Health Care as Jewish Issue, Communal Issue
On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we read, “Who will live and who will die.” Does it ever occur to us that when it comes to health care, the decision is in our hands? “Who will live and who will die.”
The lack of universal access to health care in our nation often determines who will live and who will die. And we allow it. We allow people to die in emergency rooms. We allow people to die who lack essential coverage. We allow people to die simply for lack of care. Who will live and who will die? We as a community are responsible for the lack of adequate health care for the poor. And let’s not ignore reality – we as a community are responsible for the lack of adequate health care for many members of our congregations.
The time has come for the Jewish community to admit that this is a communal issue. The time has come for the Jewish community to admit that this is a Jewish issue. Yes, health care is a Jewish issue, an issue of faith that must be addressed by our Movement and by our nation. Our nation’s leaders did just that when they passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010, and our Reform Movement was a strong supporter of the law and of previous efforts at health care reform.
Judaism from our earliest writings envisions a society in which each person is afforded health, wholeness, and dignity. According to the Talmud, the mitzvah that takes precedence above all others is Pikuah Nefesh – saving a soul.
Rambam, the great Maimonides of the 12th century, lists medicine as an obligation of community. The responsibility for health care is shared among individuals and families, physicians and other health care providers, together with the entire community. We know that in the Golden Age in Spain, Jewish communities set up public health care systems with doctors who were required to see the poor; they even visited patients who weren’t sick in order to ensure their health. This practice was funded by the community and regulated by the community.
As the highest court in our nation begins its debate on health care reform, may Judaism guide us as we advocate for a better system of health care. May our voice, as Jews, be clearly heard in our national debate, reminding our nation of the moral imperative to transform health care so that it is inclusive, accessible, affordable and accountable.
Mi Shebayrach Avoteinu v’imoteinu – May God who blessed our ancestors with healing in their days bless us with healing in our day as well.
Rabbi Don Goor is the senior rabbi at Temple Judea in Tarzana, CA, and a member of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism.