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VITAS Serves the Jewish Community

Jewish Community

Hospice and Judaism are Compatible

Judaism is rich in history and tradition and Jews take great pride in their heritage. Part of this heritage includes a belief in the high premium of life, in all circumstances. Jewish tradition and literature stresses a Jew’s “duty to live, not only the right to live.”¹ With this in mind, is Judaism compatible with hospice?

The answer, says Barry M. Kinzbrunner, MD, FACP, FAAHPM, is yes. This is not just his opinion as an oncologist and executive vice president and chief medical officer of VITAS® Healthcare; Dr. Kinzbrunner also is an ordained Orthodox rabbi. He has written extensively on end-of-life care and Jewish medical ethics, including co-authoring The Jewish Hospice Manual with Rabbi Maurice Lamm, DD, founder and president of the National Institute for Jewish Hospice (NIJH).

“From care of the sick to the mourning practices of those who are left behind, Judaism provides a profound way for its followers to mark the passing of a loved one, while still honoring life itself,” says Dr. Kinzbrunner. “And trained hospice workers can aid Jewish patients and their families as they follow the ancient way,” he says.

VITAS is Accredited to Serve Jewish Patients

A large number of VITAS programs are accredited by the NIJH to ensure that Jewish ideals are adhered to as the hospice team meets the needs of the patient and the family. This means all patient care teams and volunteers are trained in the beliefs, customs, philosophies and ethics of both practicing and non-practicing Jews. Dr. Kinzbrunner and Joel S. Policzer, MD, FACP, FAAHPM, VITAS senior vice president of medical affairs, also speak extensively to Jewish clergy and lay groups to help them understand the value of hospice care.

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“While a significant percentage of the American Jewish population is non-secular or non-practicing,” says Dr. Kinzbrunner, “when people are dying, they tend to go back to their culture and roots. It involves a re-awakening of traditions.”

VITAS Understands Jewish Beliefs and Customs

Reform, Conservative and Orthodox traditions differ in observances and laws as they relate to end-of-life care, burial preparations and support for the bereaved. It is essential, therefore, for hospice programs and caregivers to be adequately prepared and educated in the Jewish way in death and mourning.

Jewish practice, for example, requires someone to remain with the deceased from the time immediately following death until burial to ensure no desecration occurs. Since the body is considered sacred, families who want to follow Jewish customs usually choose a Jewish funeral home to prepare their loved one’s body for burial.

VITAS’ certified Jewish hospice programs train staff and volunteers in these beliefs and customs, along with Jewish ethics related to medical futility and the care of the terminally ill. With the support of staff specially trained in Jewish culture and traditions, VITAS patients and families representing all faith traditions within the Jewish community can face death or the loss of a loved one knowing their faith, tradition and values are understood and respected.

¹Lamm, Maurice, and Kinzbrunner, Barry M. The Jewish Hospice Manual. Miami: VITAS Healthcare Corporation, 2016. Print.

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