The bonds of community and mutual care are given very high value within Judaism. The importance of a Jew extending themselves on behalf of another includes offering the same practical, emotional and spiritual concern for those beyond the Jewish community. One of the key ways that this can be expressed is through bikur cholim, visiting the sick. It is regarded as a mitzvah – literally a commandment, but it also means that it is a practical task, and, above all an honour and a joy to carry out.
In January 2014, I was invited by the Interfaith Chaplaincy Team at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford (UK) to lead a seminar on bikur cholim. As part of that initiative, I wrote a booklet summarising the main teachings within Judaism about visiting and supporting those who are ill.
The booklet draws from Torah, Tanach, Talmud, Rashi, Maimonides, Nachmanides, and the Shulchan Aruch, as well as a few modern writers. The reader can capture the essence of the teachings by reading just the main text, and browsing the extensive footnotes (with full quotations from source texts) at a later date.
The booklet, called “And God appeared to Abraham …”: Jewish principles, practices (including bikur cholim – ‘visiting the sick’) and prayers for supporting those who are ill, is a downloadable PDF. Here is the list of contents:
p.1 Bikur Cholim: the Jewish practice of visiting the sick
p.2 How to use this chapter on bikur cholim
p.2 The concept of bikur cholim
p.4 In the image of God
p.5 The impact of caring and visiting
p.8 Permission to heal, and to be paid for healing services
p.8 Sensitivity to the patient
p.11 When bad things happen to good people
p.12 Spirituality and prayer
p.15 Life & death, and mourning
p.16 Reading list
p.20 Jewish thoughts on prayer
p.21 General prayers
p.24 Prayers when we are ill
p. 26 Prayers for someone needing healing and protection
p.28 Praying for people around the ill person
p.28 Prayers for visitors
p.29 Prayers on recovery