Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9) The Right to a Tzedek Based Health Care System

Photo courtesy Sandra Taradash
Photo courtesy Sandra Taradash

            This week the Torah asks a question that touches all of us. In Deuteronomy 16:20 we read the famous line “justice, justice shall you pursue”.

The Hebrew word Tzedek is repeated to stress the importance of this value. Why must we pursue justice? The verse continues that we do this so “that you may thrive and occupy the land that God is giving you”. This may seem, in the context of the verse, a somewhat parochial view of why we need to seek justice. But when you discuss this at Torah study remember the historical context which may help define that “b”part of the verse.

            Yet, the universal call rings true. We all are aware of the need for a fair and equitable justice system and so many of the Jewish Sacred Aging community have been and still are deeply involved in social justice issues. However, there is one issue that I suggest, must be discussed within the context of our lives, especially as we age. It is a subject that often gets bogged down in politics, however, it is an issue that impacts every one of us.

I speak of the call for a just and equitable health care system. If you are a member of a social action group in your congregation or organization this Torah portion is calling on you to program, discuss and act on this issue.

            Dr. Becca Levy, in her recent book “Breaking The Age Code” quotes Dr. Martin Luther King who said that “Of all forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane”. In what we are told is the “richest country in the world”, equality of access and equity in the economics of health care remains a challenge. This issue can impact everyone reading this; from who and how they may be treated when seriously ill, to the costs for health care and insurance to the costs of drugs. As we age, this issue becomes very real.

Judaism’s approach to this is one based on the concept of Tzedek. Across the denominational lines there is a clear mood, drawn from texts, that justice in this case means that every person has a right to equal access to basic health care needs. There may be differences of opinion on how to achieve this, but for a society to be one based on justice, all must have their basic health care needs met. “While the specific form of health care system may vary, Jewish ethics definitely demands that American Jews work to ensure that the United States, as a society, provides health care to everyone in some way”. (In Matters of Life and Death. Rabbi Elliot Dorff, JPS.1998) This belief of a system based on tzedek is held across the denominational fabric of Judaism.

The pandemic has thrown back the curtain on the inequality of health care. The gaps in this issue are growing rather than narrowing. There are national and regional organizations devoted to providing a remedy for the inequality. One such national group is C-TAC, the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care ( It is wise to become familiar with them as well as other regional and local organizations as they can provide resources for your discussions. The up-coming mid term elections in the U.S. A lay also shed light on how candidates see issues such as Medicare and Medicaid reform as well as Social Security (already under attack by candidates in some states). If we are to “pursue justice” in health care, then there must be a guaranteed minimum floor for all so that there is equality and justice for all in access and care. Not to provide for this basic fact goes against the very concept of Tzedek that we are called on to pursue.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Richard F Address

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