July 13, 2024

The Meaning Behind Bikur Cholim In Jewish Philanthropy

Two Women Visiting a Sick Child at the Hospital

In modern times, with busy schedules and distance separating loved ones, it’s easy to overlook the importance of human connection and support during illness. However, studies have shown that social support and companionship can have a significant impact on one’s physical and mental well-being. Jewish history also teaches us the value of being there for those who are sick, as it is considered a mitzvah (commandment) to visit and care for the ill. 

This article explains the concept of Bikur Cholim and explains how it has manifested in Jewish communities over centuries of Jewish charity work.

What Does Bikur Cholim Mean?

Bikur Cholim is a Hebrew phrase that literally translates to “visiting the sick.” In Judaism, it refers to the act of visiting and providing comfort and support to those who are ill or hospitalized. This concept is deeply ingrained in Jewish tradition and has been practiced for centuries.

The importance of Bikur Cholim is emphasized in the Talmud, which states that it is a commandment for all Jews to visit and care for the sick. This mitzvah is considered a form of loving-kindness and compassion, subsumed under the principle of “v’ahavta l’re’acha kamocha”, which means you should love your fellow as yourself. It goes hand-in-hand with another well-known phrase in the Jewish community, “Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh“. This means that all Jews are responsible for one another and should take care of each other.

Similarly to the Halacha (Jewish law) of Ma’aser Kesafim, which commands us to set aside one-tenth of our income for donation to charities that help the poor, Bikur Cholim outlines the quantifiable impact made by visiting the sick. Prominent Chabad figures have said that those who provide the ill with companionship remove a sixtieth of their sickness. Individuals who should visit and don’t, on the other hand, are considered to be partners in the disease’s continuation.

The Origins and History of Bikur Cholim

The roots of Bikur Cholim can be traced back to biblical times when God visited Abraham after circumcision. In the Talmud, there are also references to visiting the sick and providing comfort and assistance to those in need. This concept was further developed by the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides, who emphasized the importance of caring for the sick and providing them with physical and emotional support.

One of the most well-known examples of Bikur Cholim in history is the establishment of the Chesed Shel Emes society. Founded in 1930, this non-profit Jewish organization supports widows, widowers, and other family members as they cope with the loss of a loved one.

Sick children similarly benefited from the work of Jewish philanthropist Nathan Straus, who opened the first Tuberculosis Preventorium for Children in 1909. He was inspired to do so after the tragic death of his own child from tuberculosis.

Caring for and Visiting the Sick In Modern Times

You don’t need to start an organization for healthcare like Nathan Straus to support the sick in your community. Investments in infrastructure go a long way, but so does companionship. The Eight Degrees of Giving shows us that there are plenty of equally impactful ways to practice tzedakah and philanthropy.

For instance, you can volunteer your time and visit patients in hospitals or nursing homes. Many sick individuals may not have family or friends who are able to visit them regularly, leaving them feeling isolated and alone. Your presence and conversation can brighten their day and provide much-needed companionship. You can also offer to run errands or provide transportation for those who are unable to do so themselves due to illness.

Modern technology has made it easier for us to connect with and support the sick from afar. With video calls and virtual visits, we can still provide companionship even when we are not physically present. Social media also provides a platform for us to share resources and information about causes that are important to us, raising awareness and support on a global level.

Using Jewish Non-Profit Charity Organizations as a Vessel for Bikur Cholim

Jewish non-profits offer accessible means of getting involved and making an impact in the community. Signing up to volunteer in a Bikur Cholim program or choosing to donate to a good charity organization are just a few ways to give back and support those in need. These efforts both provide vital assistance to the sick and remind them that they are cared for and valued by their community.

Make Bikur Cholim a Year-Round Practice

It’s good to give back for Purim, but the beliefs of Judaism encourage us to give and support all year round. When you engage with charities that support children’s education, poverty, and other critical causes, you are making the spirit of Tikkun Olam – repairing the world and making it a better place for all – a lifestyle rather than a once-in-a-while practice.

Bikur Cholim with Colel Chabad

Founded upon the principles of the Chabad movement in 1788, Colel Chabad is the oldest organization to be found in Israel’s long history of Jewish charities. We aren’t just an organization for the poor or a charity in support of orphaned children donations to us go to a variety of commendable programs that address all of the issues Israel is facing right now.

Honor Giving Traditions Like Bikur Cholim By Donating to Colel Chabad

Giving tzedakah is good for our psychological well-being and communities are strengthened by the generosity of its members. Colel Chabad has been a beacon of hope and support for those in need in Israel for over 200 years, and we rely on contributions from people like you to keep our vital programs against hunger and poverty running. Donate online and make a difference in the lives of those who need it most today.


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