Double Booked: “Distressed Babies” and the Obligation of Care

The media-verse is abuzz with discussions on a variety of working families issues in the wake of recent comments by AOL CEO Tim Armstrong about employee benefits.

Armstrong organized a company-wide conference call for his employees to explain why AOL had decided to scale-back employer-matching contributions on its 401(k) program, and he explained that healthcare costs in particular were responsible for the decision. A very specific reference to “distressed babies” has ignited a firestorm of debate on health care insurance coverage, the high costs of neonatal care, employer-employee privacy (most AOL employees were easily able to identify the parents of the babies mentioned), and insensitivity to working parents, among myriad other issues. The mother of one of the aforementioned “distressed babies” penned a response article in Slate, where she explained:

Yes, we had a preemie in intensive care. This was certainly not our intention. While he’s at it, why not call out the women who got cancer? The parents of kids with asthma? These rank among the nation’s most expensive medical conditions. Would anyone dare to single out these people for simply availing themselves of their health benefits?

Armstrong has subsequently apologized, revoked his decision on 401(k) contributions, and clarified that his remarks were intended to express that AOL wants to be able to continue following through on caring for its employees and their families through high-risk medical situations.

As part of the Double Booked project, we’ve put together what’s called a “Living Talmud” on working families. It is modeled off the Talmud, a centuries-old Jewish religious text.  Each page of the Talmud has a central text and is literally bordered by commentaries, questions, and debates about the text. Here is a real page from the Talmud:

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Our Living Talmud follows that pattern and offers teachings on a Jewish perspective on working families. For example, Leviticus 25:35 teaches us that “You shall maintain him; whether stranger or sojourner, he shall live beside you.” Do you think this quotation applies to this news story? Let’s create a Living Talmud here based on the texts, with your feedback below as the commentary. 

The Double Booked Living Talmud

The Double Booked Living Talmud

As a Movement, we have stood in favor of universal health care, of women’s health and economic security, and many other crucial social justice issues of our time that affect working families. How can we as Jews and non-Jews, as people of faith and non-faith, as caring working moms, dads, and grandparents, and as advocates bring our conversation on Double Booked to stories we see in the media. Does this text apply to not just our family members and our neighbors, but also to broader society, even corporations? Does our responsibility to the people in our local communities extend to those with whom we share a national community? Do you think elected officials have a role in fostering this kind of community, or sense of responsibility? Join the dialogue and fill in this Living Talmud by adding a comment below! Share this blog on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #doublebooked.

Here’s a roundup of news coverage on the events:


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Sarah Greenberg

About Sarah Greenberg

Sarah Greenberg is the Senior Legislative Assistant at the RAC. She graduated in 2013 from Cornell University, and is originally from New York, NY. Sarah was an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant in 2013-2014.

4 Responses to “Double Booked: “Distressed Babies” and the Obligation of Care”

  1. Sophie Golomb

    I’m most hung up on the use of “distressed babies” as a way of describing a family’s need for neonatal care. In Judaism, we are reminded of disparaging speech, “lashon hara.” The AOL CEO’s language and word choice, which lacked tact, tainted his intended message.

  2. Howie Levine

    The text from Baba Metzia (112a) “One who withholds an employee’s wages, it is as though he has deprived him of his life” raises many questions for me. Should we consider a worker paid the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour to be deprived of their wages when it is not enough to keep a working parent above the poverty line? Can the denial of paid sick days to a loyal employee be considering denying wages? We must evaluate what is a fair wage and what are considered fair benefits. Working families not only need the time to raise their children, but the money to do so.

  3. Charlie Arnowitz

    To me, the AOL story and the Leviticus quote are particularly interesting in the context of the Obama administration’s decision this week to delay the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

    For many Americans, this means that their healthcare coverage will come from the individual market, rather than their employer. For the actual employee, it probably won’t make much difference in terms of cost. But for many it means that their coverage will be subsidized by the federal government, rather than by their employer.

    This raises an interesting question: who should be responsible for the healthcare of employees, the employer/company or society at large?

  4. Deborah Goldberg

    I am inspired by the phrase “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh l’zeh,” all Israel is responsible for one another. Our Jewish values teach us that we have an obligation to take care of each other. A company can’t be successful, and a society can’t be strong, if we don’t prioritize other people’s well-being along with our own well-being.

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