Morethodoxy and Health Care – Rabbi Barry Gelman

There have been very few public statements from Orthodox groups regarding the Heath Care debate that is raging in this country.

Agudath Yisrael of America recently stated that President Obama’s efforts to “make health care more accessible to the uninsured and underinsured should be applauded” and that “promotion of good health and well being are religious imperatives.”

The Agudath Yisrael should be commended for stepping into the debate and making a statement based on Jewish values.

Where are the other Orthodox groups….especially the Modern Orthodox? It seems that we are comfortable letting the Jewish position on Health Care reform be staked out by the right wing and let wing of Judaism.

For so many, Orthodoxy remains irrelevant because in our shuls and schools we hear about the minute details of how to keep kosher and debate how long a woman’s sleeve must be and ignore serious discussions on societal and moral issues of our day. Here was our chance (maybe there is still time) to appear relevant by formulating an approach on the most significant issue facing America and we have remained silent.

Participating in the universal questions of our time and contributing to the general welfare are commitments that the morethodox should take very seriously.

In 1964 Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik expressed our responsibility in this realm very clearly when he said: “We Jews have been burdened with a twofold task; we have to  cope with the problem of a doub!e confrontation. We think of ourselves as human beings, sharing the destiny of Adam in his general encounter with nature, and as members of a covenantal community which has preserved its identity under most unfavorable conditions, confronted by another faith community. We believe we are the bearers of a double charismatic load, that of the dignity of man, and that of the sanctity of the covenantal community. In this difficult role, we are summoned by God, who revealed himself at both the level of universal creation and that of the private covenant, to undertake a double mission – the universal human and the exclusive covenantal confrontation.”

The quote is from Rabbi Soloveitchik’s “Confrontation” where the Rav expresses guidelines for interfaith dialogue. While Rabbi Soloveitchik limits the types of theological discussions we Jews can have with non-Jews, he also notes that dialogue and participation in the no theological realm is permitted.

Our community has taken less seriously the charge Rabbi Soloveitchik gave in terms of actually engaging with the universal community for the greater good.

Rabbi Soloveitchik identifies the common “antagonist” to be contended with as a reason for involvement in universal social issues.

In an addendum to Confrontation Rabbi Soloveitchik calls concern and discussion of issues facing the public as “essential”

“When, however, we move from the private world of faith to the public world of humanitarian and cultural endeavors, communication among the various faith communities is desirable and even essential. We are ready to enter into dialogue on such topics as War and Peace, Poverty, Freedom, Man’s Moral Values, The Threat of Secularism, Technology and Human Values, Civil Rights, etc., which revolve about religious spiritual aspects of our civilization.

Since we are approaching Rosh Hashana we can look to the liturgy for guidance in this realm as well.

It is interesting to note that the three main sections of the Rosh Hashan Mussaf, Malchiyot, Zochronot and Shofarot begin by establishing the unique relationship between God and the Jewish people and ends by extending that relationship (and eschatological hopes) to all humanity. God’s sovereignty (Malchiyot), Divine Providence (Zichronot), and Revelation (Shofaros) are experienced by all. The universal nature of these teffilot ahould remind us of our obligation to engage universal issues and express concern for the welfare of all.

We must get into this discussion. If not for the sake of participating with our fellow citizens of an issue of great concern, then for the sake of our communities that will, once again, be confronted with the perceived irrelevancy of our communal institutions and our faith.

A word on quality: Many have argued in favor of Universal health care “as long as quantity does not jeopardize quality”.  I wonder about this. Is this even possible? Here is what Rambam wrote:

“One may provide for the poor of idolaters as one does for the Jewish poor for the sake of the ways of peace (Darkei Shalom = pleasant relationships) and nor do we prevent them from taking any of the gifts of harvest for the poor, for the same reason, and one may enquire after their health, even on one of their festivals, for the same reason.”(Laws of Idolatry and Idolaters, 10:5).

At the very least Orthodox groups should be making statements in favor of Universal Health care. Whether we base it on Pikuach Nefesh (saving lives), Tzedakah, or the biblical mandate to take care of the less fortunate, we must make our voices heard. To be sure, the devil is in the details, but by not making a simple statement that every human being is entitled to health care, orthodox groups are missing an important opportunity.

3 Responses to Morethodoxy and Health Care – Rabbi Barry Gelman

  1. ilanadavita says:

    I completely agree with you on this and wish more people in Orthodox circles would make statements in favor of Universal Health Care too.

  2. RalphG says:

    100% in agreement. Darkei Shalom are frequently overshadowed by self-interest.
    Why are the Reform and Conservative branches of Judaism more concerned with social issues than our chevra?

  3. LRP says:

    I very much agree that we should be engaged in social causes and efforts to make the world a better place. However, I am very cautious when we start trying to formulate public policy based on Halakha. Is it so clear in Jewish tradition that we should force some to pay for the health care of others? What about the great respect that our tradition has for private property? In supporting the desire for everyone to have health care, are we sure that the government is the best means of providing it? Does Jewish tradition offer an opinion on that? I tend to think that our obligation to help the poor should be expressed through voluntary tzedakah, not government policy.

    I am far from a learned scholar. I would love to hear responses to these questions. I very much believe in social justice, and that Judaism wants us to pursue justice; but I am much less certain that our Jewish understanding translates so easily into government policy.

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