I am a chaplain in a hospice, serving those who are terminally ill. As a chaplain, I do not promote my faith, rather, I help those walk in their faith as death approaches. One of the sad issues I face is the spiritual neglect of the elderly. Often their churches or synagogues forget about them when they are no longer able to attend.

That being said, how can I support a person of Jewish faith, without promoting my Christian faith, as they approach death? Unfortunately, many pastors, priests, or rabbis don’t come to help these precious souls as they near death and I am the one with them in their final days.

Currently, I read the Psalms and offer the blessing from Numbers 6:22-27. Please show me how and what to pray with these men and women as they approach death.

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    Hi Chaplain Mark! Welcome to Mi Yodea and thank you for your thoughtful and genuine interest in giving faith sensitive care to your patients!
    – MDjava
    Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 17:51
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    I'd recommend contacting Rabbi Jason Weiner, who is a successful, well known Jewish chaplain and has written much content regarding his work in the field. cedars-sinai.org/patients-visitors/spiritual-care/experts/… rabbiweiner.com
    – MDjava
    Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 17:53
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    Thank you! I have just reached out to Rabbi Weiner after your help. Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 18:00
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    I hope someone will also write an answer here, whether based on Rabbi Weiner's work or otherwise, so we'll all benefit. Chaplain Mark, thank you for your respectful care of those in your charge. Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 18:37
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    If you are located near a large Jewish community, there may be a local organization called "Bikur Cholim" ("visiting the sick") that may be well-equipped to come help. May God bless your efforts with success.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 18:54

2 Answers 2


Thank you for asking the question and performing this great action. In his book Mourning in Halacha (pp. 29-46), Rabbi Chaim Binyamin Goldberg has a number of recommendations based on Jewish law which would apply to your visits.

  • It is desirable to explain to the patient that illness in this world is a kindness which the Holy One bestowed for mankind. The patriarch Jacob prayed and requested that people should become sick so that they could give their final commands to their family and so that their children would have time to come and be with their parent
  • It is desirable to speak with the patient about the need for giving instructions and putting his affairs in order, e.g., if he owes money, or if others owe him; if he has money or property deposited with others, or if he holding deposits for others
  • It is desirable to speak with him in a positive way regarding how he wishes his property to be disposed and what he wishes to command regarding personal and family matters. It is very important to him to explain the great spiritual merit that a person receives when he gives tzedakah (charity) before parting from his belongings
  • One must be extremely careful when speaking to the sick person about these matters, to make sure that one's words do not cause them suffering and worsen his condition

Regarding prayers, Jewish law prescribes saying viduy, a confession of sins, before departing this world, as a great merit to the soul. This is also seen as a powerful aid for rapid and complete recovery. Legal texts state one should tell the patient "Most of those who confessed did not die, and many who did not confess died. Many who are walking the streets recite the confession, and in reward for confessing you will live. Whoever confesses has a portion in the World to Come".

The viduy is said near death. See here for more details, translation and transliteration.

When a person who is ill prays, it is very effective. Therefore the sick person himself should try to pray from the depths of his heart. Recommended psalms are some or all of psalms 16, 23, 25, 51, 91, 102, 103, 121, 139, 142. Additional recitations (e.g., Pitum HaKetoret) can be found in Jewish prayer books if you have access to one. See pp. 34-40 and 45-46 of Mourning in Halacha for additional prayers including for the final moments.

See also here from Chabad for prayers for final moments (with Isaac Moses' very helpful prioritisation and guide to these prayers).

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    Thank you so much for your help. I truly appreciate it. I will bring honor and compassion to those who are in their last days of life. Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 15:04

This is intended as a supplement to mbloch's answer, which refers and links to a collection of practices and prayers that provides ample material for the chaplain to choose from.

Speaking without pastoral experience or particular expertise this area of law and custom, I can suggest which of the prayers listed are likely to be most familiar to all Jews, including those with limited synagogue or Hebrew background. This may help the chaplain in applying his own professional pastoral sense to choose which prayers are likely to offer the most comfort. In rough order of my estimation of how likely the average Jew is likely to be familiar with them:

  1. The Shema, which is the last prayer in the "Jewish prayers for the Final Moments of Life" Chabad piece, is probably the most well-known Jewish prayer, and the one that is best-known in Jewish culture to be the last words on the lips of dying Jews. The sequence listed there, including the repeated "verses of unity" afterward, may be familiar from the very end of the Yom Kippur closing service. Most Jews who have ever attended synagogue attended at least on Yom Kippur.

  2. Adon Olam, #4 on that list, is quite ubiquitous as a song sung in synagogue services in most communities I've seen.

  3. The second and third paragraphs in Chabad's "The Viduy Confession Prayers" piece are prominent in the Yom Kippur services.

  4. Psalm 23, from the list mbloch cited from Mourning in Halacha, is, of course, well-known in American (at least) popular culture, and due at least to that, likely to be familiar to most Jews.

  5. Psalm 91, #3 on the Chabad list, is also recited at Jewish funerals and therefore may be familiar to those who have attended them.

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    Thank you so much for your help. I will read and study these and honor those whom I am with in their last days. May the Lord bless you. Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 16:31
  • I recall Nishmas also being recited, although it may be a bit long for the OP.
    – Menachem
    Commented Mar 7, 2019 at 3:04

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