A person visiting a hospital patient is performing the great mitzvah of bikur cholim. It is one of the mitzvos for which a person reaps benefits in this world, while the principal reward is saved for the next world. While visiting the sick, some halachic issues may arise. This article addresses these issues from the visitor’s point of view. Questions affecting the patient (such as adjusting the bed, using the call button, and asking the staff to perform tasks on Shabbos) are important issues that should be posed to one’s rabbi.
Although visiting a patient in the hospital on Shabbos may present a number of challenges, this does not mean one should necessarily refrain from visiting the sick. To the contrary, the patient may benefit greatly from a Shabbos visit since fewer people tend to stop by on this day and he may welcome the company or need an advocate.2<http://www.star-k.
Doors – Hospitals generally have one of three types of entrance doors: manual, electric eye, or revolving.
Ideally, one should use a manual door when entering or leaving a hospital on Shabbos. If there are none available, he should wait until a non-Jew triggers the electric-eye door with his movement, and then immediately walk through the doorway.3<http://www.star-k.
A manually operated revolving door does not present difficulty on Shabbos, nor does an electrically powered door that revolves continuously, since walking through such a door does not affect its operation. However, an electric eye which continuously checks for the presence of people is a problem on Shabbos. When someone approaches this kind of door, he may cause it to activate.4<http://www.star-k.
Interior doors may also be motorized. They are activated by pressing a button on the wall, or by pulling slightly on the door; they may also be controlled by an electric eye. One hospital door that was evaluated was triggered by a person standing as far as 15 feet from the door. One should be on the alert for these types of doors and walk through them only when they are already opened, as stated above.
Robots – Hospital robots (which may look like mechanized carts) may be used to deliver medicine and supplies throughout the building.5<http://www.star-k.
Elevators – Hospitals often have many floors. Is it permissible to use an elevator on Shabbos?
Use of an elevator involves a number of issues, including:6<http://www.star-k.
1. Elevator doors are equipped with a mechanism which prevents them from closing when people are in the elevator entranceway. One who triggers this mechanism is transgressing a Shabbos prohibition.
2. To reach a specific floor, one generally presses a button which starts the elevator and may cause the button to illuminate.
Therefore, if at all possible one should avoid using an elevator on Shabbos. If it is very difficult for a visitor to use the stairs, he should enter the elevator immediately after a non-Jew to avoid activating the door through the electric eye. (This is not easily accomplished; due to limited space, the electric eye may unfortunately be triggered.) He should not ask anyone to press a button for him, rather he should exit on the nearest level and walk to the desired floor.
In case of need, one may use a “Shabbos elevator” which stops on each floor and remains open for a short while. One should enter or exit the elevator as soon as the door opens. He should not block the elevator doorway as this will activate the electric eye.
Stairwell – The door to the stairwell may be hooked up to either an alarm or electromagnetic lock mechanism. Some hospitals and nursing homes prefer locks that incorporate electronics which alert the security personnel so they can determine whether or not to let a person leave a particular ward or floor. Pressing the bar or turning the handle on this kind of door may activate a mechanism which will sound an alarm or use electricity to unlock the door. If one needs to use such a door on Shabbos, he is permitted to ask non-Jewish personnel to open the door for him.
There may also be a security camera in the stairwell. It is best to avoid being videoed by such cameras on Shabbos, since the image is projected onto a screen. In a hospital, however, it is difficult to avoid this and one is permitted to walk past the cameras.7<http://www.star-k.
Beds – Some hospital beds, particularly in the intensive care unit, are responsive to movement and adjust automatically. A visitor should be aware that sitting down or resting his hand on this type of bed will cause it to move.
Washrooms – Hospitals may be equipped with toilets that are controlled by an electric eye. In a situation where there is no alternative, one may use the toilet on Shabbos due to the kavod habrios (human dignity) involved.8<http://www.star-k.
Food On Shabbos – It is permitted to have non-Jews heat up food on Shabbos for patients who are ill,10<http://www.star-k.org/
If a kiddush cup is unavailable, any cup is acceptable for kiddush,13<http://www.star-k.
There is a mitzvah to use two whole challahs for lechem mishneh. Bagels or buns may be used instead of challahs. If they are sliced, they are acceptable with the following conditions: 1. The two halves are still attached, even if only slightly; and 2. When picking up the smaller piece, the larger piece remains attached and does not break off.
Shabbos Candles – Hadlakas Neiros Shabbos is an obligation that applies even to someone who is hospital bound. A patient whose spouse is lighting candles at home should nonetheless light with a brocho in the hospital room.15<http://www.star-k.org/
Eruv Chatzeiros – An eruv chatzeiros17<http://www.star-
Security – In some hospitals, especially in the emergency room, visitors may be asked to pass through a metal detector upon entering the facility. One may do so only upon removing all metal items so as not to set off the detector.
VARIOUS HOSPITAL ISSUES
Meals – A hospital may serve meals which are pre-packaged, similar to airline meals. If the meal is served in two segments, a hot and a cold portion, always check that the hot and cold portions come sealed and labeled. Furthermore, one should make sure that the portions correspond with each other; both parts should be labeled “Meat” or “Dairy.” It is possible that the components could be mixed, or that a non-kosher cold portion could be mixed with the kosher hot portion. This is especially true regarding bread, beverages and dessert which may have inadvertently originated from the non-kosher kitchen.18<http://www.star-k.
Davening – Many hospitals have an on-site non-denominational chapel. Although it is preferable to find another area in which to daven, one is permitted to daven in such a place in the absence of religious symbols or other worshippers.
In a hospital with a religious affiliation, there may be religious symbols hanging in the patient rooms. If there is no other alternative, one may daven in the room and face away from the symbol, even if it requires facing a direction other than east.19<http://www.star-k.org/
One may not daven in the presence of human waste. If he is far enough away where no odor can be detected, and the waste is covered (even in a transparent receptacle), he may daven in the room.20<http://www.star-k.org/
Kohen – A kohen who visits a hospitalized patient may unknowingly be in the presence of a deceased patient.23<http://www.star-k.
A kohen should visit a hospital patient only if the majority of patients are not Jewish and there is a great need to do so, e.g. when a relative is ill and family relationships must be considered25<http://www.star-
Bikur Cholim Pointers
Although ‘bikur’ is commonly translated as ‘visiting’, the Sefer Maavar Yavok writes that it is derived from the word ‘bikoret’– to research or investigate.27<http://www.
Before entering the hospital room, one should knock lightly at the entrance to ensure that the patient is ready to receive visitors. One should carefully consider if it is appropriate for a man to visit a woman or vice versa, as it is difficult to make a general statement.There are tznius and other considerations that will play a role in the decision. Praying for the patient’s welfare is a very important part of bikur cholim. Someone who visits and does not pray has not fulfilled the mitzvah.29<http://www.star-k.
An important goal of visiting the sick is to bring pleasure and joy to the patient.33<http://www.star-k.
The patient need not arise when a visitor enters his room, even to honor a talmid chochom.37<http://www.star-k.
Although it is preferable to visit someone in person, if one is unable to do so or if the patient prefers, one may fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim by telephoning (or emailing) the patient.39<http://www.star-k.
Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, penned a response dealing with people who are deaf. He concludes, “I close with a blessing that all this should not be needed, G-d forbid, that there should be no deaf among klal Yisroel, and that all the deaf people should be completely healed upon the speedy arrival of Moshiach, whom we long for every day, and then this response will remain solely for the sake of the study of Torah.”41<http://www.star-k.