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 in the heat of the day” (Gen. 18:1).
Visiting the sick is included in the category of Gemilut Hasadim, “the performance of good deeds”, but is singled out by the rabbis as something special. It is one of the mitzvot whose fruit is enjoyed in this world and principally in the world to come.
Some authorities maintain bikur cholim is one of the 613 commandments of the Torah, while others hold it a rabbinic command, derived from “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Lev. 19:18).
One may not receive remuneration for bikur cholim.
Bikur cholim has no boundaries or limits, i.e., one may visit as frequently as he likes, provided he does not tax the ill; youth may visit the elderly and the elderly may visit the youth; men may visit women and women men, though they may not attend to the other’s intimate needs.
One who visits removes a sixtieth of the patient’s illness. One who should visit and doesn’t, harms the patient and is regarded as “shedding blood”.
The essence of the mitzvah of bikur cholim is to attend to the needs of the patient and pray for his recovery. In his presence, the visitor may pray for the patient in any language; in his absence, only Hebrew. The patient himself should be encouraged to pray, ask for forgiveness and repent.
One should not inform a patient of the death of a friend or relative, even one for whom the patient must sit Shivah, because of the obvious harm that might result.
Some authorities recommend that one not visit alone, but always with others.
A visitor should not spend time with those who are suffering from intestinal disorders, speech problems, or mental disturbances, when the visit is likely to prove difficult or embarrassing to the patient. Better to just say hello and inquire about his needs from a distance.
It is best not to visit in the early or late part of the day or at any other time a patient may be receiving treatment.
Some say one should not visit his enemy, but others permit it. The patient should never be allowed to feel that his enemy rejoices over his illness. Each case must be judged individually.
In case of a time conflict, the mitzvah of comforting the bereaved takes precedence over the mitzvah of visiting the sick, because comforting the bereaved is an act of loving kindness performed for the living and the dead. Where no such conflict exists, however, visiting the sick takes precedence because that act is equivalent of adding life to the ill.
Jewish tradition offers guidelines for Bikur Cholim
Please contact us at 212.632.4730 or BikurCholimCC@jbfcs.org if we can assist you or your group in better performing the mitzvah of bikur cholim. There are also many meaningful opportunities locally for visitors or volunteers throughout the service programs of The Jewish Board.