Medicine on Shabbat

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One of several rabbinic decrees that our Sages enacted in order to guard the sanctity of Shabbos concerns the use of medications. In the opinion and experience of the Rabbis, easy access to medicine could lead to the transgression of certain Shabbos Labors. While issuing the decree, however, the Rabbis were lenient in certain cases of those suffering pain or distress. [1] (See the footnote for some background)[2]. The details of what's permissible and what's forbidden is described below:

Taking Medicine

If one has a minor condition

  1. If someone has a minor condition which hurts such as a tooth ache, throat ache, head ache, cold, and cough it is forbidden to take any medicine such as pills or drops. However, someone who is in a lot of pain and because of it he is in bed or his body is weakened such as a migraine it permitted to take a medicine. [3]

If one has a serious sickness

  1. If one has fever, feels weak all over, or feels bad enough to require bed rest, he can be classified as a “patient not dangerously ill” and he is permitted to take oral medications. [4]
  2. Since “requiring bed rest” and “weak all over” are subjective terms, it is up to each individual to determine his personal pain threshold. There is no requirement to be overly stringent when judging the degree of illness. [5]

Infants

  1. Healthy infants and babies until the age of three (and according to some poskim even older children till the age of six or nine) are also halachically classified as “patients not dangerously ill.” [6] (In the final analysis, it all depends on the strength and maturity of the child.) [7] Therefore, they are permitted to take all forms of medicine, provided, of course, that no Biblical prohibitions are transgressed. [8]

Continuing to take a daily dosage

  1. Although one who is not classified as “ill” may not begin taking medicine on Shabbos, still, one who requires daily medication for an ongoing condition may continue doing so on Shabbos as well. [9]

Non-medical treatment

Using a band aid

  1. It is permitted to put on a band aid on a wound. [10]
  2. According to Ashkenazim, one should not remove a band aid on Shabbat if there is hair in the area of the band aid. However, if it is painful one may remove it. [11] However, Sephardim are more lenient as long as there is a need to remove it, it's permissible. [12]

Cleaning a wound

  1. It is permitted to clean and bandage a wound or to pour hydrogen peroxide over it. [13]

Braces

  1. Braces may be worn on Shabbos because there is no medicine for aligning teeth properly. [14]

Specific conditions

Abscess

  1. An abscess may be squeezed to relieve pressure from pus, even if some blood is secreted in the process. [15]

Acne

  1. All medication for acne may not be taken on Shabbat. [16]

Angina

  1. All medication for angina are permitted to be taken on Shabbat. [17]

Arthritis

  1. Anti-inflammatory medication for mild arthritis are forbidden. [18]

Asthma

  1. All oral and breathing medications for mild asthma are permitted to be taken on Shabbat. [19]

Athlete’s foot

  1. One may not use any medication for athlete’s foot on Shabbat. [20]

Back or neck brace

  1. One may put on or remove a back or neck brace on Shabbat. [21]

Bee sting

  1. If one has a bee or wasp sting the stinger may be removed and the area may be washed with ice water, lemon juice or vinegar, etc. The area may not be soaked, however, in those liquids. [22]
  2. One may use liquid or spray insect repellent on Shabbat. [23]

Birth control

  1. It's permissible to take birth control pills on Shabbat (assuming she received halachic permission to take these pills). [24]

Stopping bleeding

  1. Pressure may be applied to a cut to stop bleeding. Sucking or squeezing out blood is prohibited. [25]

Bone fracture

  1. For a simple bone fracture a non-Jew may be asked to do anything necessary, e.g., make a phone call, drive a car, take x-rays or put on a cast. [If a non-Jew is not available, some poskim permit a Jew to do these acts if they are done with a shinui, in an abnormal manner. [26]] If there is even a small chance of internal bleeding, e.g., the thigh or pelvis bone was fractured, or if the elbow was shattered, all Shabbos restrictions are lifted. [27]

cellulites

  1. Since cellulitis may be life-threatening immediate medical attention is required. [28]

Cold

  1. For a cold one may not take medications or vitamins.[26] [29] unless one is experiencing discomfort in his whole body or is bedridden. Chicken soup and tea with honey, etc. are permitted. [30]

Cough

  1. Cough–medication may not be taken. If the cough may be an indication of pneumonia or asthma, medication is permitted. [31]

Band-Aid

  1. Most authorities permit removing the Band-Aid from the protective tabs, while some are stringent and so to satisfy all opinions one may prepare Band-Aids for Shabbos use by peeling off their protective tabs and re-sealing them before Shabbos. [32]

