Jewish texts for healing, healthcare and gemilut hasadim

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Compiled by the Union for Reform Judaism,

and Brian Fink and Rabbi Shawn Zevit for the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation

Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” (Jeremiah 8:22)

As a member religious organization of the National Interfaith Coalition for Health Care Reform, and in keeping with our Jewish values and pursuit of social justice and equal access for all people, the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation supports the active realization of a health care future that is grounded in the sacred bonds of our common humanity, defined by compassion, especially for those who are most vulnerable, and reflective of faithful stewardship of our abundant health care resources. Health care reform that is inclusive, offering a guarantee of health care for every person regardless of individual circumstances; accessible, eliminating all barriers to the care which contributes to our health and wholeness as individuals and as a society; affordable, ensuring that we use our abundant health care resources effectively, efficiently, and equitably; and accountable, calling for shared individual and institutional responsibility in a system of timely, quality and safe care that treats body, mind and spirit. (Rabbi Shawn Zevit. JRF Director of Outreach and Tikkun Olam,


And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Gen 1:27).

I the Eternal, am your healer (Ex. 15:26).

If one person is able to save another and does not save him he transgresses the commandment, “Neither shall you stand idly by the blood of your neighbor” (Lev 19:16).

The cloud departed from over the Tent; and behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. Aaron looked at Miriam, and behold, she was leprous…And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying: 'Heal her now, O God, I beseech Thee.' (Num. 12:10-12:13)

You shall indeed guard your souls (Deu. 4:15)

Therefore choose life that you and your descendants may live (Deu. 30:20).

You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. (Ezekiel 34:4).


Whoever is in pain, lead him to the physician (Baba Kamma 46B).

Therefore only one person was created to teach you that whosoever kills a single soul the Bible considers to have killed a complete world. And whosoever sustains and saves a single soul, it is as if that person sustained a whole world. (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)

Our Rabbi 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, and the non-Jewish dead are to be buried with the Jewish dead, for the sake of [the ways of] peace (Gittin 61a)

Whenever a poor young scholar came to him for medical advice, Abba would not only treat him without charging, he would also give the young man some money and say, “Here, use this to regain your strength.” (B. Talmud, Ta’anit, page 21b)

The shekhinah rests above the head of all who are gravely ill. (Tractate Shabbat 12A).

A doctor who heals for nothing is worth nothing (B. Talmud, Baba Kamma 85a).

The best of physicians are destined for hell (Talmud)

Abba the Bloodletter [he bled people for medicinal purposes] placed a box in his office out of public view in which patients could put their fees. People who could afford to pay placed their fees in the box; those who could not afford to pay didn’t have to, and were not ashamed (Babylonian Talmud, Taanis 21b).


Once Rabbi Ishmael and Rabbi Akiva were strolling in the streets of Jerusalem along with another man. They met a sick person who said to them, “Masters, can you tell me how I can be healed?” They quickly advised him to take a certain medicine until he felt better.

The man strolling with the two rabbis turned to them and said, “Who made this man sick?” “The Holy Blessed One,” they replied. “And you presume to interfere in an area that is not yours?” the man remarked. “God has afflicted and you heal?” “What is your occupation?” they asked the man, “I’m a tiller of the soil,” he answered, “as you can see from the sickle I carry.” “Who created the land and the vineyard?” “The Holy Blessed One.” “And you dare to move into an area that is not yours? God created these and you eat their fruit?” “Don’t you see the sickle in my hand?” the man asked. “If I did not go out and plow the field, water it, fertilize it, weed it, no food would grow!”

“Fool,” the rabbis said, “the body is like a tree—the medicine is the fertilizer and the doctor is the farmer.” (Midrash Shmuel 4).

