Friday, August 14, 2009

Health Care Reform and Jewish Values

The current health care discussions are too important to toss aside as "politics as usual," even though the debate has been marred by so much anger, confusion and misinformation. It is hard to defend or attack a bill that remains, to this day, somewhat amorphous. But the discussion is important, and Judaism does have much to say about it. President Obama has arranged for a conference call next week with rabbis from several denominations, and I will be participating in that, listening attentively.

Meanwhile, here are some resources for all of us to study, regarding this crucial matter, so that we can focus on shedding more light than heat.

The statement below was issued by Faithful Health Care Reform coalition of which the Rabbinical Assembly is a member. This statement embodies the principles that the RA has articulated in its resolutions and writings over the years. After the statement is a summary of the Rabbinical Assembly position.

A Faith-Inspired Vision of Health Care

We, as people of faith, envision a society where each person is afforded health, wholeness, and human dignity.

That vision embraces a health care system that is inclusive... accessible...affordable... and accountable.

Vision ~ Inclusive: Health care is a shared responsibility that is grounded in our common humanity. In the bonds of our human family, we are created to be equal. We are guided by a divine will to honor each person's dignity and to live together as an inclusive community. Affirming our commitment to the common good, we acknowledge our enduring responsibility to care for one another. As we recognize that society as a whole is healthy only when we care for the most vulnerable among us, we are led to discern the human right to health and wholeness. Therefore, we are called to act with compassion by including everyone in the sharing of our abundant health care resources.

Vision ~ Affordable: Health care must contribute to the common good by being affordable for individuals, families and society as a whole. We believe that in the sacred act of creation we are endowed with the talents, wisdom and abundant resources necessary to meet the needs of one another, including the health care needs of all. Therefore, in our calling to be faithful stewards, we understand our responsibility to use our health care resources effectively, to administer them efficiently, and to distribute them with equity.

Vision ~ Accessible: All persons should have access to health services that provide necessary care and contribute to wellness. We believe humanity is sacred and that all persons should benefit from those actions which contribute to our health and wholeness. Therefore, we are called to act with justice and love, to ensure that all of us have access to the health care we need in order to live out the fullness of our potential both as individuals and as contributing members of our society. We must work together to identify and overcome all barriers to and disparities in such care.

Vision ~ Accountable: Our health care system must be accountable, offering a quality, equitable and sustainable means of keeping us healthy as individuals and as a community. We believe that as spiritual and sacred vessels, we are responsible for the care of our bodies to the best of our ability and for the care of one another regardless of individual circumstances. Therefore, individuals, families, governments, businesses, and the faith community are called to work in partnership for a system that ensures fully-informed, timely, quality and safe care that treats body, mind and spirit.

Rabbinical Assembly Health Care Position

In 1999, the Rabbinical Assembly published its ““Rabbinic Letter on the Poor” by Elliot Dorff under the leadership of the Social Action Committee. This letter called for our society to provide basic health care to all. The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards passed a teshuvah (responsum) in affirming this principle (Responsibilities for the Provision of Health Care, 1998, available on the Rabbinical Assembly website,
). In summary, the teshuvah teaches that Jewish law requires that people be provided with needed health care, at least a “decent minimum” that preserves life and meets other basic needs, including some amount of preventative care. The responsibility to assure this provision is shared among individuals and families, physicians and other health care providers, and the community. The community bears ultimate responsibility to assure provision of needed health care for individuals who cannot afford it, as a matter of justice as well as a specific halakhic obligation. The “community” that bears that responsibility in our day is the national society, through its government, health care institutions, insurance companies, and private enterprises.

In 2002, the Rabbinical Assembly passed a resolution calling on the US government to increase its funding for health care for the poor and expanding the CHIP and S-CHIP programs to cover minor children, especially those whose parents have lost their health insurance benefits.

In light of employers reducing health benefits and rising unemployment causing the elimination of health coverage for many Americans, in 2008 the Rabbinical Assembly expressed its grave concern about this issue and called on the United States government to establish affordable health care for all Americans; and to expand access to health insurance.

The Rabbinical Assembly has signed onto numerous letters urging the US government to provide affordable and accessible health care for all of its citizens and is currently a member of the Faithful Reform in Health Care Coalition. We encourage our members to educate themselves on the issues of health care reform and advocate with their legislators and congregants and students on those provisions that reflect Jewish values.

During the August recess members of Congress are holding town hall meetings on health care in their home districts. As you know protesters have been disruptive at some of these meetings. The Health Reform Coalition has requested us to ask you to contact your member of Congress (call the district office) and offer to hold the town meeting at your shul or school or offer to deliver a prayer at the meeting. Protesters are less likely to be disruptive in a house of worship or when the tone is set by a member of the clergy.


Provided below is contact information from the Republican Jewish Coalition and the National Jewish Democratic Council. You need not identify as a Democrat or Republican to take advantage of the resources these two groups provide, and each group will give you the choices of “retrieving or receiving” their offerings. Please keep in mind that these two groups are devoted to promoting their party’s platforms and candidates rather than providing dispassionate insight into policy issues. Of course, the RA endorses neither organization, but provides this information as one way to become more engaged in the political process.

Republican Jewish Coalition

National Jewish Democratic Council

Finally, you can access the position statements of the RAC (the Religious Action Center) at In particular, see Understanding the Issues and Proposed Solutions; Jewish Values & Health Care, Making the Moral Case for Reform. The RAC is an official arm of the Reform Movement, but our movement makes use of its resources.

I think it would be healthy for us to have our own discussion of this matter, and I'd like to set that for services next Shabbat morning, August 22. I welcome any input from those with light to shed on this complicated and crucial matter that has enormous moral implications. Even if you cannot attend, if you could send me your information, it would be helpful. What I'm looking for is not simply your opinion, but information that has helped you to form that opinion - and please, to the greatest extent possible, let it be an opinion with verifiable facts.

In this way, our congregation can play a role in this national dialogue that will impact us all.

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