Bee Sting

  1. One may remove a insect sting and rinse with ice water to prevent irritation but may not soak the soak the area in water. [33]

Diabetes

  1. All necessary medications for diabetes may be taken on Shabbat. [34]

Diarrhea

  1. For diarrhea one may not take medication unless one is in severe pain or weak all over. Prune juice or any other food or drink is permitted. A hot water bottle is permitted when one experiences strong pains. [35]

Chapped lips

  1. For dried or cracked lips one may not apply chap stick or any other medication, liquid or otherwise. [36]

Chapped hands

  1. For dried (or chapped) hands it is prohibited to rub them with either oil, ointment (Vaseline) or lotion. One who regularly uses a pourable, liquid lotion or oil on his hands (whether they are chapped or not) may do so on Shabbos, too, even if his hands are chapped.[37]

Ear infection

  1. For an ear infection all medications are permitted. Cotton balls may be inserted. [38] Even if the infection is no longer present, prescribed medicine begun on a weekday must be continued until finished in order to avoid a relapse. [39]

Eye inflammation

  1. For an eye inflammation eye drops (or ointment) may be instilled in the eye. If the eye is not inflamed but merely irritated, no medication is permitted. [40]

Fever

  1. For a fever any oral medications may be taken. A mercury thermometer may be used. [41] If a person is suffering from high-grade fever, a non-Jew may be asked to do whatever the patient needs in order to feel better. [42] If the cause of the fever is unknown, a doctor should be consulted.

Headache

  1. For a headache medication should not be taken. If the headache is severe enough so that one feels weak all over or is forced to go to bed, medication may be taken. One who is unsure if he has reached that stage of illness may be lenient and take pain- relieving medication. [43]

Heartburn

  1. For heartburn foods which will have a soothing effect may be eaten. Some poskim permit taking anti-acid medication while others are stringent. If the medicine is prescribed by a doctor, one may be lenient. [44]

Hemorrhoids

  1. For a mild case of hemorrhoids medication may not be taken. For a severe case, it is permitted to sit in a “sitz bath” (with water that heated before Shabbos), or use medicated pads or suppositories. [45]

Herniated disc

  1. For a herniated disc (back and leg pain) ice packs or hot packs are permitted. Physical therapy exercises, e.g. stretching, are permitted. If the pain is severe to the degree that the entire body is in pain, painkillers or other medications are permitted as well. [46]

Indigestion

  1. One may take a leisurely walk in order to help digestion. [47]

Infection

  1. For an infection all medications are permitted. [48]

Lactose

  1. For lactose intolerance one may not take enzyme supplement tablets. But it is permitted to add enzyme drops to liquid dairy foods before Shabbos and drink the dairy on Shabbos. [49]

Migraine

  1. For a migraine headache any oral medications may be taken. [50]

Nosebleed

  1. For a nosebleed bleeding may be stopped with a tissue or a napkin. If none is available, a cloth napkin may be used. [51]

Retainer

  1. One may insert and remove a retainer on Shabbat. [52]

Scab

  1. It is permitted to remove a scab as long as blood is not drawn from the wound. [53]

Sleep disorder

  1. There are conflicting views among contemporary poskim about taking sleeping pills or No-Doze pills. [54] One who is weak all over or bedridden may take them. Cotton balls may be used as ear plugs. It is permitted to use pliable ear plugs, which are made from a wax-like material that spreads to fill the cavity of the ear. [55]

Sore throat

  1. For a sore throat medication may not be taken. Gargling is prohibited. [56] Drinking tea or any other hot drink, or sucking a candy, is permitted even if the intention is for medicinal purposes. [57]

Splinter

  1. A splinter under the skin may be extracted with the fingers, or with tweezers or a needle. If, unavoidably, a little blood is secreted in the process, it is of no consequence. [58]

Sprain

  1. For a sprain if the patient is not experiencing severe pain, nothing may be done. If the patient is experiencing severe pain, medication may be taken and a massage may be given. A makeshift splint may be applied, provided that no Shabbos Labors are transgressed. [59]

Stitches

  1. Only a non-Jew is allowed to stitch any wound, even if the stitching is done only for cosmetic reasons. [60]A Jew may place a butterfly bandage or steri-strips to close a simple laceration or cut. Surgical skin closure glue may also be used. [61]

