What is Bikur Cholim?
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.
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.
Creating Memorials for COVID Victims
- First there was an installation called “Field of Flags” outside the DC Armory to commemorate the victims of Covid in the US. Here is an article about the installation and an article David Balto wrote about “consecrating” the installation. (David Balto and Father John Entzler consecrated it.)
- Second, here is a beautiful ceremony commemorating a Jewish memorial in Boston.
Clicking this link will download the slides used in Faye Wilber and Rabbi Cheryl Weiner’s presentation on caring for yourself as a caregiver.
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 […]
From Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub:
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) […]
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 […]
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 […]
This is a remarkable booklet that is one of the best user friendly texts on Bikur Cholim.
A comprehensive book covering all aspects 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 […]
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 […]
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.
Alexander Massey article about Bikur Cholim.
Educational materials around Bikur Cholim.
Some humor related to Bikur Cholim:
Articles on Jewish practice around the end of life for non-Jews:
- More strict Jewish practices (Orthodox perspective)
- Ethics of Jewish patients who are dying
- Example of what to do when a Jewish resident in a nursing home dies