Jewish Texts on Health Care
Tzitz Eliezer V, Ramat Rahel--Collection of Responsa on Medical Issues #4
Translation Original
It has been enacted that in every place in which Jews live, the community sets aside a fund for care of the sick. When poor people are ill and who cannot afford medical expenses, the community sends them a doctor to visit them, and the medicine is paid for by the communal fund. בכל מקום ומקום שישראל יושבים, ליחד קופה לביקור חולים, והוא שהחולים העניים שאין ידם משגת להוצאות רפואתם, הקהל שולחים להם רופא לבקרם והרפואות מכיס הקהל ונותנים להם מזון הראוי לחולים דבר יום ביומו כפי ציווי הרופאים.
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What does this text teach about communal responsibility?

2. What can you infer from this text about the Jewish ruling on universal health care?

3. Although American Jews no longer use one communal fund, the idea of communal funding still exists (eg. Jewish federations, foundations). What is your community's communal fund? How is it allocated?

(The Tzitz Eliezer is a responsa written by Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, a 20th century rabbi born in Israel, who wrote extensively about medical ethics.)

Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 336:1
נתנה התורה רשות לרופא לרפאות ומצוה היא. ובכלל פיקוח נפש הוא. ואם מונע עצמו, הרי זה שופך דמים.
The Torah gave permission to the doctor to heal, and it is even a commandment. Even more so, it is [the commandment] of saving a life. One who prevents himself from doing so is considered to have shed blood.
[AJWS translation]
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Do doctors always have the opportunity to save lives?

2. How often does insurance (or lack thereof) interfere with a doctor's ability to uphold the commandment of pikuach nefesh (saving a life)?

Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 336:3
מי שיש לו סמנים, וחבירו חולה וצריך להם, אסור לו להעלות בדמיהם יותר מן הראוי.
One who has medications, and another person is sick and needs them, it is forbidden to raise their prices beyond what is appropriate.
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What does this text imply about the Jewish understanding of health care?

2. Who determines "appropriate" prices for medications in this country?

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, "Why We Must Support Universal Health Care," (The Jewish Journal, 8/26/2009)
The fact...that more than 40 million Americans have no health insurance is, from a Jewish point of view, an intolerable dereliction of society's moral duty. The Torah, the Prophets, and the Rabbis of our tradition all loudly proclaim that God commands us to take care of the poor, the starving and the sick. Given the current costs of health care, almost all of us fall into that category. On both moral and religious grounds, then, we simply cannot let the present condition continue; we are duty-bound to find a way to afford health care for all American citizens.
Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What is Rabbi Dorff's argument? Do you draw his same conclusions upon reading the Jewish texts above? Why or why not?

2. Is universal health care a concern for the American Jewish community or are we only obligated to care for other Jews? How might you argue in either direction?

[Rabbi Dorff is the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at American Jewish University and chair of the Conservative Movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.]

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