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’s Commentary on Mishnah Nedarim 4:4)

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 Maimonide’s Commentary on Mishnah Pesachim 4:9)

No disciple of the wise may live in a city that is unprovided with the following ten officials and institutions, namely: a physician, 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, Ethical Conduct—Duet. 4)

In order to strengthen the vital powers, one should employ musical instruments and tell patients gay stories which will make the heart swell and narratives that will distract the mind and cause them and their friends to laugh. One should select as attendants and caretakers those who can cheer up the patient. This is a must in every illness. (Maimonides The preservation of youth)

Similarly, if one person see another drowning in the sea, or being attacked by bandits, or being attacked by wild animals, and, although able to rescue him either alone or by hiring others, does not rescue him; or if one hears heathens or informers plotting evil against another or laying a trap for him and does not call it to the other’s attention and let him know; or if one knows that a heathen or violent person is going to attack another and although able to appease him on behalf of the other and make him change his mond, he does not do so; or if one acts in any similar way—he transgresses in each case the injuction “Neither shall you stand idly by the blood of your neighbor” (Maimonides, Code, “Laws Concerning Murder and the Preservation of Life” Chap 1, Sec 14 and 16)

Any place that does not have a doctor, whether one is healthy or sick, is not worthy of moving to for all the reasons set out in this chapter, for every person has responsibility for good health (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Law Concerning Beliefs 4:22).

Since maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of God - for one cannot understand or have any knowledge of the Creator if one is ill - therefore one must avoid that which harms the body and accustom oneself to that which is helpful and helps the body become stronger. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah,Hilchot Deot 4:1)

The Torah grants physicians permission to heal. Healing is, in fact, a religious duty that falls under the rules for saving a life. If a physician withholds treatment when he is able to give it, he is regarded as a murder, even if here is someone else who can heal a patient, because it may be in this case it is the special merit of this physician to provide the healing for this patient. (Joseph Cara Code of Jewish Law chap 336, sec 1)

A physician may not accept a fee for giving advice to a patient, because in sharing learning and wisdom with his patient, he performs the religious duty of restoring health to a person who has lost it. And just as God performs his services gratuitously, so should a physician. However, a physician may accept payment for the time he spends in visiting a patient, and the trouble he takes to write a prescription (Joseph Cara Code of Jewish Law chap 336, sec 2)

Doctors are required to reduce their fees for the poor. Where that is still not sufficient the community should subsidize the patient. (Shulkan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 249).

He who has medicine, and his sick neighbor requires it, is forbidden to raise their price about the proper level (Shulkhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 3336.3).

Make it your special concern to visit and treat the poor and needy patients, for in no way can you find more meritorious service (Isaac Israel, Doctors Guide, num 30)

A person should see to it that the body is kept healthy and strong in order that they may be upright to know G-d. For it is impossible to understand and comprehend wisdom when one is hungry and ailing or if one’s limbs ache. (Hilchot Deot, Maimonides 3:3)

Do not harden your heart from pitying the poor and healing the needy (Asoph- 6th Century)


“We cannot speak about the patient as a person unless we also probe the meaning of the doctor as a person. You can only sense a person if you are a person. Being a person depends upon being alive to the wonder and mystery that surrounds us, upon the realization that there is no ordinary man. Every man is an extraordinary man…the doctor is not only a healer of disease; he is also a source of emanation of the spirit of concern and compassion. The doctor may be a saint without knowing it and without pretending to be one (Abraham Joshua Heschel)

Medicine is prayer in the form of a deed…The body is a sanctuary, the doctor is a priest…The act of healing is the highest form of imitation of God (Abraham Joshua Heschel)

After the flood, according to a Talmudic legend, an angel brought Noah’s son, Shem, to heaven where the remedies for every disease were revealed to him. Shem recorded these in a book, which he conveyed to Abraham, and which was transmitted from generation to generation, until it reached King Hexekiah of Judah in the 8th century BCE. The king suppressed the Book of Remedies, because people were relying solely upon it for their healing, and, thus, divorcing God from the divine role of healer. Because the book was suppressed, all its medical insights had to be discovered again. (Jeff Salkin, Being God’s Partner)

Thou art the physician, not me. I am but clay in the Potter’s hand, in the hand of Creator of all things, and as the instrument through which You cure your creatures (Rabbi Jacob Zahalon—17th C)

The true healer must have rue spiritual depth and not be a “mechanic of the body” (Rab Nachman of Breslov)

You may not in any way weaken your health or shorten your life. Only if the body is healthy is it an efficient instrument for the spirit's activity....Therefore you should avoid everything which might possibly injure your health.... And the law asks you to be even more circumspect in avoiding danger to life and limb than in the avoidance of other transgressions. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, Chapter 62, Section 428)

“Especially in regards to our efforts fighting for affordable healthcare, we discovered that there are really no issues that Dorshei Tzedek is going to “win” by itself. Taking a bus to Washington D.C., is nice but won’t be enough to pass a bill. But we passed a health care bill through Boston’s GBIO. It’s hard to imagine any other type of activism that would have the same type of concrete actual results. At Dorshei Tzedek, this is our main Tikkun Olam activity right now. It isn’t displacing other initiatives.

