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Saperstein Joins Senators, Faith Leaders in Support of Health Insurance Reform

Saperstein: “Our traditions demand better. Our nation seeks better. God's children deserve better. This Congress can do better ... We pray and advocate that they will do better – for all Americans and for our nation’s future.”

Contact: Kate Bigam or Rebecca Katz
202.387.2800 | news@rac.org

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 15, 2009 – Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, today joined Members of Congress and other progressive faith groups on Capitol Hill in support of swift passage of health insurance reform. Other speakers were: Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD); Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI); James Winkler, General Secretary, United Methodist Church; and Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director, NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby. The full text of Rabbi Saperstein’s statement follows:

Providing quality, universal health care as a core societal obligation is a 2,000-year old command in the Jewish tradition. It speaks across millennia to us today. Consider the words of the Jewish tradition on health care:

  • “Whoever is in pain, lead him to the physician.” (Baba Kamma 46B)
  • “It is obligatory from the Torah for the physician to heal the sick [and this is included in the explanation of the phrase and you shall restore it to him, meaning to heal the body].” (Moses Maimonides)
  • “[God created food and water; we must use them in starving off hunger and thirst.] God created drugs and compounds and gave us the intelligence necessary to discover their medicinal properties; we must use them in warding off illness and disease.” (Moses Maimonides)
  • “No disciple of the wise may live in a city that is not provided with the following ten officials and institutions: [the first two being] a physician and a surgeon, [a bath-house, a lavatory, a source of water supply such as a stream or a spring, a synagogue, a school teacher, a scribe, a treasurer of charity funds for the poor, a court that has authority to punish with stripes and imprisonment]. (Moses Maimonides)

  • “Our Rabbis taught: the non-Jewish poor are to be sustained along with the Jewish poor, the non-Jewish sick are to be visited along with the Jewish sick, ….for the sake of [the ways of] peace.” (Gittin 61a)

Indeed the very word shalom comes from the root l’shalem - to make whole, to heal.

The views of the organizations here represent a broad consensus in the mainstream religious communities. People of faith have always understood our responsibilities to include the obligation to bring health to all, and healing to the sick and infirm. It is in that spirit that today, I stand here with my distinguished Christian colleagues, with optimism and determination, that we are on the cusp of fundamentally changing the way that Americans ensure health care to all.

To those who would say that religion has no place in the health care reform debate, that this has become too much a partisan political issue, we insist that this is a quintessentially religious issue. The health care crisis touches nearly every citizen, every community, every church, mosque, temple and synagogue; every member of the clergy and every congregant. The failure to provide universal health care coverage challenges the simplest and clearest biblical command expressed by Ezekiel, that "Every living thing shall be healed." It is these values and these concerns that bring the religious community here to say: America deserves better than the reality.

What is the reality? “We live in a country with a pitifully inadequate health insurance system that causes horrors every day so tragic that they could rip the heart out of a stone.... The time has long since passed when our leaders should have done what every other advanced country has somehow managed to do: provide all its citizens with essential health care.”  With these words, we called on all our synagogues to join the struggle to pass universal, affordable, accessible and portable health care reform. And the moral test of health care reform is whether it provides accessible, affordable, quality health insurance for all, including our country's low- income seniors, children, disabled and immigrants. These are the people most at risk of falling through the cracks, and these are the people who rely on us to ensure that they can find decent health care when they need it. All Americans, wealthy and poor, children, the elderly, and yes, women, deserve care that meets all their needs - including reproductive health needs - and keeps them healthy throughout their lives.

Yes, America deserves better than the reality.

For the 10 million uninsured children, we say: America deserves better! For the millions of disabled whose health care is threatened, we say: America deserves better! For the over 80 million who at some point this year will lose health insurance, we say: America deserves better! For those millions of hard working Americans who have lost jobs and with them their health benefits, we say: America deserves better! For all of those tens of millions of Americans who fear that they may lose their access to comprehensive coverage, and whose life savings are threatened by catastrophic illness, we say: America deserves better! For the soul of our nation, we say: America deserves better.

Our traditions demand better. Our nation seeks better. God's children deserve better. This Congress can do better. Dr. King’s call of the fierce urgency of now should animate the decisions each senator will make in ensuring universal health coverage. We pray and advocate that they will do better – for all Americans and for our nation’s future.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1,800 Reform rabbis.



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