Strep throat

  1. For a strep throat all oral medications may be taken. Even if the infection is no longer present, the prescribed medicine begun on a weekday must be continued until finished. A culture may be taken by a non-Jew. [62]

Sunburn

  1. For a ordinary sunburn medications are not permitted. [63]

Sweating

  1. It is permitted to sprinkle baby powder on those parts of the body which are perspiring. [64]

Swelling

  1. It is permitted to press a knife, etc. against the skin to prevent or minimize swelling. [65] It is permitted to wash or soak the swollen area in water.[66]It is permitted to place a compress, [67] ice (placed in plastic bag) or any frozen item over a swollen area. [68]

Toothache

  1. A minor (cavity) toothache may not be treated with painkillers, but one is permitted to drink whiskey, etc., provided that it is swallowed immediately. [69]A severe toothache (to the point where one feels weak all over) or gum infection may be treated with oral medication. If the tooth needs to be extracted, a non-Jew may be asked to do so. [70]

Wound

  1. Cuts and abrasions may be washed or soaked in water. Hydrogen peroxide may be poured over a cut. It is not permitted, however, to soak absorbent cotton or paper in such a solution and then wash the wound with it. The wound may be covered with a non-medicated Band-Aid. [71]

Purchasing the medicine

  1. In situations where one is considered “ill” and is permitted to take medicine on Shabbos, it is also permitted to ask a non-Jew to drive to a drugstore, buy medicine and bring it to him. [72]

Specific medicines

Foods and drinks

  1. Even someone with a minor ailment may eat food which healthy people eat even if one’s intention is for improving one’s health. For example, someone who has a head ache may eat honey, a lemon, or suck on candy. Someone who has a hoarse throat may swallow a raw egg. [73]
  2. Foods and drinks are permitted even when they are consumed for medicinal purposes. For example, one may have tea for a sore throat on Shabbos. [74]

Vitamins

  1. If the purpose of the vitamin is to serve as a food supplement it is permitted to take such a vitamin on Shabbat. [75]
  2. If the purpose of the vitamin is to strengthen a weak body or to relieve certain symptoms, in the opinion of many poskim, one may not take those vitamins on Shabbos. [76]

Elective surgery

  1. One should make sure to schedule a non emergency surgery in the first three days of the week but not on or after Wednesday. However, after the fact and if one did the surgery at such a time and there is a situation of Pikuach Nefesh it is totally permissible to violate Shabbat like any other sick person in danger. [77] Sephardim could be lenient to schedule such a surgery on Wednesday but not past Thursday. [78]

Inducing labor

  1. It is permissible for a pregnant woman who is past her term to receive a hormone infusion to induce labor if the doctor feels that there danger to the life of the mother or fetus. [79]

Caesarian section

  1. If according to the doctor a women has to have a caesarian section and she can choose to schedule the surgery, she should schedule for the first three days of the week and not Wednesday through Friday. [80]

A doctor on call

  1. A doctor who is on call and there is a sick patient under his or her care, some say that the doctor should stay in the hospital or nearby so that the doctor will not have to travel on Shabbat[81], while others are lenient if it will ruin the doctor and his family’s oneg Shabbat. [82]

