So we have had several days to digest the recent action by the House of Representatives and the passage of their version of a revised health care bill. Yes, it has along way to go and the debate has an even longer way to go. The politics of all of this is profound and, no matter which way this ends, our generation needs to be well informed and aware. A while ago, as this debate was beginning, we looked a little at one scholar’s approach to health care. As the debate grows and people choose sides, it may be of interest to return to some additional values on the subject that appear within the context of Jewish texts and tradition. After all, if one wishes to stake out a position, it may not be such a bad idea to stake out that position from a foundation of Jewish values.
Earlier we looked a little at a position of Rabbi Aaron Mackler who looked at tradition and arrived at a conclusion that the model for health care should be based on the concept of “tz’dakah”, or justice. (see blog post from March 19, 2017) That justice model sought to see society as having a moral obligation to restore that which is lacking to a person, so as that person could enjoy a full life. This moral obligation to secure a just society is enhanced by Rabbi Elliot Dorff in his “In Matters of Life and Death” (JPS 1998). Dorff says that Jewish sources make it clear that health care is not only an individual and family responsibility but also a communal one. He maintains that no community is complete until it has the personnel, and facilities, to provide health care and that the community must pay for health care of those who cannot afford it as part of the provision for the poor. Dorff does not stake out a claim for any single type of system, but does maintain that any system needs to be effective in providing health care for everyone within our borders. Thus, it seems that a society that is based on justice must provide for all of its citizens, especially the poor.
Jeff Levin, PhD, from Baylor, writing in “Judaism and Health” (Jewish Lights, 2013) created a 10 point approach to health care. His essay, “Jewish Ethical Themes That Should Inform the National Healthcare Discussion”, took a look at these ethical themes and maintained that, in the end, the discussion, from a Jewish point of view, did return to that relationship we have with God. In his discussion on the value of “T’shuvah” (repentance) he wrote that healthcare “speaks to how we,communally, recognize our pressing need to return to obedience to God or fidelity to our highest values, however each of us cares to conceptualize this charge”. Levin echoes that call to restore that which is lacking and returns to the basic idea that we are created in God’s image so health care discussion needs to be framed within that relationship and how we model that relationship into he world.
Obviously, this discussion will be on-going. It is interesting to see some of the ways contemporary Jewish scholars frame this discussion. We will return to some additional sources in a while.
Rabbi Richard F. Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.