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An Orthodox-Reform Divide on Health Care?

Reform rabbi wants universal coverage; Orthodox doesn’t

by
Ari M. Brostoff
August 07, 2009

A Jewish newspaper in Houston interviewed two rabbis—Samuel Karff, who’s Reform, and Yossi Grossman, who works for an Orthodox-affiliated organization—for the first article in a four-part series about Jewish perspectives on health care reform. While both rabbis drew their interpretations from the Torah and Talmud, Karff came to the more politically liberal conclusion, arguing that “one of the great aspects of our tradition is that it doesn’t regard tzedakah as charity…. The stronger have a responsibility for the well-being of the more vulnerable in the community.” Grossman, meanwhile, came to a more politically conservative conclusion: “the Talmud clearly states that if I jump into a river to save someone and lose my shirt, then I can subsequently charge them for my losses incurred through the act of kindness. That means there’s no obligation to provide universal healthcare.” This breakdown—that the Reform rabbi is liberal, the Orthodox conservative—may sound intuitive, but there’s no clear reason for it to be true. Why should religiosity and perspectives on something as complex as health care line up on the political spectrum at all? It might be a coincidence, but one wonders if the conflation of conservative politics and devoutness promoted by the Christian right, not just on social issues but on economic ones like health care—and, likewise, the contemporary American equation of secularism with progressive economic policy—has been absorbed by the Jewish world, as well.

Ari M. Brostoff is Culture Editor at Jewish Currents.

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