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Cultural Approaches to Pediatric Palliative Care in Central Massachusetts: Judaism

This subject guide is a collaborative project with the Children's Medical Center Pediatric Palliative Care Team, the Lamar Soutter Library, and Interpreter Services.



All believe in:

  • One all-powerful God who created the universe
  • God communicated the commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai, they are written in the Torah
  • Commitments, obligations, duties, and commandments to religion have priority over rights and individual pleasures
  • Sanctity of life overrides nearly all religious obligations.  Therefore, the sick are exempt from normal fasting requirements.

Major Jewish Movements:

  • Orthodox
  • Conservative
  • Reform

 Orthodox Jews believe in:

  • Strict and traditional interpretation of the Torah
  • Strict and traditional interpretation of laws and commandments
  • The Torah is divine and unalterable
  • Following the code of Jewish Law 

Conservative Jews believe in:

  • Acceptance of traditional and modern religious observances
  • Conservation of Jewish tradition, but also changing to fit modern times 

Reform Jews believe in:

  • Freedom to interpret the Torah and choose religious observances



  • Majority of Jews unaffiliated—Judaism can be seen as identity and not faith system
  • Orthodoxy is the most fundamental of the movements—adhering to Written and Oral Laws
  • Conservative sees revelation as Divinely inspired and contains a large tent between Orthodoxy and Reform
  • Reform sees revelation as interpreted by the individual in a dialogue between Jewish history and contemporary wisdom
  • Other smaller movements generally fall on the more liberal side

Daily practices

  • Orthodox—May pray three times daily, ideally in community.  Less open to non-liturgical prayer life.
  • Conservative—Daily prayers valued.  Individual approaches may vary.
  • Reform—prayers are valued, can be more open to multi-faith and prayers at bedside.

Dying and death

  • Belief in life after death accepted by Orthodox and Conservative; Reform acknowledges as part of tradition by allows for individuals to form their own belief system
  • Persons experiencing grave suffering and/or approaching death are usually encouraged to connect with community (all denominations) and pray appropriately to denominational beliefs.
  • Prayers for sick can be an important part of faith in illness for those who celebrate their Judaism in a religious fashion.  The most common prayer used in this context is called the micheberach
  • Autopsy and Organ Donation acceptable to the Conservative and Reform movements and smaller segments of Orthodoxy. Always have families in touch with their rabbi.
  • Body to be treated with respect.  Family may want to stay with the body until it is removed by the funeral director.
  • Burial recommended as soon as possible
  • Cremation either prohibited or discouraged
  • Graveside and funeral home services are typical 

Facilitating practices

  • Ask patient and family about preferred practices
  • Provide for privacy as needed


  • Orthodox and many Conservative will need kosher-certified food


  • Blood and blood products acceptable
  • May wish major amputated limb to be buried in consecrated ground
  • Consult Rabbi with issues of tube feeding and life support

Holy days and festivals

  • Rosh Hashanah—Jewish New Year (Solemn)
  • Yom Kippur—fast (no eating or drinking); Day of Atonement
  • Sukkot—weeklong festival of Tabernacles
  • Shemini Atzeret/Simachat Torah—Festive days concluding the High Holidays
  • Channukah—eight day festival of lights
  • Purim—preceded by Fast of Esther (no eating or drinking) holiday of the Book of Esther
  • Pesach/Passover—weeklong Holiday of Freedom
  • Shavuot/Pentecost—Holiday of Revelation
  • Asara B’tevet, Tzom Gedalia, Shiva Asa B’Tamuz, and Tisha B’Av—fast days (no eating or drinking) of mourning
  • NOTE—be in touch with rabbi to facilitate religious celebration in a healing environment, especially around fasting
  • Sabbath and Holy Days can be days where electricity is not used (Orthodox), consult with Rabbinic authority

Pregnancy and birth

  • Orthodox- Consult Rabbinic authority about birth control, Other denominations are more liberal
  • All denominations allow abortion to save the mother- consult Rabbinic and other authorities

Rituals or ceremonies

  • Synagogue/Temple attendance
  • Lighting candles before Sabbath and Holidays
  • Be aware of cultural differences in observance and practice, especially in the large and growing number of Spanish speaking communities.

Spiritual instruments, structure, and symbols

  • Electric Sabbath Candles can be meaningful

Reproduced by permission from George Handzo, BCC at 

Dictionary of Patients' Spiritual & Cultural Values for Health Care Professionals was developed by the Pastoral Care Leadership and Practice Group of HealthCare Chaplaincy, New York, NY. (Revision and update of earlier work by the Rev. Susan Wintz, BCC and the Rev. Earl Cooper, BCC)