Jewish Values and Global AIDS
From the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a reports that R. Joshua b. Levi put the question of helping the sick to no less an authority than the prophet Elijah himself. "Where, R. Joshua asked, "shall I find the Messiah?" "At the gate of the city," Elijah replied. "How shall I recognize him?" "He sits among the lepers." "Among the lepers!" cried R. Joshua. "What is he doing there?" "He changes their bandages," Elijah answered. "He changes them one by one." That may not seem like much for a Messiah to be doing. But apparently, in the eyes of God, it is a mighty thing indeed."
Our text says quite plainly that it is forbidden to live in a city where there is no physician. (Talmud Yerushalmi, Kiddushin 4:12) Yet, across the world, millions of people are denied access to the urgent education and care they need to prevent and fight the AIDS virus. Living in America, with a physician on every corner, AIDS has increasingly become a less scary word. Yet, worldwide, the virus is killing people at a frightening speed, and the lack of medicine and medical personnel shows little sign of improving. If, as we are told, any city, in order to be habitable, must have a physician, then we must take care to make that expertise available-through donations of time and money, through legislative efforts, through whatever means we can provide.
It is written, "In the days of prosperity, be joyful; in the day of adversity, consider" (Ecclesiastes 7:14). Further, Rabbi Tanchum ben Chiyya said: "In the happy days of your neighbors, be with them in their happiness; if an evil day befalls your neighbor, consider how your can show the neighbor loving kindness to deliver the neighbor from the evil. (Pesikta Kahana 191b). We, here in America, are living in an age of prosperity, and have much about which to be joyful. Yet, as citizens of the world house, we must also remember that everyone in the world is our neighbor. And our neighbors affected by the AIDS virus worldwide are living in evil days. The words of Rabbi Tanchum ring true in our day-there are ways to show these neighbors loving kindness, thereby, even if only briefly, delivering them from evil.
Position of the Reform Jewish Movement
Both the URJ and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) have taken stands against human rights abuses and war atrocities in Africa. In 1979, the URJ passed an anti-apartheid resolution which commended those who led the non-violent struggle against apartheid in South Africa, urged the United States to refrain from giving political and military support to the government of South Africa, and pressured businesses in South Africa to practice policies of fair pay and desegregation in its facilities. In recent years, both the URJ and the CCAR have spoken out against the atrocities in Rwanda and Zaire, mobilizing the Reform Jewish movement to pressure the United States to support humanitarian missions and relief work.
The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) strongly supports maintaining funding for the Development Fund for Africa (DFA), which provides funds for saving children's lives, fighting deadly diseases and hunger, building viable democracies, and teaching people skills that encourage self-reliance.
The RAC has played an active role in opposing dictatorial governments in African nations and in helping pass legislation to oppose apartheid in South Africa. In the 1985 and 1991 South Africa resolutions, the URJ called upon the U.S. to impose sanctions on South Africa until a new constitution created a pro-democracy government. In more recent years, the RAC has pressured the government of the United States to put political pressure on the governments of Rwanda and Zaire to end the senseless ethnic violence in the Great Lakes region. The RAC urged President Clinton to participate in humanitarian measures in Zaire to help refugees get adequate food, water, and rebuilding materials.
Most recently, the URJ adopted a policy specifically on Africa in 1999, furthering the Reform Movement's commitment to meeting the pressing needs of civil society including the growing incidence of HIV/AIDS. The resolution expresses our support for humanitarian assistance in times of crisis, and our commitment to international human rights, increased economic development, and poverty eradication.
Resolution on Global AIDS (2004)
Resolution on AIDS (1985)
Resolution on AIDS Committee and Research (1986)
Resolution on AIDS (1985)