כ״ח בשבט ה׳תשע״ג (February 8, 2013)

Shabbat 128a-b: Giving Birth on Shabbat

The Mishna on today’s daf teaches that a woman who is giving birth has the status of an ill person for whom Sabbath desecration is permitted. The Mishna teaches:

And one may birth a woman even on Shabbat, and call a midwife for her to travel from place to place, even when the midwife’s travel involves the desecration of Shabbat. And one may desecrate Shabbat for a woman giving birth. And one may tie the umbilical cord of a child born on Shabbat. Rabbi Yosei says: One may even cut the umbilical cord.

The Gemara clarifies this ruling further:

Rav Yehuda said that Shmuel said: With regard to a woman in childbirth, as long as the womb is open, whether she said: I need Shabbat to be desecrated, or whether she did not say: I need Shabbat to be desecrated, one desecrates Shabbat for her. Generally, a woman in childbirth is in danger, and prohibited labors may be performed in life-threatening circumstances. Once the womb closed after birth, whether the woman who gave birth said: I need Shabbat to be desecrated, or whether she did not say: I need Shabbat to be desecrated, one does not desecrate Shabbat for her.

Regarding the latter case, the Ramban writes that this discussion is referring to a situation in which there is no doctor present. However, if a doctor is present, and he determines that the woman requires care that involves desecrating Shabbat, then her protestations to the contrary are ignored. Perhaps her ability to make a rational decision is compromised due to her pain and suffering. Halakhic rulings are always lenient in cases of uncertainty with regard to a life-threatening situation.

It is interesting to note that the Gemara uses the word kever as a euphemism for the womb. Although the Talmud does not shy away from discussing any issue, as all aspects of life require talmudic study, consistently employ euphemisms. In this case, the word kever, literally grave, is a euphemism for the womb. This particular euphemism was influenced by the verse in which these two items are listed together among things that are never satisfied: “The grave and the barren womb” (Mishlei 30:16).

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