Shabbat 109 – Healing and the Shabbat
We do have other, external evidence of historical Jewish reticence to heal on the Shabbat – if one reads in the New Testament, there is a story in Luke 13:10-17 on this very subject. In the story, Jesus preaches in a synagogue on Shabbat, and he heals a woman. The leader of the synagogue is upset, saying “there are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, but not on the Sabbath day.” The miraculous cure was not the issue, but rather the curing on Shabbat! This story would have taken place right around the time of transition from Pharisees to Rabbis, shortly before the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. Rather than baldly accept Jesus’s rebuke of the leader as a hypocrite, we must remember that “healing” in this period was not the rare miraculous event depicted in the New Testament gospels, but a profession common to holy men, amulet makers, and apothecaries the world over. In other words, it was a way to earn a living – something not to be done on Shabbat by any approach before modern times.
This is not to say that there is universal agreement on this principle of not healing on Shabbat – for example, Rab taught that a hand or foot injury was like an internal injury and thus could justify Shabbat desecration. We would think that alleviating pain and curing a disease would automatically be allowed at any time, but if we think in terms of professional healers, it makes more sense – even doctors are allowed a day off!
Rabbi Adam Chalom
For the full New Testament story of healing on the Sabbath, visit http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/RsvLuke.html