Sick, Visiting the

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SICK, VISITING THE (Heb. בִּקּוּר חוֹלִים; bikkur ḥolim). Visiting the sick in order to cheer, aid, and relieve their suffering is one of the many social obligations which Judaism has clothed with religious significance. God Himself is said to have observed this mitzvah when He visited Abraham who was recovering from his circumcision (Gen. 18:1; Sot. 14a). Man is enjoined to follow this divine example; the rabbis classified bikkur ḥolim as one of the precepts for which a man enjoys the fruits in this world while the principal remains for him in the world to come (Shab. 127a). The sick of the non-Jews are also to be visited along with the sick of Israel in the interests of peace (Git. 61a).

The visitor is encouraged to be considerate of the patient's welfare. He is not to visit too early in the morning or too late at night (Ned. 40a). Eliezer b. Isaac of Worms counseled: "Do not fatigue him by staying too long for his malady is heavy enough already. Enter cheerfully, for his heart and his eyes are on those who come in" (I. Abrahams (ed.), Hebrew Ethical Wills, 1 (1926), 40). The 12th-century moralist, Judah he-Ḥasid, declared: "Even the great should visit the humble. If a poor man and a rich man fall ill at the same time, and many go to the rich man to pay him honor, go thou to the poor man, even if the rich man is a scholar" (Sefer Ḥasidim, ed. by R. Margalioth (1957), 367, no. 361; cf. Ned. 39b). Relatives and close friends were advised to visit the sick person as soon as he became ill. Others visited after the first three days of his illness (tj, Pe'ah 3:9, 17d). Rava requested that his illness not be announced on the first day since he might yet quickly recover (Ned. 40a; Rashi ad loc.). Whoever visits the sick "removes one sixtieth of his malady," while he who does not visit hastens the death of the ailing person (Ned. 39b–40a).

Merely visiting was not necessarily envisaged by the rabbis as the true fulfillment of this mitzvah. The sick person was also to be aided and his material needs satisfied. R. Eliezer advised, "When you visit a sick man who is without means, be quick to offer refreshments to him and he will esteem it as though you did uphold and restore his soul" (Abrahams, op. cit., 44). The visitor was also expected to comfort the patient by giving practical expression to his sympathy. It was important for the sick person to know that he is not left to suffer alone in his hours of pain and weakness (cf. Ber. 5b). The most important aspect of the visit was the prayer which the visitor had to recite for the sick person (see Prayer for *Sick). In the presence of the sick any language could be employed for this prayer (Shab. 12b; Sh. Ar., yd 335:5).

Bet Shammai did not permit the visiting of the sick on the Sabbath when sadness was to be avoided. The halakhah, however, is in accordance with the viewpoint of Bet Hillel, who did permit such visits (Shab. 12a). During the Middle Ages it was customary for the congregants to visit the sick when they left the synagogue on Sabbath mornings (I. Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages (19322), 348ff.). A sick person should not be given bad news, nor should he be told of the death of a relative lest his own recovery be retarded (mk 26b).

It is meritorious to visit the sick many times as long as the frequent visits are not burdensome for the patient (Ned. 39b; Maim., Avel, 14:4). Those suffering from stomach trouble may not be visited since they will be embarrassed to be seen in such a state. Likewise, those for whom speech is injurious may not be visited (Ned. 41a). In these instances, one should stay in the anteroom and ascertain whether any assistance is necessary (Sh. Ar., yd 335:8). An entire chapter of the Shulḥan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah, is devoted to this precept (335).


H. Rabinowicz, A Guide to Life (1964), 11–13; J.M. Tukacinsky, Gesher ha-Ḥayyim, 1 (19602), 27ff.

[Aaron Rothkoff]