Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Last week the whole country was breathlessly awaiting the decision of the Supreme Court regarding the so called Obamacare. In this essay I will share with my readers my point of view on the topic of the universal health care law, I say “law” because I’m afraid that the present bill is not exactly what people of our country really need, it is certainly not something which can be called a universal healthcare system.

Before I even start, for the reason which you will understand soon, I have to make a statement. My paternal grandfather was killed by the Germans in WW2 in the Mathausen concentration camp and my maternal grandfather was injured by a German bullet on the front line of the same war. I have my personal reasons to feel a certain reserve toward the German people, although I’m able to put it aside when it comes to something that we Americans can learn from them. Besides, I’m a person who believes in the responsibility of individuals without blaming entire groups or nations. I do not put the blame for Nazism on the entire country of Germany or on another population. I know, a lot of people will disagree vehemently with me on this but this is not the only issue where my convictions put me in the minority.
Also, for those that accuse me of being a socialist, I will tell it straight at the beginning. Yes, I am a socialist or to be more precise – a social democrat. That’s where my political views orbit. No, I don’t believe in the Marxist or Leninist form of socialism. When the communist rulers wanted to impose it on us over thirty years ago I personally fought against them on top of the barricades erected in the city where I grew up (See my essay "Hanukkah' and pictures there). I risked my life fighting against communist dictatorship and thank G-d I was saved to raise my family and do lots of other things in my life.  Moreover, as a teenager I read some books on theory of socialism including “Capital” of Marx which didn’t appeal to me then and it still doesn’t appeal to me now. So before some of you will start to see my statements through the prism of ‘Chochmos’ acquired from ‘prophets’ like Limbaugh, Beck and Cavuto and other right wing mouth pieces of the corporate propaganda machine about socialism, please continue to read.

In 1883 the chancellor of united Germany, Otto von Bismarck, issued the first of his social bills. The “Health care bill” was passed by the Reichstag – the parliament in the same year. The next year the “Accident insurance bill” was passed. Five years later in 1889 “Old age and disability law” was proposed by Bismarck and approved by the German parliament, giving the foundation for social changes in many countries around the world, including ours. The social security system of our country is based on the idea of that German legislation.

From a certain point of view we may speculate that social legislation was a “lesser evil” chosen by the governing bodies of these countries instead of giving up the working masses under the influence of Marxists ideology which was calling for forceful changes in western societies. Marx, Engels and to certain extent LaSalle (all of them born Jewish) were already spreading this idea for decades, a dangerous idea that equality and social justice may be achieved only by the uprising of the  working class and more or less bloody revolution.

The social legislation and the following social changes were certainly “lesser” but was it “evil”?  Certainly it was evil from the position of the industrialists, who since the establishment of these new social regulations had to spend more money on the workers which meant that their profits decreased in order for them to be competitive. I have no doubt about it, all those who believe that the free market and capitalism are the true engines of progress and prosperity such regulations means unnecessary interference of government with the rules of the free market.
So… whose progress and prosperity are we talking about? Owners and industrialists – who are the in narrow margin of society or society itself? Is the free market really completely free and if it is not, where are the borders of this freedom? Isn’t it true that if instead of a worker being exploited to the limits of his capability we allow him to maintain a level of life where he can fulfill his family and social needs then he can work more effectively thus enriching his company and society?

Since Bismarck’s legislation, the German model of social protections regulated by a democratically elected government, proved to be successful; not only on the humanistic platform but also in industrial and technological progress. Germany, even with the huge setback of the WW1 and Nazi madness, was and still it is a leading economical and industrial power not limited only to Europe.

What then, is the great danger for our country that we are so scared by the moronic rhetoric from all kinds of “protectors” of the free market, capitalism and our style of life, against communism - socialist dictatorship? Who are we really protecting by supporting politicians and powers that clearly do not represent the broad society, including a big sector of the Jewish population who are not able to make ends meet?

