family celebrating Hanukkah

Happy Hanukkah!

This year Christmas falls during Hanukkah, the Jewish eight-day wintertime “festival of lights” that celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple. That does not always happen, because Hanukkah is calculated on the Hebrew calendar, and begins on the 25th day of Kislev. The United States uses the Gregorian calendar. In 2022, Hanukkah begins at sundown on Sunday, December 18th and ends the evening of Monday, December 26 on the Gregorian calendar. 

While Hanukkah is not the most significant of Jewish holidays, its timing near Christmas makes it more noticeable to most non-Jewish Americans. That makes this an excellent time to address how the moral teachings adhered to by some Jews impact the elderly, specifically on Advance Directives. 

There are about 7.5 million Jews in the United States, according to a 2021 report from the Pew Research Center. That is about 2.4% of the total U.S. population. In Texas, 1% of the population is Jewish. The Pew Research Report points out, however, that the definition of who should be included in the count as Jewish is up for debate. It’s complicated: some people identify as Jewish by religion, others consider themselves Jewish by affiliation, and still others have at least one Jewish parent or a Jewish upbringing. 

It is worth noting that a similar debate could be had about every religious classification. 

Judaism has main streams that have formed, each with its own perspective on Jewish law and custom. It would be insensitive, and just plain wrong, to assume that every person who fits under the arbitrary definition of Jewish holds the same beliefs. At the same time, it makes sense to be aware that cultural differences could impact decisions about medical care and end of life treatments. 

As an example, let’s look at the traditional perspective that is found in many Conservative and Orthodox movements, as described by Rabbi Mark Popovsky in a 2007 Duke University Magazine article. 

While the Bible commands Jews to choose life, there is support in the Jewish law for an individual’s right to reject treatment where diseases are incurable and medical interventions would be risky, painful or of uncertain efficacy. There is also a recognition of goses, which is the process of actively dying. Once someone is in goses, nothing should be done to hasten death, but medical treatment that is an impediment to death should be withheld. There is still an active debate of whether giving artificial nutrition and hydration is merely normal care or an impediment to death. 

If you are Jewish, at a minimum your Living Will (Directive to Physicians) should include a statement that “I am a Jew, and it is my desire that all decision-making about my healthcare be done in accordance with Jewish law and custom.” It may be helpful to designate a particular Rabbi that your agent should consult. If there are Jewish rituals that you want to be observed, then include permission for those rituals and prayers to occur. Create a separate instruction letter to accompany your medical power of attorney

You can also customize your Directive to Physicians, which typically addresses prohibited treatments, to affirmatively state what treatment you do want. 

If you desire a certain ritual following your death, such as shemirah, where from the moment of death until burial at least one Jewish person remains in the room with a corpse, then mention that, too. 

Be clear about your wishes. Care providers should be alert to, and make every effort to respect, your religious beliefs. Insist on it.

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Virginia Hammerle is in her fourth decade of practicing law. She is Board Certified in Civil Trial by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and an Accredited Estate Planner. Contact her at or visit This column does not constitute legal advice.