Jewish Visiting (otherwise known as the Jewish Visitation Committee) has been responsible for the provision of Jewish Hospital Chaplaincy to hospitals in Greater London and surrounding areas since 1875. The service is administered by the United Synagogue on behalf of the whole Jewish community in the area, so our chaplains and visitors come from all different sections of the Jewish population.
This service is supported financially by the Network for Pastoral, Spiritual and Religious Care in Health (http://network-health.org.uk/), whose aim is to promote and support religious, spiritual and pastoral care in the NHS in England.
All the chaplains and visitors are part-time.
In hospitals where there are lots of Jewish patients, chaplains and visitors go on a regular basis, generally weekly. In other hospitals, where there are only occasional Jewish patients, chaplains attend on an “on call” basis. So if you do want a visit, it is really important to get in touch.
The list of hospitals where chaplains and visitors regularly visit does change from time to time, so if you are not sure if there is someone at a particular hospital, then it is best to call the Jewish Visiting Office.
Why is it so important to visit the sick?
The requirement to visit the sick was first introduced to us in the 5 Books of Moses in the time of Abraham, who was visited by God when he was sick following his circumcision (Genesis Chap 18). We are told that we should go in the ways of God and that since God visits the sick, so should we. The Talmud (a commentary on the Books of Moses) says, elsewhere that a visit to a sick person takes away a sixtieth of the illness.
Visiting the sick comes under the general category of Gemilut Chasadim– kindness to other human beings. Charity (Tzedaka) can only be given by those with material resources, whereas kindness can be done by anyone, rich or poor. Tzedaka is done with money, whereas Gemilut Chasadim can be done with time or money.
It is also important to note that the requirement to visit the sick (Bikur Cholim) is to visit anybody, not just Jews
It is not only visiting the sick but how you do it that is important – when do you visit, how long you visit for, what do you say and what do not say. A number of the do’s and don’ts in relation to Bikur Cholim come from the Talmud and embody very sensible ideas that our visitors and Chaplains still use today.
Here are some pointers from Talmudic sources:- do not to visit early in the morning or late at night. Do not stay overly long. Enter the room cheerfully. Do not come with tales of sorrow. Do not sit on the patient’s bed. Sometimes it is appropriate to talk and sometimes to be silent instead.
It is also important to pray with the patient for refuah sheleima (speedy recovery) in appropriate circumstances.
While many patients will be visited either by friends, family or people from their own synagogue, not everyone has that support or their family and friends do not live nearby. Jewish Visiting is a cross-communal initiative organised by the United Synagogue Chesed Department where we aim to visit anyone in hospital who says they are Jewish, regardless of whether they are synagogue members or not. We cover most of the hospitals within London and the Home Counties.