May 19, 2024
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What If You Are Hospitalized During High Holidays?

(Courtesy of SMGH) “With the Yamim Noraim coming soon, it’s time to examine what to do if, chas v’shalom you get sick and need to be hospitalized,” said George Matyjewicz, PhD, founder and executive director of Our Kehila in Passaic-Clifton1 and community liaison with St. Mary’s General Hospital. “Obviously, the number one priority is to do whatever is necessary to save a life. However, if you have a choice you should review and understand what is needed to accommodate frum patients. I have been educating staff at hospitals on serving the Orthodox Jewish (frum) communities,” and it has worked out well for patients and staff who now know our needs and restrictions. Ask if your hospital can accommodate you. Here’s a brief summary of what you need to learn2

Frum Accommodations. First see if they understand the Orthodox Jewish religion and restrictions—general restrictions and then restrictions particular to your sect, e.g., modern, charedi, Ashkenazi, Sephardic. From there learn of the accommodations for Shabbat including a bikur cholim Shabbat room; Shabbat doors, paths and elevators; Shabbat candles and kosher food (Cholov Yisrael if it is your requirement). Has the staff been educated on our requirements?

Next, what resources are available to patients and families? A rabbi? Bikur cholim? Chevra Kadisha (chas v’shalom)? Community liaison? Community volunteers? For specific questions, contact these resources. Ask about the meals for patients and what is available for visitors. Discuss electronics and sensors that operate doors or lights and the buzzer to contact a nurse that the patient cannot use on Shabbat. And outside the hospital, is there an eruv so that visitors can carry on Shabbat or yom tov?

What about licht benchen for Shabbat? You cannot light candles in a hospital. However, the hospital can provide plug-in candles.

There are other issues that need to be discussed, like physical contact, modesty, dress, medication, procedures and birth and death. Obviously, you discuss those issues that apply. The appropriate manner of dealing with a patient is that the nurse or doctor should be the same gender or at least one same gender in attendance, where possible. Hospital gowns are not exactly designed to be tznius—ask for a second gown if needed. Birth and death are separate issues and need to be understood if necessary.

Keep in mind that all of these observance laws no longer apply when a medical emergency arises. We adhere to the concept of pikuach nefesh (protecting human life) where the strongest Jewish prohibitions disappear when a life itself or emotional well-being are at play.

Yamim Noraim. The High Holidays will require significant education for both staff and patient’s family—staff to accommodate patients and family to know what to ask. Hospital staff should not try to answer questions unless they are 100% sure of their answer. Families should not assume anything—ask!

During the month of Elul, we need to hear the shofar. Can the hospital accommodate the patient? Is there somebody nearby that can help? How will it affect other patients?

Rosh Hashanah. On Erev Rosh Hashanah, or any time before Yom Kippur, can the hospital help with hataras nedarim (annulment of vows)? Can they provide the necessary beit din?

Does the hospital have the necessary books needed for the holidays or do you have to bring your own? Will the patient be able to daven, in a chapel if able, or in bed if necessary? Can visitors daven?

For the Rosh Hashanah meal, can the patient get honey and apples and preferably a round challah? What about a fish head? Can family join for the meal?

Yom Kippur. The Day of Atonement; a very solemn day devoted to fasting, prayer and repentance. Depending on why the patient is in the hospital, can he observe this day of fasting?

Obviously, a patient in the hospital who is ill is exempt from fasting. However, there are some of us who are very machmir and will attempt to fast. If the doctor is of the opinion that fasting might pose a life danger, and the patient is still adamant about fasting, he should first discuss this with his local Orthodox rabbi. Then, if he is still planning on fasting, he should eat or drink small amounts (1.5 ounces of liquid), waiting nine minutes before eating again. Once nine minutes have passed, one can eat this small amount again, and so on throughout the day.

Halachically an act of “eating” is defined as “consuming a certain quantity within a certain period of time.” Otherwise, it’s not eating, it’s “nibbling,” which although prohibited on Yom Kippur, there is room to be lenient when one’s health is at stake. And if somebody is so machmir that he must fast, then this approach should be safe. Ask your physician.

Most importantly, the patient will want to daven. Is there a chapel or where can he daven? What about family members? Can they daven in the hospital or nearby in a shul?

On Erev Yom Kippur, it is a special mitzvah to eat a festive meal. One should eat something every two hours. Watermelon and grapes are helpful before a fast as they retain fluids to help with the fast. Does the cafeteria understand this minhag and can the patient be accommodated? Can family bring watermelon and grapes?

Sukkot. Needless to say, if a patient is in the hospital, there is no need to eat in a sukkah. However, the patient may be able to take the arba minim—the four species. A family member, your (or the hospital) rabbi or one of the hospital resources can assist with this. While we perform the waving service in shul, halachically once one lifts these Four Species, he has fulfilled his obligation, provided he holds them all in the manner in which they grow [i.e., upright]. So, for bedridden patients, all that is needed is to hold all four species upright.

Hoshanah Rabbah and Shemini Atzeret. While both of these days are very important and in shul we have serious davening, for a hospital patient there are no special requirements other than some special prayers.

With all of these special requirements, ask your local Orthodox rabbi what you should do. And, if your hospital cannot accommodate you, come to St. Mary’s General Hospital.

For a full list of the special accommodations St. Mary’s General provides, visit www.smh-nj.com/orthodox

St. Mary’s General Hospital is nationally recognized, locally preferred among the top hospitals in America for health, quality and patient safety. A center of excellence for maternal-child, the hospital has 700 physicians and 1,000 employees, with every staff member committed to providing respectful, personalized, high-quality care to satisfy patients’ needs and exceed their expectations. St. Mary’s General is a proud member of Prime Healthcare, which has more Patient Safety Excellence Award recipients for seven consecutive years (2016-2022) than any other health system in the country, and is a “Top 15 Healthcare System” by Truven Health Analytics. To learn more about St. Mary’s General Hospital, visit https://www.smh-nj.com/ or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/StMarysGeneral.

For more information, please contact George Matyjewicz, PhD, community liaison, at [email protected].

1 Since 2007, Our Kehila has been the central communications link for the Passaic-Clifton Orthodox Jewish community with 3,000 members—95 percent of all the families in the kehila—the second largest frum community in New Jersey.

2 At St. Mary’s General Hospital, we have a patient/family handout outlining what is available and how to access.

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