Death and Dying
- The foundations of Judaism and the earliest stories of the Jewish people are found in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament). Religion and culture are intertwined. Judaism is based on the worship of one God, carrying out the Commandments and the practice of charity and tolerance towards others.
- Orthodox Jews are more traditional and observant of the religious/dietary laws. They are guided by a code of laws put together by rabbis through the generations.
- Non-Orthodox Jews (including Progressive/Liberal/Reform) make their religious observance more guided by modern values.
- The family has great importance in Jewish life.
- There is a huge diversity of Jewish practice. Patients appreciate being asked about what is important to them.
- Traditionally, Jews pray three times a day and they may request privacy for this.
- Sabbaths (Shabbat) and festivals are important. The Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday and lasts until it gets dark on Saturday.
- Some Jews may wish to observe the Sabbath, for example lighting special candles at the beginning and end of the Sabbath. Patients should be consulted about what they can and cannot do during the Sabbath. Some prefer not to write, travel or switch on electrical appliances. The acts of turning lights and television sets on and off for them, would be greatly appreciated.
- The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur, in September or October) is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar and is a 25 hour fast (no food or drink). Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews are expected to follow the advice of their doctor as to whether it is safe for them to fast or not take medication.
- Special care should be taken with Ultra-Orthodox Jews. It is considered immodest for men to touch women (and vice versa), other than their spouses. Therefore thought should be given to what contact is necessary between nurse and patient. Women may wish to cover their hair with a wig or scarf and keep their limbs covered at all times. Men may like to cover their heads with a hat.
- The Jewish patient should be consulted about his/her level of dietary observance.
- Many Jews will ask for Kosher food. In essence this means that specially prepared meat (lamb, beef or chicken are permitted, NOT pig meat or rabbit), and only true fish (i.e. with scales and fins) can be eaten. In addition, meat and milk are not eaten at the same meal.
- Pre-packed Kosher meals available through hospital catering supplies. These meals should be left in their containers and NOT transferred to a plate.
- Vegetarian meals.
- Other suitable choices from ordinary menus.Kosher diet can be provided:
- At Passover (Pesach, festival of unleavened bread, in March or April) special foods may be required. Food is strictly ‘unleavened’ and the hospital Kosher meals will be provided accordingly. No bread must be consumed.
- The dying person should not be left alone. Relatives may wish to stay with the person. A dying Jew may wish to recite or hear psalms, a confession (Vidui) or the Shema, the central prayer of Judaism proclaiming God’s oneness.
- If the patient is a member of a synagogue, it is appropriate to contact their own Rabbi.
- After death:
1. Traditionally the body is left for 20 minutes. Some might place a feather over the mouth and nose and watch for signs of breathing.
2. After this period has elapsed, the eyes are closed (a relative may want to do this).The mouth is held in a closed position by placing a cloth under the chin and tying it above the head.
3. The arms should be extended and placed parallel to the body with the hands open.
4. All external catheters and medical equipment attached to the body should be removed.
5. All incisions etc. should be dressed.
6. Washing the body is part of Jewish ritual and is performed by the Burial Society.
7. Relatives may wish to maintain vigil over the body and some Orthodox groups may wish to appoint a “watcher” to stay with the body from the time of death until burial.
8. Post mortems should only be carried out if required by law.
9. Burial usually takes place within 24 hours.
- Organ donation is a complex issue in Jewish law but is usually permitted. However, it is advised to consult with a rabbi before making a decision.