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Talmud Calls for Universal Health Care

Says Reform movement leader

Ari M. Brostoff
August 12, 2009

This week, the head of the Reform movement’s political arm, Rabbi David Saperstein, helped launch an effort by progressive religious leaders to get President Barack Obama’s health care plan passed in Congress; the president’s agreed to join the group in a call-in webcast on August 19. Saperstein and liberal Rev. Jennifer Butler appeared this morning on the public radio show The Takeaway.

“There’s nothing in the Torah about palliative care, or dialysis…. When you start getting down to the details of the bills, how do you turn that into a moral argument as opposed to a political argument?” a host of the show asked Saperstein.

The rabbi gave the standard reply that we can apply the moral norms given in the Torah to contemporary situations; then, more intriguingly, he argued that “by the time of the Talmud 2,000 years ago, [these norms] had developed into health care systems and rules and requirements to provide adequate health care for all people. Any community that wanted to be considered a moral community had to provide health care, had to provide health care providers. These are not new ideas.”

So does that imply that people opposed to Obama’s health care plan are immoral?

“Good moral people can differ on the best way to go about achieving universal health care,” Saperstein said. “That isn’t what this debate has been about, unfortunately. This has been a very disturbing debate in terms of the civility of discourse in America. When people make these extraordinary accusations and allusions about fascism and Nazism and the Holocaust, what they’re doing is trying to take these ideas outside the free marketplace of ideas.”

Ari M. Brostoff is Culture Editor at Jewish Currents.