Supporting Health Care for Everyone

By Rabbi Herbert Brockman 

There is a great deal of interest these days in “spirituality.” Especially for us as Jews, the Yamim Noraim (“Days of "Awe”) have been an opportunity to seek deeper connections with the spiritual sides of ourselves. In general, we are finding classes of yoga, meditation and other such practices offered from gyms to synagogues as people try to escape what seems to be the increasing technology over our lives.

Recently, we hear this fear arising out of the development of artificial intelligence (AI), questioning if we might lose our “humanity” in the process. 

These are important questions, certainly. But, at the same time, I am reminded of the 18th century Jewish master, Reb Nachman of Bratslav, who taught that “repairing of the world” (tikkun olam) can only be achieved by both “healing of the soul” and “healing of the body.” One without the other is incomplete.

In a recent article in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristoff warned us of how life expectancy in Mississippi is now “shorter than in Bangladesh” and that an infant in the U.S. is “70% more likely to die than in other wealthy countries.” He attributes this to poverty and America’s failing health care for too many in our country.

The rabbis two millennia ago (in the Talmud Sanhedrin 17b) defined the qualifications of a “community in which a religious person could live.” They posited 10 such requirements. Among these, as one might expect, were the institutions where ritual practices could be practiced which embody the faith — synagogues, schools with a Hebrew teacher for the young, a scribe to prepare sacred texts, and provisions for keeping the dietary laws. In addition, a community must have a charity fund to distribute to the poor and a court of justice that was available to all. Finally, there were to be public baths to insure hygiene and a physician assuring health care at no cost. The renown physician, philosopher and rabbi, Moses Maimonides in the 12th century served in this capacity. 

Today, as I reflect on our community, here in Greater New Haven, I am struck by this formula. How fortunate we have so many resources with Yale New Haven Hospital and the quality of medical care. But even here in New Haven, not everyone has the same level of access, especially to health care.

Studies have shown that there is a growing disparity of people in our community who are underinsured and uninsured. And now, with the Congressional cancellation of the pandemic expansion of medicaid, it is estimated that several million children will lose health care coverage. But Judaism clearly requires more of our community as Nachman and the Talmud remind us. It was for this reason that, upon my retirement, I went in search of ways I could contribute to this serious and growing dilemma. I wanted to be intentionally involved in organizations both Jewish and secular that were addressing the health care crisis. 

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