Related Pages

  1. Tochen (grinding)
  2. Brushing Teeth on Shabbat

References

  1. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
    • Rashi (Shabbat 53b D"H Gezerah) explains that there is a rabbinic decree not to do an medical practice on Shabbat because one might come to violate the prohibition of Tochen (grinding) the ingredients for the medicine. Maggid Mishna (Shabbat 2:10) draws a distinction between one is sick but isn't in danger of his life and a person who is pain. Tur and Shulchan Aruch 338:1 rule that a healthy person who is in pain may not do any activity of healing because of the rabbinic decree.
  2. Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata 34:1,3. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org writes that although contemporary poskim debate whether nowadays we can be more lenient with taking medication on Shabbos because of the change in technique, the general consensus is to reject this argument. See Minchas Shabbos 91:9; Ketzos ha-Shulchan 134:7; Chelkas Yaakov 4:41; and Tzitz Eliezer 8:15-15. Listen to Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz on YUTorah.org.
  3. Mishna Brurah 328:121 permits taking an oral medication without any shinui (alteration from the normal procedure). Yalkut Yosef (Shabbat, vol 4, pg 129) and 39 Melachos (Rabbi Ribiat, vol 2, pg 492) agree with the Mishna Brurah. Halachos of Refuah on Shabbos (Rabbi Bodner, pg 55) and Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org write that most poskim agree with the Mishna Brurah. See, however, Sh"t Igrot Moshe 3:53, Tzitz Eliezer 8:15:15, and Minchat Yitzchak 1:108, 6:28.
  4. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org. See also Sh"t Tzitz Eliezer 14:50-7 and 17:13.
  5. Chazon Ish, O.C. 59:3, Rav S.Z. Auerbach in Nishmas Avraham 328:54, and Rav Y.S. Elyashiv in Eis Laledes, pg. 57, quote the age of 2-3. Tzitz Eliezer 8:15-12 quotes ages of 6. Minchas Yitzchak 1:78 quotes age of 9.
  6. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  7. Rama, O.C. 328:17. Note, however, that not all of a baby’s needs are exempt from the prohibition against medication; see, for instance, Mishnah Berurah 328:131. See Tehillah l’David 328:24 and Minchas Yitzchak 4:124 who deal with this difficulty
  8. Chazon Ish (oral ruling, quoted in Imrei Yosher on Moed 97) and Rav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 34, note 77) hold that one who requires daily medication for an ongoing condition may continue doing so on Shabbos as well. See a dissenting opinion in Igros Moshe, O.C. 3:53. Rav S. Kluger (Sefer ha-Chayim 328:10 and Shenos Chayim 1:152) even further and permit continuing taking medicine on Shabbos, even of the patient is not medically required to take the medicine on a daily basis. Minchas Shabbos 91:9; Tzitz Eliezer 8:15-15:15; Rav Y.S. Elyashiv (Koveitz Teshuvos, O.C. 1:40, and oral ruling, quoted in Refuas Yisrael, pg. 14) agree with Rav Kluger.
  9. Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata 34:3
  10. Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata 35:30 (in the new edition) writes that a band aid shouldn’t be removed on Shabbat in an area where there’s hair because removing the band aid will certainly pull out hairs. However, the Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata writes that it’s permissible to use a Benzine to remove the band aid so it won’t rip out any hairs that’s assuming the cream was set aside before Shabbat and isn’t Muktzeh. Nonetheless in the footnote he quotes Rav Shlomo Zalman saying that if it’s painful it may be removed because it’s a pesik reisha delo nicha leih (פסיק רישא דלא ניחא ליה), keleacher yad (כלאחר יד), and mekalkel (מקלקל).
  11. The Yalkut Yosef (Shabbat 4 pg 179, kitzur S”A 328:101, 340:6) writes that if there’s a need, it’s permissible to remove a band aid from an area of hair on Shabbat because it’s a pesik reisha delo nicha leih (פסיק רישא דלא ניחא ליה) for a Derabbanan. In the footnote he writes that even though the Or Letzion (vol 2, pg 259) is strict, his father (Rav Ovadyah, in Haskama to Lev Avraham), Rav Yitzchak Elchanan (Bear Yitzchak Siman 15), and Rav Shlomo Zalman (from Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata) are lenient.
  12. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org based on S"A 328:23
  13. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org writes that it is permissible to wear braces on Shabbat because the goal of the treatment or procedure can only be achieved without the use of medicine.
  14. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org quoting S"A O.C. 328:28 and Mishnah Berurah 328:89
  15. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  16. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  17. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  18. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  19. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  20. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org Based on ruling of Rav S.Z. Auerbach in Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 34, note 113.
  21. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org, See Mishnah Berurah 328:141,142
  22. Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 14:35; Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 179, Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  23. Rabbi Mansour on DailyHalacha.com
  24. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org, Mishnah Berurah 328:147
  25. This is the view of Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav 328:19 and Eglei Tal (Tochen 18). Some poskim (Rav S.Z. Auerbach, quoted in Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 33, note 18; Shevet ha-Levi 8:93) rule that one may rely on this view, especially when there is “danger to a limb.” Note, however, that Mishnah Berurah, Aruch ha-Shulchan and most poskim do not agree with this leniency.
  26. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  27. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  28. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org, Rav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 34, note 52) write that there is room for leniency in kavod ha-beriyos situations, e.g., a constantly dripping nose which is disturbing to people who are around him.
