While much is made of the new Medicare initiative for patients to have a “medical home” responsible for all aspects of their care, I realized that the Jewish community already has this potential. The regular synagogue attending population receives regular information in bulletins, announcements, and speeches on a wide array of issues. What could be more important than promoting the health of the congregation’s membership? It certainly should not be left to physicians!
While the basis of American medicine was “treating the problem” and responding to a patient’s complaint, we have learned that many disasters can be prevented given enough time. That is the reason for various screening programs. For example, lung, colon, and breast cancer are all either preventable or far more treatable if caught early. Yet I have never heard a rabbi urge his congregation to go to the doctor and get a check-up. Nothing could be more halakhically appropriate!
In Judaism, health is clearly a religious concern. Maimonides noted that a sound mind requires a sound body, and as such it is a religious obligation to take care of one’s health (Deot 4:1). There are many halachic regulations that were enacted for health purposes (Shulchan Aruch YD 116). As a general rule, health regulations are treated with greater stringency than any other section of halakha (Hullin 9b). Improving, preserving, and lengthening the lives of our brothers and sisters falls well within the responsibility of our religious institutions.
It is time for health concerns to be a regular topic in shul as well.
By Scott David Lippe, M.D.