The question is one that hundreds, if not thousands of people, are now asking: Is it permissible for an observant Torah Jew to save ten thousand dollars each year in insurance costs by joining a Health Care ministry run by Christians? The savings are remarkable: For singles $149 per month, for couples $249 per month and for entire families $399 per month.
Health Care ministries have become very popular alternatives to ObamaCare (also known as the Affordable Care Act) particularly because their rates are far far lower than traditional health insurance policies. Here is how they work:
Members of a shared health ministry can opt out of ObamaCare and not have to pay the penalty specified in the IRS Tax form for doing so. Members of the plan send in their monthly “gift” to an escrow account. The ministry disburses payment for eligible medical bills.
The health ministry usually has a member advocate that often negotiates discounts off the fees and usually cover the rest of the bill.
There are four main cost-sharing ministries in the United States that have a combined total of about a half million members. According to a February, 2015 New York Times article, these ministries have achieved a remarkable level of member satisfaction.
One organization, Medi-Share, requires members to “live by biblical standards” – no tobacco, no illegal drugs, and no activities “outside of traditional Christian marriage.” Samaritan Ministries, with headquarters in Peoria, Ill., requires a pastor’s approval of medical expenses. Liberty HealthShare, based in Independence, Ohio, it seems is the only Affordable Care Act-exempt ministry that is open to people of other faiths.
This latter organization has a statement of shared beliefs that anyone who wishes to join must sign onto. The $64,000 question is whether a Torah Jew may sign onto it. This author is aware of numerous families in New Jersey and New York who are just waiting upon the answer. Liberty HealthShare’s statement is reproduced below. The main obstacle is statement #2.
“Statement of Shared Beliefs
1. We believe that our personal rights and liberties originate from G-d and are bestowed on us by G-d, and are not concessions granted to us by governments or men.
2. We believe every individual has a fundamental religious right to worship the G-d of the Bible in his or her own way.
3. We believe it is our biblical and ethical obligation to assist our fellow man when they are in need according to our available resources and opportunity.
4. We believe it is our spiritual duty to G-d and our ethical duty to others to maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid foods, behaviors or habits that produce sickness or disease.
5. We believe it is our fundamental right of conscience to direct our own healthcare, in consultation with physicians, family or other valued advisors, free from government dictates, restraints and oversight.
These beliefs form the moral, spiritual and ethical basis for our interaction and relationship as a community. We make a somber and significant pledge to one another that we will aid, support and devote our resources to one another in this most personal area of our life: our healthcare!
If you can agree with that belief system, we were meant for each other!”
Statements 1,3,4, and 5 are all okay in terms of hashkafah. However, statement number 2 is the one that we must analyze: “We believe every individual has a fundamental religious right to worship the G-d of the Bible in his or her own way.”
DEFINING “THE G-D OF THE BIBLE”
Firstly, there is the issue of the G-d of the Bible. Since this is a Christian organization, we must assume that they mean the Christian bible. Like it or not, theologians of the Christian faith have a slightly different conception of G-d than Jews and non-Trinitarian Christians do. (The more kosher ones are (1) Christadelphians, (2)Christian Scientists, (3)Dawn Bible Students, (4) Friends General Conference, (5) Iglesia ni Criso, (6) J’s Witnesses, (7) Living Church of G-d, (8) Oneness Pentecostals, (9) Members Church of G-d International, (10) Unitarian Universalist Christians, (11) The Way International, (12) The Church of G-d International and (13) the United Church of G-d.)
TWO MITIGATING RATIONALES
There are, however, those who are members of mainstream denominations of Christianity that do not truly share the theology of their denomination. Their conceptualization of the nature of G-d is, what Rav Elchonon Wasserman describes as intuitive. In an unofficial survey, a good percentage of this country falls under this category.
There is also the view found in some Poskim that modern day practitioners of the religion are just following the ways of their parents (Maaseh avosaihem b’yadeihem), and do not truly believe in the theological underpinnings (See Shulchan Aruch, YD 148:12; Bach ibid; Responsa Yehudah Yaaleh YD #170).
It perhaps can be assumed that the founders (and writers) of this Christian Health ministry are from the Rav Elchonon Wasserman “intuitive” types and therefore, the G-d of the Bible would be kosher.
FUNDAMENTAL RELIGIOUS RIGHT
But let’s get to the next issue – believing that any individual has a fundamental religious right to worship G-d in his or her own way.
What does “fundamental religious right” mean? Does this refer to an inalienable universal natural law? Or does it refer to a fundamental religious right in America? If it is the latter, then it should not be problematic. If it is the former then we have some new questions. We have to differentiate between Jews and gentiles, who have more fundamental religious rights according to the Torah. We shall see what this means shortly.
