As a friend or family of a sick patient, you are a vital part of your family member’s medical care. Work together to create an environment where your loved one receives the best Jewish care for the ill.

Jewish Family Care for Sick Patients

Having a close friend or family member diagnosed with a serious disease is heart-wrenching. Knowing that your loved one is going to be suffering can almost feel worse than being sick yourself. You might feel a burning desire to help the patient get better, but be unsure as to what you can do. The good news is that you can always do something productive to help a sick patient, even if you can’t actually help them get better.

If the patient is a very close family member such as a spouse, parent, or child, you may be the one handling their medical treatment. You might be the one talking to doctors, accompanying them to appointments, and making sure the patient takes their medicine. Every one of these acts is in fact a mitzvah (Torah commandment). Each time you help your family member access medical care, you gain incredible merits.

The zechus (merit) of arranging a family member’s medical treatment is tremendous, because the Torah places great emphasis on the value of life. By investing effort to extend and improve your family member’s life, you are fulfilling this great value of the Torah. 

Jewish family care for sick patients can include many more mitzvos as well, such as the mitzvah of Bikur Cholim (visiting the sick) when you spend time in the hospital, and the mitzvah of Gemilas Chessed (lovingkindness) when helping them. Aside from the merit that you accrue for their care, overcoming the difficulties involved in caring closely for the ill makes you a more patient, understanding person. Many people who have cared for a sick family member say that it gives them a new perspective on life, making them care less about petty things, and more sympathetic to suffering.

This kind of growth changes you as a person, making it a lifelong benefit of Jewish family care for sick loved ones. 

Jewish Community Support for the Sick

Even if you aren’t needed on the medical front, there’s still a lot you can do for your family member. Improving a patient’s psychological wellbeing can do wonders for their physical health as well. If you are supportive and loving to the sick patient in your family, that gives you a tremendous merit without actually being involved in their care.


Because the mental health of a sick patient is so important, there is a special mitzvah of Bikur Cholim, visiting the sick, which is specifically meant to lift the sick person’s spirits. Visiting your loved one and bringing along something they enjoy can make a real difference to the effectiveness of the treatment. Your loved one also needs to stay in an upbeat, positive state of mind. You can accomplish that by keeping the discussion focused on a hopeful, optimistic outlook for their recovery.


If your loved one would appreciate many visitors to keep them company, you can fulfill the mitzvah of Bikur Cholim in the best manner possible through arranging that others come and visit them.


Aside from making sure to be there for the sick patient through providing support and help in whatever way you can, you can tap into Jewish community support for the sick as well. Many Jewish communities have a local Bikur Cholim organization which provides community support for the ill, with services such as transportation, loaned medical devices, food packages, volunteer visitors to keep the sick patient company, plus more.


If you haven’t found local resources that offer Jewish community support for the sick, you can tap into some national resources, like the organization called Chai Lifeline which has many programs for the emotional support of both patients and their family members.


Jewish community support for the sick isn’t limited only to practical help. Another way that the community can be involved in supporting the patient is through doing mitzvos in his merit. Whether it’s getting a large number of people to fulfill a segulah in the patient’s merit, or asking everyone in the community to mention the person’s name in their prayers, the power of a crowd can be much greater than one person on their own.

Jewish Medical Care Guidelines

Part of arranging Jewish care for the ill for your loved one is knowing about Jewish medical directives. You may have big decisions to make when a loved one is ill. There are choices at every step, such as what kinds of treatments to pursue, or eventually, the painful question of when to stop treating a terminal illness.


These decisions involve major questions about life, including what the purpose of life is when there is decreased quality of life, and what amount of pain and risk outweighs the value of life. Jewish medical care guidelines apply the Jewish viewpoint to these questions. If you are struggling with these kinds of questions as you watch a sick family member suffer, you can get support by reaching out to a Rabbi to discuss these issues.


Some rabbis specialize in medical questions and have a lot of knowledge about the treatment of illnesses. If your local rabbi is not well-versed in medical questions, ask him to recommend a rabbi who does have experience in this area. There is also a wonderful Jewish organization called Chayim Aruchim which can provide information and assistance when you need to make decisions about end-of-life care. You don’t need to make these decisions alone.


It’s important to know that there are clear laws about Jewish care for the ill. When you consult a rabbi, you will be tapping into the wisdom of the Torah to lead you to the right decision. Even if your family member is being treated by a Jewish doctor, you will still need to consult a rabbi. Despite knowing the medical aspect of the illness, the halachic aspects of the treatment might not be familiar to Jewish doctors and illness laws are complex.


Therefore, you might want to ask a rabbi to become your halachic medical advisor, who becomes part of your family member’s treatment team and follows the patient’s progress. The rabbi will tell you what the Jewish medical care guidelines are at every point.


In many states, patients have the right to healthcare that aligns with their religion. If a rabbi tells you that Jewish medical directives tell you to pursue a specific treatment plan for the patient, your doctors may be required by law to listen to you. Realize that you have the right to insist on Jewish care for the ill patient, as explained by your halachic medical advisor.

Jewish Hospice Care

It’s one of the most painful moments when the doctors say that there is nothing they can do to cure your family member. At that point, it becomes more important than ever to have community support and especially, the advice of a rabbi.

This is because Jewish hospice care perspectives can be very different than what the hospital or hospice facility’s policy is. While pulling the plug or not giving nourishment to a sick patient is seen by some as an act of mercy, in most situations, Jewish medical directives consider these actions as equivalent to murder. And in fact, there have been many stories where doctors have advised pulling the plug, and yet, the patient experienced a miraculous recovery.

To ensure your family member’s end-of-life treatment follows Jewish care for the ill guidelines, it’s worthwhile to do research on the facility your family member receives treatment in. Different facilities and different doctors will have different policies, some of which are more in line with Jewish medical directives than others.

Watching a family member who might be unresponsive or unconscious, perhaps suffering a great deal, might make you wonder what the point of prolonging such a life is. But the Jewish perspective on hospice care makes it clear that there is value to every moment of life, no matter what kind of life it is. As long as a person’s soul is still here, a person can continue to fulfill his life’s mission through staying alive.

One way an unconscious person is productive is through the suffering itself. Suffering cleanses the person’s soul, atoning for any wrongdoing the person may have done. People in this state also serve as a reminder to those around them to make the most of their lives with good deeds. Those good deeds that the patient inspires in others is to their credit. 

Jewish Merits for the Ill

Even when there seems to be truly nothing left to do, and that all hope is lost, you can still help your loved one by increasing his merits.


Doing mitzvos in a patient’s merit, or praying for them, is something you can always do, and it is always beneficial. Whether you take on a new mitzvah or fulfill a segulah in the patient’s merit, you can know that you are helping your loved one in a meaningful way.


Giving tzedakah (charity) in the merit of your loved one is a powerful mitzvah you can do. A donation to Rabbi Meir Baal Haness Charities offers you the option of requesting prayers that are said for your patient, so that you get the merits of charity and prayer all wrapped in one.

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