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Jewish Views on Health Care

Jewish tradition teaches that human life is of infinite value and that the preservation of life supersedes almost all other considerations. Reform Jews believe that God endowed humanity with the understanding and ability to become partners with God in making a better world. The use of our wisdom to cure illnesses has been a central theme in Jewish thought and history.

Providing health care is not just an obligation for the patient and the doctor, but for society as well. For this reason, the revered Jewish scholar Maimonides listed health care first on his list of the 10 most important communal services that a city must offer its residents (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot De'ot IV: 23). Almost all self-governing Jewish communities throughout history set up systems to ensure that all their citizens had access to health care. Doctors were required to reduce their rates for poor patients, and when that was not sufficient, communal subsidies were established.

In recent decades, the United States has faced a growing crisis in health care. While the United States spends more per person on health care than any other nation in the world, growing numbers of people cannot afford simple basic health care, let alone respond to catastrophic and chronic health needs. Children live in poverty and go without medical insurance; millions of Americans are uninsured, and millions more are under-insured, exposed to out-of-pocket expenses that threaten family economic survival. Health care spending is the leading cause of personal bankruptcies in the United States, and American business is disadvantaged in the world market because of high health care costs.
As a community of faith, American Reform Jews have consistently supported universal health care coverage, feeling called to action in the face of such a massive challenge. Jewish text makes clear that communities are obligated to provide healing to all of their citizens: “If the physician withholds his services, it is considered as shedding blood” (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Dei-ah 336:1). A broadly shared concern for justice compels the Reform Jewish community to encourage the establishment of a health care system that better meets the needs of all people. Only by working to change the current system, piece by piece and child by child – until no cry for help goes unheard – can the U.S.’s health care system honor and respect the idea that all people are all created b’tselem elohim, in the image of God, and are all entitled to equal treatment.