Jews, Views and Healthcare

Over at Virtual Talmud two columnists and commenters share. Here are my general thoughts on the topic. What am I missing?

  • What’s the proper way to bring values — religion — into public debate?
  • Is there a distinction between internal, intra-communal language and external, public language?
  • How successful are liberal voices when they try to use religious language? (given the Right’s confidence and the Left’s hesitance to use such language)
  • Is it confusing to adherents of Church-State separation for Jews to enter the public realm as Jews, or does it open space for other voices? How can Jews enter most effectively?
  • When the question is morality vs. efficiency, what happens? Do folks automatically side with one or the other? Is efficiency considered moral to some? Is the morality position’s policy proposal considered immoral to efficiency folks?

Below the fold I analyze three types of Jewish entries into public policy.

Regarding the JSpot piece mentioned, I wrote:

Mr. Greer does more than “ground the S-CHIP debate in Jewish tradition.”

This piece is a noteworthy on at least five levels:

  • offers exposure to a provocative and relevant text (who cites Shulkhan Aruch?!);
  • gathers evidence (with hyperlinks) of extensive and recent Jewish community involvement;
  • verifies that health care ranks very high on our communal agenda through JFSJ’s experience;
  • identifies our communal self-interest by voicing the individual anxiety faced insuring our own families health;
  • prods action by both self-interested and universal criteria.

“Grounding [a social justice cause] in Jewish tradition” often means one of several efforts with varying degrees of impact.


TEXT & RELEASE (often Torah, Pirke Avot or Psalms and Proverbs/Ketuvim)
One way to “ground in Jewish tradition” relies on stating a general principle and suggesting a tight correspondence to the cause at hand. “Torah says ‘Justice, Justice Shall thou Pursue.’ And there is no greater justice issue today than… [fill in the blank].” This may help secular activists to appreciate a pleasant and meaningful role for faith communities at rallies and
for press releases and provide secular Jewish activists a “haimish” or homey feel. However, the Text & Release won’t change commitment levels, let alone minds and hearts.

TORAH SAYS (Exodus/Shemot-Dueteronomy/Devarim, )
Another route is to find a specific Biblical injunctions for living in the land of Israel and connect it to the issue at hand. This suggests that Torah is a moral authority or that our values are present in the ancient laws and should continue today. Ex: “Torah says,’Let your slaves or servants rest on Shabbat.’ So, too, should laborers in our day be ensured time off…”

RABBINIC TWO-STEP (often Talmud or other commentaries on problems or paradoxes in the Torah)
When done well, this can be a powerful expression of Jewish/rabbinic logic, a guide to handle troublesome texts and deepen the value of and engagement for our cause. However, in the wrong hands or on the wrong day for a great teacher this method can confuse and obscure.

Sightly made up Ex: “Why did God respond to Korach and his men who challenged the leadership of Moses and Aaron by swallowing them and their entire families in the ground? Well, let’s start with Rashi, a 12th century commentator, maybe the most important Talmudic commentator. In Tractate Bavli 4 C, he draws our attention to a similar phrase,’swallow,’ regarding Pharoh’s pride. I’ll spend a few minutes explaining these connection and the insight this provides for pursuing social justice as a Jewish community.”

Another way, as used by Mr. Greer, is to use our immigrant and communal experience as a text. I’ll share 2 with potential power in creating a JEWISH voice for health care.

1) Jews as PROVIDERS of health care. “Jewish Doctor,” perhaps more for an earlier generation but still for ours, is almost a single word. What would it look like to have 1,000 Jewish Doctors lobby on behalf of a health care issue.

2) Jews as civic hospital starters. Stories of individual and communal involvement in the last 100 years in Urban America. What are the reasons why Jews, so small in number, started so many hospitals?

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