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Healthcare

Question: On health care debate: What I have seen is that on one side people want universal healthcare and on the other side, people don’t want to provide those kinds of services to so many people.

A few questions:
1. What does the Talmud suggest about these kinds of social service? When we leave the 4 corners of our fields untended isn’t that a social service?

2. For those that are worried about the fact that this allows the poor to be lazy, or not go to work, how does the Talmud say to handle this situation?

Answer: This is a large and complicated issue with no simple answer. On the one hand, the Talmud requires that communities provide charity funds to ensure that the ill, poor, and visitors are cared for. In fact, the Torah itself (Deut. 15:8) requires individuals to give needy individuals all that they need.

But on the other hand, until relatively recent history, there wasn’t any institution to compare with the modern nation state that’s bound by law to provide services for its citizens. There was the expectation that community members would contribute to the common defense (“karga”), but no government programs that would be familiar to us.

So if Talmudic law were somehow applied to the problem of modern public health, I believe it would have very little to say. No player in the modern debate would deny that all sick people should ideally receive the treatments they required at a cost that’s affordable. The main issue is the real-world fact of limited resources. So how limited resources should be best allocated between competing demands is a subject that I would imagine Rabbis would defer to economists and health care experts (assuming they had intelligent answers).

As far as the fear that individuals might be negligent in providing for themselves if offered the possibility of free entitlements, the Talmud offers very strong warnings of what will happen to people who choose to accept handouts in any but the most extreme need. In this, every individual must police himself.

With regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton

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