medical symbol, stethoscope, white lab coat

Universal Healthcare Through a Jewish Lens

Jewish tradition teaches us that our bodies and the preservation of our health is above all the most cherished value.   God bestowed onto us the opportunity for life and prosperity and we have to obligation to treat our bodies with the utmost care and respect.  We see this value reflected in the current U.S healthcare system.

One of the most important pieces of legislation implemented during Obama’s presidency is the healthcare reform bill known as the Affordable Care Act.  The bill states its mission within its title- improving access to high quality health care at an affordable price for all Americans.   The first aspect of this bill is patient protection: safeguards from the devastating costs of contracting an illness or losing your job and having no means of getting appropriate medical care.  Prior to 2010, with the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, 1 out of 5 Americans under the age of 65 were uninsured.  This not only puts their safety at risk, but it makes a high percentage of the American people vulnerable to bankruptcy if faced with a health emergency. Through the implementation of the Affordable Care Act it is making it possible to protect patients, at any age, from the realities of rising medical costs.  By increasing the number of Americans with insurance coverage, we can care for our bodies through an affordable and accessible system of care.

Through a Jewish lens, our bodies are a gift from God for us to borrow. Being healthy and caring for ourselves is almost a religious obligation.  As stated in the Torah, “He who does good to his own person is a man of piety” (Proverbs 11:17)  In the Jewish tradition, the predominant reason to not observe the practices of Shabbat or fast during Yom Kippur is if you are caring for yourself or others.

In Jewish communities throughout history, there have been public programs in place following the value of tzedakah, a shared obligation of the community to meet basic human needs for all.  In this sense, it is not on our doctors and health care facilitators to provide the care, it is a communal obligation to help the poor gain access to the appropriate health care they need to first be healthy individuals then good Jews.

It is not enough to make health care accessible, but we must use resources well in order to make it affordable. Through our course with the RAC on social justice and Jewish values, Rabbi Saperstein taught us of the commandment of Bal Tashchit, do not destroy, we must be cautious not the waste limited resources.  By improving communication and implementation of health care through electronic records and the avoidance of excessive testing and treatments, we can avoid the wastefulness of the current health care system, which is becoming increasingly unaffordable.  As health care spending becomes the leading cause for our nations debt, it continues to represent almost 18% of our GDP.

In the Talmud it states, “He who saves a single life saves the entire world.”  Through the improvements and effective implementation of the Affordable Care Act to better provide high quality care for all Americans, we can better maintain the belief that all people are created b’tselem Elohim, in the image of God, and deserve access to affordable, high-quality care.


Emily Hornstein is a senior at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is a psychology major. Originally from Ventura, CA, Emily grew up attending Temple Beth Torah. 


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Machon Kaplan Participant

About Machon Kaplan Participant

Machon Kaplan is the Religious Action Center's work/study internship program for undergraduate students interested in Judaism and social justice. Learn more at The views expressed in these posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the Reform Movement.

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