Prayer and Religious Articles
Prayer is universal, but there are some ideas and practices associated with prayer that are unique to Judaism.
Each weekday, Jewish men wear tefilin, phylacteries in English, while they recite prayers. These are small black boxes with leather straps. These boxes contain miniature scrolls upon which passages from the Bible are inscribed. The boxes are strapped to the arm adjacent to the heart, and around the head, allowing the person to express the idea of attaching one’s mind and heart to G-d.
• Some rabbis will visit Jewish patients in the hospital to help them perform this ritual. It is performed quietly at the bedside and does not interfere with other patients in the room. The ritual takes about five minutes, during which the tefilin are affixed and the patient recites a prayer.
• The tefilin do not interfere with the patient’s medical care. If the patient is wearing a bandage or has an intravenous line or if the patient’s condition makes it difficult to strap the tefilin to his arm or head, the sensitive area is avoided.
• The prayer requirements and expectations vary from patient to patient. This is why the best practice is to ask the patient about their prayer needs.
Serving Observant Patients
• There are certain sections of the prayers where one is not supposed to interrupt to return a greeting or to answer a question. If your patient ignores you or attempts a response using peculiar hand signals, please understand that they might be in the midst of one such section of prayer.
• It is common for Jewish family members to pray at the bedside of their loved ones or in the waiting room as they await the results of a procedure. Interrupting their prayers to update them on the patient’s progress is perfectly acceptable and, in fact, appreciated. If family members waive you off, using hand-signals and the like, they are likely engaged in a part of the prayer during which interruption is not permitted. If you can spare the time to give them a moment to finish up, it would be very much appreciated.
• During morning prayers, Jewish men often dress in a white prayer shawl, in addition to strapping tefilin to their arms and heads. These are ritual garments and are a normal part of Jewish practice.
• Observant Jews pray three times a day. Once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and again in the evening.
• During prayer, there are sections during which sitting is permitted and sections when standing is preferable—if the patient is able.