Menachem Mendel

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Jewish Law and Health Care

Many Jewish groups have been speaking out about the current debate surrounding health care reform, with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism even setting up a separate web site, Jews for Health Care Reform. Usually I believe that Judaism never comes down on one side of a public policy debate, rather it demands certain behaviors and the upholding of values, but whether these necessitate a specific political platform is often unclear. The demands that Jewish law places on a Jewish community in relation to its members might not translate into a call for civil legislation. For example, Judaism definitely holds charity and help for the poor to be a supreme value and goal, but how does this necessarily translate into politics and government. Someone who supports a minimalist version of government help to the needy may claim that from a macro standpoint they think that this is the best way to help the poor. A recent example of how a movement might be able to agree on the long-term goals, but disagrees on how to get there is the discussion within the Conservative movement about living wage legislation. There have been a number of interesting posts recently which have argued that Jewish law and ethics may actually require that one support universal health care. Whether support for universal health care necessarily equals support for the current health care reform is another question. Here are some of them:

1. Elliot Dorff, Why We Must Support Universal Health Care
2. Shmuly Yanklowitz, The Health-Care Battle: A Jewish Issue? (warning: the HTML is messed up on this page)
3. Brad Hirschfield, The Jewish Source for Universal Health Care

There are two scholarly articles on this question which look very interesting. I haven’t read them, so I can’t comment on them.

1. Aaron L. Mackler, Judaism, Justice, and Access to Health Care, Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal – Volume 1, Number 2, June 1991, pp. 143-161
2. Noam Zohar, A Jewish Perspective on Access to Healthcare, Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics (1998), 7, 260-265.

5 Responses to “Jewish Law and Health Care”

  1. 1

    To all those articles, I’d point to the Book of Samuel. Samuel was a forerunner to Ayn Rand and the libertarians when it comes to gov’t. See, anybody can find anything to support their political beliefs in Jewish sources.

    8:10 Samuel told all the words of Yahweh to the people who asked of him a king. 8:11 He said, “This will be the way of the king who shall reign over you: he will take your sons, and appoint them to him, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and they shall run before his chariots; 8:12 and he will appoint them to him for captains of thousands, and captains of fifties; and he will assign some to plow his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and the instruments of his chariots. 8:13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. 8:14 He will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive groves, even their best, and give them to his servants. 8:15 He will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. 8:16 He will take your male servants, and your female servants, and your best young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 8:17 He will take the tenth of your flocks: and you shall be his servants. 8:18 You shall cry out in that day because of your king whom you shall have chosen you; and Yahweh will not answer you in that day.”

    8:19 But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; and they said, “No; but we will have a king over us, 8:20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.”

  2. 2
    John Hobbins:

    Samuel, a forerunner of Ayn Rand? Give me a break.

    I don’t like the way the debate is being framed. Maybe it fits the situation somewhere, but not here in Wisconsin. Access to health care is not denied to the uninsured – for the most part, the long-term uninsured here are such because they want to be. Medicaid and Badger Care cover the poor and all children.

    In any case, the uninsured or inadequately insured are given the same treatment as anyone else when they get cancer, and if they have something like diabetes, the doctors have all kinds of schemes to keep them in insulin.

    Means-testing by individual hospitals determines cost-sharing. The cost of caring for the uninsured is spread around, kind of like (excuse the analogy) the cost of shoplifting. There is a lot of improv in the system, but, based on conversations with people in the health care delivery system, there are more important reforms that need to be implemented than a refinancing and redistribution of who currently pays for the health care of the uninsured.

    What top-down planning guarantees is rationing. Of course. I lived in Italy, and saw it with my own eyes. Funds are disbursed to small territorial units according to a complex formula, but all it takes is one kid with a weird disease that costs a million to treat, and other people’s operations gets pushed into the next fiscal year.

    What I care about most is what is off the table in this whole debate: health care for undocumented workers. For me it’s as simple as pikuach nefesh. As of now, I’m not in a situation of ministry to migrant workers as I have been in the past. But it gave me great satisfaction to use all of my upper middle class schmoozing skills to get illegals the health care they needed through the back door. Being born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth ought to have some positive benefits for third parties after all.

  3. 3

    my point was that one can pick and choose one’s sources to support whatever political position one wants to take.

    “undocumented workers.” that’s a nice liberal euphemism for “illegal aliens.” Why should someone who is breaking the law by their very presence be entitled to anything, except a free ride back to whichever country they came from? As much of a debacle as Obama’s been causing so far with this debate, if there was care for illegals thrown in, you’d see an uprising such as you haven’t even begun to see. Undocumented workers, heh. To quote you, “give me a break.”

  4. 4
    John Hobbins:


    I’m sure it’s different where you are, but in my neck of the woods, illegal aliens for example do the jobs in restaurants that no one else wants to do. Heck, I’m in America’s dairyland; they even do an ever greater share of the milking. Remember that the next time you drink a glass of milk.

    Since when has any complex economy done without the contribution of undocumented workers? How many of your ancestors and mine worked under false or shady pretenses to begin with? Have you read Joseph Roth’s accounts of life in the Jewish immigrant quarters of Vienna? I think you suffer from amnesia.

    I know nothing about your ancestors, but I know something about mine: those who were not of WASP pedigree existed on the margins of the law if necessary, until their status was normalized.

  5. 5

    In my neck of the woods, basic rules of economics apply. If illegal aliens were booted out, or we imposed stiff criminal penalties on those who employed them (including homes that employ cleaning people or nannies), then wages would rise to the point where legal residents would do those jobs. Otherwise, the jobs aren’t economically useful.

    My ancestors came here legally. We have the right and responsibility to ensure that people come to this country who we choose to let in. I’m not talking about asylum cases, only the folks who cross the Rio Grande because the pay is better here.

    In any event, I’m not sure where in Jewish law it says “help people break the law.” Assuming you are Christian, I seem to recall something in the NT about rendering unto Caesar. (See, anybody can marshal any text to support their position.)




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