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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 19.15:
I'm a health care provider? What do I need to know for Jewish patients?


First, thanks for caring enough to ask the question.

If you have a Jewish patient, you should first talk to them to find out what their concerns and needs are. These will differ based on the movement with which they affiliate. For example, progressive Jews (i.e., Reform and other liberal movements) may have less of a concern about Kosher food and some of the other laws concerning purity and modesty than traditional Jews. However, if you can't talk to them due to the medical situation, assume they are strictly traditional until you find out otherwise.

The primary concern from your point of view will be food. Traditional Jews require strictly Kosher food. If your kitchen has the ability to supply such food, great. Note that some hospitals provide both a "regular Kosher" and a "strictly Kosher" diet. If a strictly Kosher diet is available, let the patient know about it. If they are not able to order their food, order from the strictly Kosher diet for them. If your hospital does not have Kosher food, DO NOT assume that Kosher-style food or any other food is acceptable. Instead, you may have to go out an purchase food for that patient. What you want to look for is food with "heckshers", or marks indicating that they are Kosher. The best known marks are a U in a circle ( or a K in a circle ( Kashrus Magazine ( has an excellent list of these marks.

You want to aim for ready-to-eat food, so that you don't have to move it into a container to cook it. Your kitchen is likely not Kosher; cooking the food in a different container will make it non-Kosher. You will want to serve it in the original container, unopened if possible, so that the patient can see the hecksher. If possible, opt for food that doesn't require you to touch the food (i.e., frozen dinners for the oven are often preferable to those for the microwave, because for the microwave you have to puncture the wrappings). Serve the food with plastic utensils that have been individually wrapped, and let the patient break the wrappings. Basically, you want to assure the patent that you haven't touched the food.

If you can't come up with anything with a hecksher, provide fruit, washed but otherwise untouched, with a plastic knife. Fruit is the one product that comes naturally in its own sealed package.

Traditional male patients will have a need to pray. If they are mobile, and you can provide them with connections with other Jewish male adults in the hospital so that they can assemble a minyon (10 Jewish men), which will facilitate prayer. They should know the prayers by heart, if this is a concern to them. If your staff chaplin isn't familiar with Judaism, look up an Orthodox synagogue (alas, often under Churches in the Yellow Pages) and see if their rabbi can come over. If there are no Orthodox synagogues available, look for Conservative or Reform synagogues. This order is not intended to show any bias towards the movements. A traditional patient will likely be more comforatable with a traditional Rabbi, so that is the best first option. However, both Conservative and Reform rabbis have experience with working with all movements in hospital settings, and can either provide the necessary service, or have the contacts to find someone who can.

Shabbat may or may not be a concern, depending on the state of the patient. In a hospital setting, most patients are stuck in bed, and most electrical appliances are necessary for life-saving. Don't ask the patient to turn on and off their lights; just leave them on from before Shabbat until after, or decide when you want them off. The same goes for other discretionary appliances, such as televisions. Don't ask the patient to carry things unless necessary for life (such as an IV).

With respect to modesty: again, if the situation is life-threatening, do what you need to do. If the patient is conscious, ASK THE PATIENT. When providing gowns, ensure they provide appropriate coverage when in public situations (use two, if necessary).

Lastly, with respect to purity. When dealing with patients of the opposite sex, avoid touching unless medically necessary. It is likely not a problem, but for traditional patients, it might be upsetting. Better safe than sorry.

Finally, remember that Judaism places human life above all else. Thus, in a life-threatening situation, do what you need to do to save the life, even if that means violating Jewish law. However, if the situation isn't immediately threatening, then you should take Jewish law into consideration.

For a general statement of principles guiding medical care, see There is also some good information at and

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

[Got Questions?]Hopefully, the FAQ will provide the answer to your questions. If it doesn't, please drop Email to The FAQ maintainer will endeavor to direct your query to an appropriate individual that can answer it. If you would like to be part of the group to which the maintainer directs questions, please drop a note to the FAQ maintainer at

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© (c) 1993-2004 Daniel P. Faigin <>