Monday, 24 August 2009

Health Care is a Moral Imperative, Mr. Lieberman

It is that time of year again when I am fully engaged in my work. High Holiday preparations are in full swing around here and I am becoming a true pain in the ass to live with. Aside from my obvious nervous disorder and my closet full of neuroses too numerous to mention, I find that somewhere wrapped up in the endless rehearsals, meetings, searching out of new melodies, discovery of meaningful readings/poetry, and the minutiae that accompanies conducting worship for a small but transient congregation, is the true feeling that I am beginning my own spiritual preparations for the Yamim Noraim (High Holidays). I find that I am looking at the world and the people around me with a slightly different eye. I am entering into a personal phase of reconciliation,not only with those whom I may have wronged, but with God as well, and I find that my sense of social justice is on heightened alert. It is with these antennae buzzing that I find myself appalled by the less than civil discourse that is occurring south of the border regarding health care reform. Rather than even attempt to unravel all of the half-truths, heinous epithets, or out and out falsehoods being hurled around all in the name of supposed informed debate, I thought that I might comment instead on yesterday's comments from Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut), a man who American Jews used to like to rally around as a role model of religious piety and progressive values. In his rush to align himself with his good buddies on the right, Senator Lieberman seems to have forgotten all of those Jewish doctrines that he claims to religiously espouse.

Speaking on CNN's State of the Union yesterday the independent senator, who caucuses with the Democrats said that he thought that many of President Obama's health care initiatives were hurried and he urged the president to hold off until after the recession.

"I'm afraid we've got to think about putting a lot of that off until the economy's out of recession," said Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman. "There's no reason we have to do it all now, but we do have to get started. And I think the place to start is cost health delivery reform and insurance market reforms."
The esteemed senior senator continues.

"I think it's a real mistake to try to jam through the total health insurance reform, health care reform plan that the public is either opposed to or of very, very passionate mixed minds about," Lieberman said.

In other words, according to Mr. Lieberman the approximately 50 million uninsured Americans who have been pleading for reform from every administration since Truman, can just wait until the US government has its financial house in order. Hard to imagine that day ever coming, but Mr. Lieberman is willing to stake the health of 50 million Americans on the pipe dream. I believe it is time that somebody of faith, (preferably of his faith) reminds Mr. Lieberman of the Jewish response to health care.

As a practicing and committed Jew Mr. Lieberman, one would think that you might be dedicated to the principle of Tikkun Olam, the reparation of the world. One might think that you'd understand how Judaism has historically dealt with public health care. From the Reform Action Committee's Health Care Guide.

Throughout the Torah, God shows a special concern for the vulnerable and sick
and acts to lift them up. The Torah also teaches God’s command that society organize in such a way that all members have genuine access to the resources needed to live a dignified life, as well as provide for those who are unable to care for themselves. It is for this reason that Maimonides, a revered Jewish physician and scholar, listed health care first on his list of the ten most important communal services that a city had to offer to 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 Judaism, we are taught that all humanity was created b’tzelem elohim – in the
divine image. God did not divide creation between the sick and the well; between
those who can afford health care and those who cannot; between those who are
entitled to health care and those who are not. Rather, God created us all, endowed us all with equal rights, and charged us with the responsibility to be partners in the act of healing.

We are taught in Jewish tradition that an individual human life is of infinite
value and that the preservation of life supersedes almost all other considerations.
By assuring that everyone has access to health care, we are affirming the dignity of
each human being and enabling each person to regain health and enjoy the dignity of
productive work.
It is antithetical for you as an observant Jew, Mr. Lieberman to espouse the idea that sick people can wait for health care. It has been continually demonstrated that this issue is as much a moral one as it is a financial one. Tell the parents who lined up in Los Angeles two weeks ago, waiting in queue for 8 days to procure dental care for their children, that they should wait a bit longer. Tell the cancer victim who was denied coverage by his insurance company based on some trivia and is now in bankruptcy and losing his home that he should wait a bit longer. Tell the family of four who is making less than $44,000 a year and almost 20% of that income goes towards health insurance that they should wait a bit longer. For shame, Mr. Lieberman.

As Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur approach, it is incumbent upon you, Mr. Lieberman to face your God with repentance, prayer and charity. U'tshuvah, u't'fillah, u'tzedakah..Meavirin et ro'ah hag-zerah. Repentance, prayer and charity temper judgement's severe decree. As we read in the Machzor (High Holiday prayer book); B'rosh Ha-shana yikatevu, uv'yom tzom kippur yechatemun. On Rosh Hashana it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed. You are potentially sealing the fates of millions of people. Please Mr. Lieberman, put politics aside and remember that health care is a Jewish moral imperative. It is the righteous thing to do.

Shana Tova u'metukah, Mr. Lieberman.

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