Bikur Cholim and Contagious Diseases
Q. Is there an obligation to visit someone who is sick if the illness is contagious?
A. The Sedei Chemed (Beis, 116) writes that this is a disagreement among poskim. The Rema (Teshuva 20) and Knesses Hagedolah maintain that if the mitzvah does not apply for contagious diseases, the mitzvah would rarely apply. Obviously, one must take whatever precautions are necessary, but with few exceptions, the mitzvah supersedes the concern. The Rema points out that the Gemara exempts visiting those who suffer from leprosy, because this is an extremely communicable disease. However, he writes that there is no exemption for anything short of this level of danger. However, Sefer Shulchan Gavoah writes that during times of plague, the only ones who should visit the sick are those who are specially trained and paid to do so. The Sedei Chemed concludes that he cannot decide whom the halacha follows.
Rabbi Genack heard from Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt"l that when Rav Chaim Soloveitchik zt"l was the Rav in Brisk, there was once a plague and there were not enough volunteers to take care of the sick. Rav Chaim told his sons (including Rav Yosef Dov's father) that they must go to the homes of the sick and tend to their needs. He quoted the Yerushalmi (cited by Beis Yosef CM 426:end) that one must put themselves in potential danger to save someone who is in absolute danger. It should be noted that many understand that this Yerushalmi is not a formal obligation but a "midus chasidus" (beyond the letter of the law). Obviously, each individual must speak to their doctors and assess their specific risk and see how necessary their visit is and if anyone else can go in their stead.
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.