Taking Tums on Shabbat

QUESTION


NY, New York

May one with mild heartburn/acid reflux take Tums on Shabbat? Are tums considered ma’akhal beri’im or refuah on Shabbat?

ANSWER

By way of introduction, Chazal established a prohibition (gazeirah) against taking medication on Shabbat because of the concern that people might grind their own medication, which was a common preparation method at the time (Shabbat 53b, Rashi s.v. gazerah). This led to the general prohibition against “refuah” (healing) on Shabbat.

There is a category called “ma’akhal beri’im,” which includes foods or drinks regularly consumed by healthy people but that also have medicinal effects (e.g., tea or soup). These are permitted on Shabbat, as long as it is clear they are not being taken for medicinal purposes (Shulchan Arukh Orach Chaim 328:37, Mishnah Berurah 328:119, 120; Shulchan Arukh Orach Chaim 327:1, Mishnah Berurah 327:2).

Regarding taking medication on Shabbat, my general approach is lenient and formalistic. The original concern behind the gazeirah is not relevant today. However, the rule is that even when the reason behind a gazeirah no longer applies, the gazeirah itself still stands (Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Mamrim 2:2). While there are some later authorities (see for example Ketzot HaShulchan 134 n. 7.2) who argue that this particular prohibition should not apply today, that is a minority opinion. The accepted view in Halakha is that the gazeirah still applies.

Since the gazeirah remains in force because it has been ruled and documented, not due to an ongoing reason, I adopt a hyper-formalistic approach. This approach is implicit in numerous poskim. This is especially true here because, as is known and experienced, this halakha can cause discomfort on Shabbat, conflicting with the mitzvah of oneg Shabbat (enjoyment of Shabbat).

As an example, Rav Soloveitchik is quoted as saying, “If you are really sick, then you are choleh kol haguf and it is permitted. If you aren’t really sick, then it isn’t a medicine.” While this might be an extreme view, it reflects a formalistic approach. My approach is similar but less categorical, aiming to avoid overly broad definitions that blur distinct categories. Therefore, I define “medicine” narrowly and “choleh kol haguf” broadly.

I consider conditions like acid reflux very discomforting, placing someone in the “choleh kol haguf” category, especially since we are generally more sensitive nowadays. Therefore, taking such medications on Shabbat would be permitted (Shulchan Arukh Orach Chaim 328:32, Mishnah Berurah 328:100, 328:102).

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