GENTILES HAVE MORE LATITUDE IN BELIEF
The Ramah in Orach Chaim 156 cites the view of the Ran (end of first chapter of tractate AZ). He writes that in modern times, when the gentile mentions idol-worship, he is really intending for the creator of Heaven and Earth it is just that he is looking at it as if it was shituf – i.e. both G-d and (l’havdil) the Avodah Zarah entity who created things. He writes further, and this is the key idea, that “gentiles are not commanded against ‘shituf’—a belief in both G-d and (l’havdil) the Avodah Zarah entity.”
The reading of this Ramah is the subject of great controversy. Does he really mean that a gentile is not commanded against a belief in G-d plus Avodah Zarah? A look at the RaN itself shows that his view is that there is no special prohibition of a gentile swearing to Avodah Zarah, but not that there is no prohibition in believing that Avodah Zarah can co-exist with G-d.
TWO DISSENTING VIEWS
One might, therefore, be tempted then to read the Ramah as only referring to a gentile taking a business oath. Yet the Ramah elsewhere (Darchei Moshe YD 151) clearly refers to more than just permission to cause them to swear in the name of the Creator. Rabbi Akiva Eiger, in a letter to his son Rav Shlomo (new responsa, end), writes that one may not rely on the lenient view of this Ramah.
Yet we find that the Chsam Sopher, Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s own son-in-law, writes in his Toras Moshe (parshas VaYishlach) that, in fact, gentiles are not commanded on Shituf. There is also a fascinating Rashi on Tehillim 6:11 that finds fault with the gentile nations for making idol-worship central and the Holy One Blessed be He – minor. The takeaway from this Rashi is that it is the lack of centrality rather than actual “sharing” that is what is faulty. The Maharatz Chajes (Horios 5) also writes clearly that a gentile is not commanded in “shituf.”
So in regard to gentiles, statement number 2 would be permitted according to the Chsam Sopher’s reading of the Ramah, the Rashi on Tehillim and the Maharatz Chajes. According to Rav Yoseph Karo, and Rabbi Akiva Eiger it would still be a problem.
NOT FOR JEWS
But this would only work for gentiles, not Jews. A Jew is forbidden to believe in shittuf. Indeed, there is a careful protocol in the Torah as to how a Jew must serve G-d, which is distinctively not “in his or her own way.”
We can perhaps deal with this issue too. Both Rav Tzadok haKohen (Pri Tzaddik Shabbos Shuvah #17) and the Gerrer Rebbe (Imrei Emes Purim 5795) cite the Rambam (Hilchos Geirushin 2:20) that each Jew in his very essence wants to fulfill the ratzon Hashem. Rav Tzaddok writes that each Jew wants to do so b’nekudas libo – with the very essence of his heart. The Imrei Emes writes that each Jew wants to do so in his pnimius – his essence. So we can read the words, “in his or her own way” to refer to the individuality that each one possesses in his proper Avodas Hashem.
WHAT DID THEY (LIBERTY HEALTH SHARE) MEAN?
Finally, there is the other factor. Perhaps the very people that wrote the statements of “shared beliefs” probably did not actual mean to say that statement in its simpler interpretation. How so? Religious Christians do not necessarily countenance a “natural universal Divinely ordained right” to worship G-d in bizarre ways that are subject to the whims of individuals. When it was initially conceived and written they had some other intent – perhaps similar to some of the ideas set forth in this article. They wrote it in this manner to make it be able to pass muster for legal purposes, and had some other meaning – such as an American right but not a natural universal right. Thus, even their intention when they wrote it was not to be understood in to imply something that we hold to be hashkafically unpalatable.
CHILUL HASHEM ELEMENT
Some Poskim this author had spoken to brought up the notion that the fact that Orthodox Jews having signed onto this declaration, even if it is technically permitted, may constitute a grave Chilul Hashem. Other Poskim stated that everyone recognizes that it is merely a perfunctory formality and that no one pays attention to the elements of the declaration any way. The dust surrounding the issue has not yet settled.
This question may stir up memories of two previous issues that had similar halachic implications. In Monroe, there was a school for special children that was publicly funded. Those who ran the school had to sign that there was no religious instruction going on in the facility. The Satmar Rebbe’s own Dayan wrote a scathing criticism of the entire idea. Others ruled that the issue was permitted in its entirety.
By the same token, there were many religious Jews who had no swimming options during the hot summer months except for the local YMCA. Then too, a membership paper had to be signed. Some Poskim permitted it, while others ruled that Heaven forbid that Jewish children should swim there and join.
What is recommended is that anyone considering to join the organization should speak it over with his or her Rav or Posek and mention the issues set forth in this article.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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