Therefore, they said: It must be a גזירה דרבנן. Why would such a גזירה exist? Oh, it must be שמא ישׁחק סממנין.

This reminds me of the way that most observant Jews today are sure that electricity must be forbidden on Shabbath, but they have difficulty fitting it into their system of 39 melakhoth de'oraitha. It is amusing to see the different ways that people try to argue that electricity is either a מלאכה דאורייתא or a גזירה דרבנן. (I really should get around to reading the whole series of תשובות of HaGaon Rav Shelomo Zalman Oyerbach, who argues that electricity is not אסור either de'oraitha or de-rabbanan.)

Got that, Bryan? Am I clearer now?

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