June 12, 2024
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When a Patient Is Hospitalized During High Holidays

(Courtesy of St. Mary’s Hospital) “My father has to go to a hospital, how do I know they will be able to respect our High Holidays,” is a question presented to George Matyjewicz, PhD, Founder and Executive Director of Our Kehila in Passaic-Clifton1 and Community Liaison with St. Mary’s General Hospital. “I get these types of questions regularly from the frum community throughout the NYC Metro area, since we have been publishing articles in the Jewish Link. And I will tell people what to look for, which is what we have at St. Mary’s General. Ask if your hospital can accommodate you. Here’s a brief summary of what you need to learn:2

GENERAL ACCOMMODATIONS. While we have special requirements during the Yomim Noraim, first see if they understand the Orthodox Jewish religion and restrictions – first general restrictions and then restrictions particular to your sect, e.g., Modern, Chareidi, Ashkenazi, Sephardic. From there learn of the accommodations for Shabbos including a Bikur Cholim Shabbos Room, Shabbos door, path and elevator, Shabbos 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? If a Hospice, Chevra Kadisha? Community Liaison? Community volunteers? For specific questions, contact these resources. Ask about the meals for patients and what is available for visitors. Are you able to light candles for Shabbos? Discuss electronics and sensors that operate doors or lights and the buzzer to contact a nurse, that the patient cannot use on Shabbos. And outside the hospital, is there an eruv so that visitors can carry on Shabbos or Yom Tov?

When treating patients, we have some 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 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.

YOMIM NORAIM. The High Holidays will require significant education for both staff and patient’s family – staff to accommodate patient 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)?

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?

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? Will the patient be able to daven, in a chapel if able, or in bed if necessary?

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 LOR (Local Orthodox Rabbi). Then if he is still planning on fasting, he should eat or drink small amounts, 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 (day before) 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?

SUCCOS. 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 bed-ridden patients, all that is needed is to hold all four species upright.

HOSHANAH RABBAH and SHEMINI ATZERES. 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.


And, if your hospital cannot accommodate you, please come to St. Mary’s General Hospital.

St. Mary’s General Hospital–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 over 550 physicians and 1,200 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 five consecutive years (2016-2020) than any other health system in the country including a “Top 15 Healthcare System” by Truven Health Analytics. To learn more about how 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% of all the families in the kehila – the 2nd largest frum community in NJ.

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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