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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Jewish Obligation for Healthcare Reform

A message I sent today to Los Angeles Rabbis:

Dear Rabbinical Colleagues, Jewish leaders,

With the healthcare reform bill passing the House, we need added pressure by religious leaders, both lay and clergy to show that all Americans truly are committed to healthcare reform. Our colleague, Rabbi Joshua Levine-Grater, led the charge a couple weeks back with an action in Pasadena that got great local coverage and brought the interfaith community together. While CLUE-LA is not taking the lead on these actions, I unequivocally support healthcare reform activism as an integral component of our Economic Justice agenda which will ensure that the working poor and the poor in general are “lifted up.” Currently, the system is so broken that as many as one-fourth of all children in Texas, for instance, are uninsured, unprotected.

Spiritually speaking, Healthcare Reform is necessary for our imitation of God: Just as God sustains this world—HaM’chadeish b’chol yom tamid ma’aseh v’reishit, “The One who renews daily, continually, the act of creation”—we, too, must sustain the Crown of Creation, the human race. Our Modeh Ani prayer thanks God for our daily blessing of waking up, and even our morning prayers acknowledge that Im yipateiach echad mehem, o’ sheyisatem echad meihem, I efshar l’hitkayem v’la’amod l’fanecha: “If You were to open one of [the bodily pathways intended to be closed] or close one of them [meant to be open], it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You.” God sustains our health; so, too, we must sustain the health of others.

This is in many ways an extension of Sotah 14a:

R. Hama son of R. Hanina further said: What means the text: "You shall walk after God" (Deuteronomy 13)? Is it, then, possible for a human being to walk after God; for has it not been said: "For God is a devouring fire" (Deuteronomy 4)? But [the meaning is] to walk after the attributes of the Holy One. Just as God clothes the naked, as it says, "And God made garments of skins for Adam and his wife, and clothed them" (Genesis 3), so do you also clothe the naked. The Holy One, blessed be God, visited the sick, for it is written: "And God appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre" (Genesis 18), so do you also visit the sick. The Holy One, blessed be God, comforted mourners, for it is written: "And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed Isaac his son" (Genesis 25), so do you also comfort mourners. The Holy one, blessed be God, buried the dead, for it is written: "And God buried him in the valley" (Deuteronomy 34), so do you also bury the dead. [Soncino translation]

Of course, for those of you who were at our gathering last month, will remember mention of a couple of these passages. Rabbi Beerman masterfully showed that God is a tailor and a gravedigger, a low-wage worker, our Torah being bookended with Adam/Chavah being clothed and Moses being buried by God.

Perhaps this could be chomer lidrush for upcoming divrei Torah? If any of you are writing on healthcare reform, I would be very interested in reading it or perhaps even publishing it within the CLUE community.

Thank you for your ongoing commitment to the working poor of greater Los Angeles! I hope you can make this action; please let me know if you will be there! And of course, please support the work of CLUE-LA.

Many Blessings,

Rabbi Jonathan Klein, Executive Director Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE-LA) 464 Lucas Ave, #202 Los Angeles, CA 90017 213.481.3740 x101 Facebook Me! } Join our Mailing List
"Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue" --Deuteronomy 16:19
meaning, "Justice through just means must be pursued" -- Rashi (medieval commentator)

This is such a small example, referring to Sotah 14a, of how Jewish tradition is committed to the poor; in the Healthcare Reform debate, the voice of religious tradition should be solidly pro-reform. Not just Jewish tradition, either. So why is it that the vote was so close in the House? Five seats made the difference between life and death for this bill?

It's simple: With only one Republican breaking from party lines and voting in favor, the debate has moved from the heart to the head. It's power, greed, control, fear, and corporate interests undermining the greater good. Religious leaders are a necessary force to move people from their heads (i.e. their personal pocketbooks) to the heart (i.e. compassion for those other than themselves). Increasingly, and we see this most strongly in California where the safety net has been eviscerated and everything is about cutting costs (read: trampling the poor) rather than raising revenues (read: communal responsibility).

I beg my religious friends to speak from their traditions, which invariably speak from the heart. Rachmana liba ba'ei, The Merciful One Requires the Heart.


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