  29. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  30. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  31. Most poskim (oral ruling by Rav M. Feinstein, quoted in Kitzur Hilchos Shabbos 44, note 117); Rav S.Z. Auerbach in Shulchan Shelomo 328:45; Ohr l’Tziyon 2:36-15; Az Nidberu 7:34, 35; Rav C.P. Scheinberg, quoted in Children in Halachah, pg. 88; Rav N. Karelitz, quoted in Orchos Shabbos 11:35) permit removing the protective tabs from a Band-Aid, while others (Minchas Yitzchak 5:39-2; 9:41; Rav Y.S. Elyashiv, quoted in Machazeh Eliyahu 70) are stringent. To satisfy all opinions, one may prepare Band-Aids for Shabbos use by peeling off their protective tabs and re-sealing them before Shabbos; once they have been prepared in this fashion, they may be used on Shabbos (Tzitz Eliezer 16:6-5).
  32. 39 Melachos (Rabbi Ribiat, vol 2, pg 478)
  33. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  34. Mishnah Berurah 326:19, Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  35. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  36. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org based on S”A 327:1
  37. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org, It is prohibited to tear cotton balling on Shabbos; Minchas Yitzchak 4:45; Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 35:20.
  38. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  39. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org based on S”A O.C. 328:20
  40. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org based on S”A O.C. 306:7
  41. Mishnah Berurah 328:46, 47
  42. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org See Ketzos ha-Shulchan 138, pg. 100; Minchas Yitzchak 3:35; Be’er Moshe 1:33; 2:32.
  43. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org See Ketzos ha-Shulchan 138, pg. 98; Tzitz Eliezer 8:15 (15-21); Az Nidberu 1:31; Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 34:4
  44. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  45. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  46. 39 Melachos (Rabbi Ribiat, vol 2, pg 477)
  47. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  48. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org . See Refuas Yisrael, pg. 245.
  49. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  50. Mishnah Berurah 328:146
  51. Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 34:29
  52. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org based on S”A O.C. 328:22 and Mishnah Berurah 90.
  53. See Minchas Yitzchak 3:21, Tzitz Eliezer 9:17, Be’er Moshe 1:33 and Shalmei Yehudah, pg. 176, for the various views.
  54. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org quoting Rav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 14:45); Shraga ha-Meir 5:23. Rav Y.S. Elyashiv, however, recommends not using pliable ear plugs on Shabbos; see Ashrei ha-Ish 17:117; 33:7
  55. S”A 328:32
  56. S”A 328:37
  57. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org quoting Mishnah Berurah 328:88 and Sha’ar ha-Tziyun 63. 39 Melachos (Rabbi Ribiat, vol 2, pg 478) writes one may remove a splinter even if it may bleed, but one may remove if it will certainly bleed unless it is very painful.
  58. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  59. Minchas Shelomo 2:34-33 and Nishmas Avraham, vol. 4, O.C. 340. See also Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 33, note 26, and 35, note 65-66.
  60. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  61. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  62. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  63. Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 34:12
  64. Mishnah Berurah 328:144
  65. Tzitz Eliezer 8:15 (15-12)
  66. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org writes in order to avoid sechitah and/or libun, only paper towels or napkins should be used and care should be taken not to squeeze them.
  67. Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 35:35; Be’er Moshe 1:33-18
  68. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org based on S”A O.C. 328:32. See also Mishnah Berurah 328:102
  69. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org based on Rama, O.C. 328:3. See Tzitz Eliezer 9:17 (2-11)
  70. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  71. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  72. Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata 34:4
  73. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org, 39 Melachos (Rabbi Ribiat, vol 2, pg 477)
  74. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org
  75. Rabbi Doniel Neustadt on Torah.org writes to see Igros Moshe, O.C. 3:54, Minchas Shelomo 2:37 and Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 34, note 86, quoting Rav S.Z. Auerbach. See, however, Tzitz Eliezer 14:50, who takes a more lenient approach concerning vitamins on Shabbos.
  76. Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata 32:33 based on the idea of Baal HaMoer quoted in S”A 248:4. Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata (chap 32 note 99) quotes Rav Shlomo Zalman who says that if an expert doctor who is needed for this surgery is only available on Wednesday through Friday it is permissible to schedule the surgery then. For background of this topic see here.
  77. Yalkut Yosef (Shabbat, vol 1, pg 60)
  78. Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata (chap 32, note 98 (note 100, in new one)).For background of this topic see here.
  79. Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata 36:4 based on the principle of the Baal HaMoer. For background of this topic see here.
  80. Sh”t Igrot Moshe 1:131 and Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata 30:26
  81. Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata (chap 40 note 71) in name of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach explaining that since there is a mitzvah of oneg Shabbat one is not obligated to leave one’s home on Friday in order to avoid violation of Shabbat. For background of this topic see here.