Over the next hundred years after the German invention, different countries and societies adapted or created different social legislations protecting its citizens. Each one crafted to a specific situation or even to a specific culture who by democratic means chose to protect not only those who can protect themselves but also those who can not fight for their social rights - the poor, sick and old or disabled socially or economically in different ways. In many countries it was kind of a social revolution, especially those populations which were living out of the area of influence of Christian or Muslim ideals of the social justice or protection of the needy. In some of the countries it simply meant not sending old parents to the mountains to die or ending the killing of disabled or sick children. Although it must be said that this kind of cruel behavior is still acceptable in some cultures even today.

For me as a Jew, the major question is what is the measure of progress? Is it value of GDP or GDI? Is it, like the communists wanted, amount of steel produced per number of citizens? Is it the number of cars per family?  What is the progress that we are measuring?
When we look at the American Declaration Of Independence the first rights for all our citizens are that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  It seems to be, that the fathers of this country understood progress to mean the protections of individuals and their freedom, and industrialization is certainly not to require sacrificing human life, health or happiness. For the founding fathers of this country the true measure and value of society was what makes humans more Human and society more humanistic. They focused on the good and prosperity of man without giving up his dignity or falling under servitude of any kind.

Where did these ideas and ideals come from? Can we ‘blame’ the French revolution or the Humanism of Voltaire for these not so new values? Before Voltaire there was Montesquieu and before him there were others.  At which point of history do we see the beginning of the idea of protection of human life, health and dignity as a value for itself? When it was first thought that unprivileged and weaker individuals have not only the same rights like every one else but that specifically these persons need the extraordinary protection of society?  

Before I will try to answer those questions according to my understanding, I will tell you an interesting story.  In 1128 CE, in Cairo Egypt a new hospital was opened for the public, its name was Al Mansur (by some sources it was in the year 1284, when probably some kind of extension or renovation was done.) The Hospital was declared by the ruler of the country to be a facility “for, the sick, poor, and rich alike.”
According to the decree of sultan who initiated the establishment of the hospital “the hospital is to serve all people from the king to the lowest of his subjects”.

This was the best hospital built at that time as reported by contemporary travelers and historians of that time such as Ibn-Battuta and Al-Kalkashandi. It was divided into different sections according to the medical ailments or different diseases. Music therapy was used as a form of therapy treatment for psychiatric patients. It served 4,000 patients daily and the patient's stay in the hospital was free. Moreover, on his discharge, the patient was given food and money for compensation for being out of work during his hospital stay.  Other sources describe, that there were steady working physicians and other personnel of the hospital as well as those who worked there by the systems of turns. One of the managers of the hospital was the personal physician of sultan al Kamil (brother of Salladin). The name of chief doctor of Al Mansur Hospital was Ibrahim or Abraham ibn Maymon - author of “HaMaspik LaOvdey HaShem” - the son of the Rambam.

That’s some idea of the social ideals at work, but again the same question persists, at which point of history do we see the beginning of the idea of protection of human life, health and dignity as a value for itself, that the value of life, health and well being of every member of the society as equal and worthy of protection; regardless of the social or economic position of that person in this society?

It is our own Torah which in the new era which started already in the time of Abraham our father, after 2000 years of nothingness (Talmud Avoda Zarah). The Torah was the first to teach hospitality, openness, justice, mutual respect and friendship. It taught the children of Israel to help each other, especially those without protection of relatives or family, the orphans, widows and yes - strangers. Jewish social institutions always served as an example not only for Christian or Muslim societies. Certainly institutions like: Bikur Cholim, HaChnosas Orchim, Gemilas Chesed or even Jewish courts. The very existence of those institutions served as a model for social care and justice unknown previously to the pagan world.

Today we Americans are living in a society of over 300,000,000 citizens. If more than 10% of us can not be treated as any citizen of medieval Cairo would have been then it is no progress at all! It is a huge failure of a civilization claiming to be a light of Judeo-Christian values. It is a shame!

Is Today’s America ready for a universal health care system? BeEzras Hashem I will try to answer this question in the near future.

Matys Weiser

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