כ״א בניסן ה׳תשע״ד (April 21, 2014)

Beitza 22a-b: Medical Treatment of the Eyes on Yom Tov

The Gemara on our daf discusses whether eye diseases can be treated on Yom Tov. As the Gemara points out, in situations of potentially life-threatening danger it is obvious that any treatment can be done; the issue at hand is whether treatments to improve vision or minor ailments can be used.

Medical treatment of the eyes has a long history, since such conditions were common in the Middle East due to an abundance of sand and insects that carried diseases. Archaeologists have found instruments used in surgical operations on the eye from the Talmudic period. The discussion in our Gemara, however, deals with the application of salves or creams that were inserted into the eye by means of a mik’hol – a tiny spoon that was also used for applying cosmetics.

The Gemara leaves this question as a disagreement between Rabbi Yehuda and the Rabbanan (rabbis). Ameimar, however, permitted the application of salves on the eye on Yom Tov if it was done by a non-Jew. In response to Rav Ashi’s objection that a non-Jew could only be employed to perform such an activity if the Jew does not assist him – and in the case of inserting a cream into the eye, the patient must be playing an assisting role – Ameimar argues that mesayei’ah ein bo mamash – that merely assisting is not considered an act of significance.

It is difficult to claim that mesayei’ah ein bo mamash since there are many instances in the Talmud that even the person assisting in a given case is considered to have played a significant role. Rabbi Akiva Eiger suggests that a distinction must be made between cases where the mesayei’ah participates in the activity (where such participation would be forbidden) and where he merely allows the activity to take place, like in our case where opening and closing the eye allows the medicine to be applied.

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