Kavod v'Nichum and Gamliel Institute provide resources, education, and training along the Jewish end-of-life continuum: from visiting the sick and pre-planning, to care for the body after death, to providing comfort to the mourners.
Home  »  Bikur Cholim

What is Bikur Cholim?

Definition

Bikur cholim (Hebrew: ביקור חולים‎; “visiting the sick”; also transliterated Bikur Holim) refers to the mitzvah (Jewish religious commandment) to visit and extend aid to the sick. It is considered an aspect of gemilut chasadim (benevolence, selflessness,loving-kindness). It is traditional to recite prayers for healing, such as the Mi Shebeirach prayer in the synagogue, and Psalms (especially Psalm 119) on behalf of the sick. Bikur Cholim societies exist in Jewish communities around the world. The earliest Bikur Cholim society on record dates back to the Middle Ages.

2021 Bikur Cholim Conference

You are invited to attend this series of 10 lectures and discussions around this important topic.  This conference series begins January 4th, 2021, and runs through May 10th, 2021, online using Zoom at 7:00pm Eastern Time, 4:00pm Pacific Time. These bi-weekly evening lectures are taught by prominent teachers and rabbis. Click for more more information or to register.

The Conference addresses many of the emerging challenges of Bikur Cholim facing the pandemic. It seeks to provide an educational forum and a venue for exchange of ideas and concerns, assisting providers and volunteers in providing this essential service. The topics addressed include expanding your spiritual toolbox, being a caring presence with technology, providing for the dying, shiva under the pandemic, new approaches to prayer, dealing with dementia, new forms of loss, and grappling with isolation and loneliness.

History

The roots of Bikur Cholim can be traced back to the Torah, when God visits Abraham after his circumcision (Genesis 18:1).

Bikur Cholim is mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud several times, in Tractate Nedarim 39a, 39b, and 40a. Nedarim 39a and 39b state that “[One must visit] even a hundred times a day” and that “He who visits a person who is ill takes away a sixtieth of his pain.” Nedarim 40a says that “anyone who visits the sick causes him to live and anyone who does not visit the sick causes him to die”; it also states that those who visit the sick are spared from the punishments of Gehenna (hell) and that God sustains the sick, citing the Book of Psalms Chapter 31. According to the Talmud, visits should not be very early or late in the day, and one should not stay too long. Relatives and friends are urged to visit as soon as possible. It is advised that a sick person not be informed of the death of a relative or friend lest it cause more pain.

Visiting the sick during Shabbat, often after morning services, is a common practice; the House of Shammai opposed this but the House of Hillel viewed this as a mitzvah and the view of Hillel became part of halakhah. Additionally, is also permissible to travel on Shabbat if a close relative falls ill.

Back to Top

 


Resource List

General Bikur Cholim Links and Additional Resources

These links give resources of interest to those who do this holy work.

Bikur Cholim Resources Manual

Guidance and resources for those new to visiting the ill and dying.

Bikur Cholim Training Manual

Yad L’Yad (hand to hand) training manual for Bikur Cholim volunteers.

Being a Bikur Cholim Telephone Visitor

The ubiquitous telephone! How many of us have gotten calls that lift our spirits or warm our hearts? With forethought and skill the telephone can be used for Bikur Cholim in a meaningful and efficient way. Many points of visiting are the same whether face-to-face or via the telephone, but some are different. Both require […]

Back to Top

 

From Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub:

Probably Forbidden Lines

Why Do People Not Visit the Sick?

What May People Who Are Ill Lose?

From the Depths Healthcare Professionals in the Trenches

Ten Possible Questions to Ask Oneself after a Bikur Cholim Visit

 

Back to Top

Telephone Visiting Manual

Prayers for Bikur Cholim Visitors

Traditionally, prayer has been an integral part of a Bikur Cholim visit, with two main purposes: Comforting the sick Helping them experience, in a tangible way, a connection with the Jewish community Jewish sources cite specific prayers to be offered at the bedside of the sick. The Shulchan Aruch (16th century Code of Jewish Law) […]

Conversation Essentials for Bikur Cholim

Bikur Cholim is an investment of time and includes attention, patience, perceptive listening, sincere concern, openness, and communication skills. As in all verbal communication, tone of voice is very important and can change the meaning behind the question. Below are techniques to help facilitate communication when making a visit or talking with the person on […]

Tips For Bikur Cholim Visitors

Bikur Cholim visiting skills are skills for life. They include being fully present, and being a good listener and knowing proper visiting etiquette. These guidelines will help you in communicating your caring intention and being an effective visitor: Being fully present Try to put yourself in the other person’s place. Put aside daydreams and distraction […]

Back to Top

 

A Jewish Spiritual Companion For Caregivers

Give Me Your Hand

This is a remarkable booklet that is one of  the best user friendly texts on Bikur Cholim. 

You Are Your Parents’ Keeper 

A comprehensive book covering all aspects of Bikur Cholim.

Turn to Me (video)

The Act of Visiting (video)

The Art of Reaching Out

The Art of the Shiva Call

Back to Top

 

Spiritual Fitness Exercises

A Digest of Laws of Bikur Cholim

The following digest of laws of Bikur Cholim is compiled from the Shulhan Arukh (16th Century text) & Rabbinic Literature Visiting the sick is in emulation of the Almighty’s own actions, when He visited Abraham after his circumcision: “The Lord appeared unto him by the terebinths of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door […]

About Being a Bikur Cholim Visitor

Our good intentions can be enhanced with skill, grace, and efficiency. The ideal visitor needs to be mindful as he/she provides optimistic support, assistance toward independence and a listening ear. Hiddur (Hebrew for “beautify”) is the concept of enhancement of a mitzvah through beautification. Conventionally, hiddur applies to the ritualistic aspects of religious observance: the […]

JFCS Prayer Pamphlet

A booklet distributed in Boston area hospitals and synagogue caring communities who request them for congregants. Two of the prayers were written by  David Breakstone and Betty Ann Miller who the Center for Jewish Healing is named after. This booklet was written by  Marjorie U. Sokoll.

And God Appeared to Abraham

Alexander Massey article about Bikur Cholim.

Back to Top

 

JTS Course on Bikur Cholim

This link gives a description of a course on Bikur Cholim offered by JTS.

Make A Difference Day

Educational materials around Bikur Cholim.

Chug Bikur Cholim Student Manual

Chug Pointers for Teachers

The Stages of Jewish Mourning

Eulogy of Rabbi Trainin

Some humor related to Bikur Cholim: