The Recipient of Bikur Cholim

Q. Is the mitzvah of bikur cholim only for those who are deathly ill?

A. The Gemara (Nedarim 40a) states in the name of Rebbi Akiva that if one does not visit the sick, it is considered as though he has spilled their blood. This would seem to indicate that the mitzvah of bikur cholim only applies to those who are critically ill. However, this is an incorrect conclusion. Rebbi Akiva’s statement was made for someone who is deathly ill, but poskim rule that there is a mitzvah of bikur cholim even if the choleh is not suffering from a life-threatening illness. If a choleh is bedridden and cannot attend to his own needs, the mitzvah of bikur cholim obligates us to be of assistance and daven for his recovery (cf Sefer Halacha V’Refuah,Vol 2, p. 274). Furthermore, the Medrash states that Hashem visited Avrohom Avinu on the third day after his circumcision because he was sick. Avrohom was in great pain and discomfort, but he was not deathly ill.

Shulchan Aruch (YD 335:8) writes that one should not visit the sick who suffer from stomach ailments because the visit can cause embarrassment. One should not visit those who are suffering from headaches or eye aches, because talking to the sick may cause them pain. Instead, one should sit outside their room and daven for them and ask the relatives if there is anything that you can do that would be helpful.


The Gerald & Karin Feldhamer OU Kosher Halacha Yomis is dedicated to the memory of Rav Yisroel Belsky, zt"l, who served as halachic consultant for OU Kosher for more than 28 years; many of the responses in Halacha Yomis are based on the rulings of Rabbi Belsky. Subscribe to the Halacha Yomis daily email here.