(Rabbi Toba Spitzer, Dorshei Tzedek, Newton, MA) (Rabbi David Teutsch: The Medical Care Crisis- Seeking a Jewish Approach, The Reconstructionist, Fall 2003) (Teshuva- “Responsibilities for the Provision of Healthcare”, by Rabbi Elliot N. Dorf and Rabbi Aaron L. Mackler)
Health Care in Jewish Law: Concepts and Sources

From "Judaism and Health Care Reform," a United Synagogues Position Paper, April 1993,

Hatzalat Nefashot – The Saving of Human Life: It is a positive commandment to save the life of a person in danger from illness. This duty falls under the general obligation of saving life, which is grounded in a number of biblical verses, including ‘thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of your fellow," (Lev. 19:16) and " And your fellow shall live by your side," (Lev. 25:36). So great is the mitzvah of saving life, that nearly all other religious obligations are subordinated to it: we violate the Sabbath to save a person’s life (Pikuah nefesh doha et ha-shabbat, Yoma 85b), and there is a general principle in Jewish law that danger to life and health is of greater concern than ritual matters (Hamirah sakanta mi’issura, Hullin 10a). [See Encyclopedia Talmudit, Vol.10, s.v. Hatzalat Nefashot, pp. 242-251; Shulan Arukh, Yorh Deah sec. 336 and Maimonides, Commentary to Mishnah Nedarim 4:4]

Shemirat Ha-briyut – Preventive Care: In addition to requiring a response to illnesses when they occur, Jewish law also requires that we make all attempts to stay well. In Deuternomy, God tells the Jewish people, "take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously." The Talmud derives from these verses that a person must scrupulously guard his/her physical health (Berak-hot 32b), and this ruling was codified by Maimonides (Hikhot Rotzeah 11:4) and the Shulhan Arukh (Hoshen Mishpat 427:8). Maimonides understands this obligation to include both positive aspects, such as regular exercise and the seeking out of proper medical care, as well as negative ones, such as refraining from damaging one’s body through the consumption of harmful food or drugs. [Hilkhot Deot, 4:1ff; see also Rabbi David Golinkin’s ruling that smoking is prohibited by Jewish law in Moment Magazine, Oct. 1991, pp.14-15]

Tzedaka – communal Obligations to Meeting Basic Human Needs: Just as the Jewish community recognizes an obligation to provide for such basic needs as food, clothing, and shelter through the collection and distribution of communal funds, so too, have Jews long insisted that no person be denied access to basic health care on account of inability to pay. While physicians are not required to provide their services for free ("A physician who takes nothing is worth nothing" –Baba Kamma 85a), communal subsidies matched by reduced rates for poor patients have been the norm. [Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 249:16; see also Responsa Ramat Rahel of Rabbi Eliezer Y. Waldenberg, sections 24-25]

Bikkur Holim – Visiting the Sick: Judaism recognizes that illness affects the whole person, presenting threats not only to the body, but also to one’s mental state and financial ability. Bikkur holim – the mitzvah of visiting the sick – ensures that the needs of the sick are attended to in all of these areas, creating a communal support system to complement the work of the medical doctors. [Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 235-238; Maimonides, Hilkhot Eivel 14:4-5; Berakhot 5b, Nedarim 39b-40a, and Sotah 14a]

Distribution of Scarce Resources: We have seen that Judaism places a premium on human life and mandates the creation of structures to provide every member of society with access to adequate health care. In situations of scarcity, Jewish insistence on the intrinsic and fundamentally precious value of human life makes triage difficult. Consequently, the rationing of scarce resources in the classical texts is often decided on procedural grounds (e.g., first come, first served) rather than substantive considerations (e.g., who is worthier of being saved). [Maimonides, Hilkhot Yesodei HaTorah 5:5-7; Bava Metziah 62a]
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