• Whereas the Saturday on our calendars begins at midnight, the Jewish Shabbos begins on Friday at sunset. It ends about twenty-five hours later, on Saturday at nightfall. Therefore, the beginning and end times for Shabbos fluctuate according to the season: it starts early and ends early in the winter, and starts later and ends later in the summer.
• Jews usher in Shabbos by lighting candles on Friday evening, several minutes before the sunsets. These lights set a festive tone and honor the day of Shabbos in a distinctive way. They also convey a symbolic sense of serenity that many Jews associate with Shabbos. When a Jewish couple lives together, it is the woman who traditionally lights the candles.
• A Jewish patient in the hospital might ask to light Shabbos candles on Friday evening. While the normative Jewish custom is to kindle authentic flames, Jewish patients can light battery-operated candles in hospitals that do not permit open flames.
• There are many laws and customs associated with Shabbos, and the best way to find out about our patients’ needs in this regard is simply to ask. Ask your patients about their Shabbos observances and find out how you might be able to provide for their needs.
SERVING OBSERVANT PATIENTS
Although it is not possible to create a full Shabbos atmosphere in the hospital, Shabbos-observers appreciate every accommodation that hospital staff can make to provide the Jewish patient with as much of a Shabbos atmosphere as possible. Accordingly, the following are some pointers that will be relevant to Jews who observe Shabbos:
• On Friday night, Jews recite prayers, sing Jewish melodies, recite blessings over a cup of grape juice or wine, and eat a challah roll. Family members might want to visit the patient in the hospital to join them for some of these rituals.
• Many activities are forbidden on Shabbos. Examples include: signing documents, making payments, pushing buttons in elevators, riding cars, opening electric beds, pressing the call button, turning lights on or off, and many others. If some of your Jewish patients, or their visitors, refuse to do these things during Shabbos, they are not trying to be difficult. If you can offer to help them with some of these things, it will surely be appreciated.
• Many medical procedures may be performed on Jewish patients during Shabbos. However, because there are also circumstances under which medical procedures may not be performed on Jewish patients during Shabbos, patients might want to consult their rabbi to determine which restrictions apply to them.
• During Shabbos, rabbis, and chaplains might not be available by phone. Should the need arise, it is advisable to consult with the rabbi before Shabbos. If it is likely that a rabbi will need to be reached on an urgent medical matter during Shabbos, arrangements should be made before Shabbos to ensure that the rabbi will be available. For example, if the rabbi knows the telephone number from which the patient or medical team will call during Shabbos, and the circumstances justify taking a call on Shabbos, he will answer the phone when that number appears on his phone display.
• The following is an important caveat: When it is a matter of life and death, all Shabbos restrictions are lifted. On such occasions, the medical staff should dismiss all concerns about Shabbos and act decisively and immediately to alleviate the danger. Intervention should not be postponed until the rabbi can be reached.
• Patients who are discharged on Shabbos might decline to sign documents or make payment until Saturday evening. If accommodations can be made in this regard, it would be much appreciated.
• Another concern that arises with a mid-Shabbos discharge is that driving a car is forbidden during Shabbos. Some patients might ask to be discharged after Shabbos. In some instances, a rabbi may have ruled that a patient may ride home in a taxi driven by someone else; in such cases, patients might ask the hospital staff to call the taxi. Although this is not usually a request made of hospital staff, Shabbos observant patients would be much relieved if this request could be accommodated. By summoning the taxi for the patient via his or her Uber app (or another similar service), the hospital staff will also mitigate the problem of handling money, which is normally forbidden on Shabbos.