By Rabbi Lori Koffman, NCJW board director and chair of NCJW’s reproductive justice initiative
On March 4, I had the great privilege of being invited to speak — with 4 other wonderful and inspiring Christian and Muslim religious leaders — at a rally in front of the Supreme Court. While the lawyers were arguing their cases inside the Courthouse, we stood outside, in the rain, raising our voices loudly for the Supreme Court Justices to hear our cry for justice as they considered King v. Burwell. We spoke out to preserve the Affordable Care Act and its tax credits, the financial help challenged in this case, which enable over 8 million people to enjoy affordable, quality health insurance, some for the first time in their lives.
Why? Because while we may come from different religious beliefs and practices, we are united in the belief that we are obligated to raise our religious voices to protect the vulnerable, to stand up for those who may not be able to stand up for themselves, and to work in any way we can to build a better, stronger, and healthier society for all of its citizens. And as Dr. Sayyid Syeed, of the Islamic Society of North America, said at the rally, a healthy society is one where each and every individual has every opportunity to protect their own health and well-being.
In King v. Burwell, the nine justices on the Supreme Court will be making a decision that will impact the health and economic security of millions of women, children, and families — ruling to preserve or take away their health coverage. This is a matter of reproductive justice, as NCJW believes health care access is a basic human right. But this case is also is a stark reminder of how courts matter; and why it’s important for Congress to confirm federal judges who keep faith with constitutional values, and who are driven to uphold basic human rights.
On the steps of the Court, I was proud to represent NCJW because of the Jewish values that drive our work:
- the obligation to pursue ‘tzedek’ or justice for all, which means a society in which everyone has affordable access to healthcare and not just the wealthy;
- our obligation to protect ‘kavod ha briot’ or respect for every human being because we are all made in the image of God, so that the health and well being of each of us must be absolutely unassailable; and
- our responsibility of Talmud Torah, to educate ourselves and others of the moral imperatives that drive us to ‘love our neighbors as ourselves.’
I was proud to represent NCJW as part of a tradition that, for thousands of years, has specifically named health care as one of the most important obligations a society has to its members.
I was proud of NCJW’s leadership, together with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, in coordinating a joint public statement with 13 national Jewish organizations, affirming our belief that it is a moral imperative for our nation to advance access to health coverage by preserving the ACA tax credits, and expressing our hope that the Court rejects the challenge in King.
And I was proud to represent NCJW as a Jewish woman, in the spirit of Esther whom we celebrated on Purim this [week/month] and who reminds us that it our obligation to stand up and speak to power when the lives of others hang in the balance.
Learn more about how the health of women, children, and families is truly at risk in this case, a clear example of how the federal courts impact all of our lives, by listening to NCJW’s call, Courts Matter: Health Coverage at Stake. Then, join me in calling for health equity and reproductive justice by pledging to speak out with NCJW!
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Below are Rabbi Koffman’s remarks delivered at the steps of the Supreme Court. Check out photos from the event on NCJW’s Facebook page! To learn more about engaging in NCJW’s Reproductive Justice Initiative or BenchMark: NCJW’s Judicial Nominations Campaign, please contact Leanne Gale, NCJW Grassroots Associate.
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Remarks as Prepared for Interfaith Event at US Supreme Court, March 4, 2015
By Rabbi Lori Koffman, NCJW Board Director
Good Morning, I am Rabbi Lori Koffman, a board member of the National Council of Jewish Women.
I am here with you this morning, on the steps of the Supreme Court, because the Torah commands me to stand up for Justice. “tzedek, tzedek tirdof,” it says, “justice, justice shall you pursue, l’ma’an tichyeh so that you shall live. “
When the health care of millions of individuals —and the very lives of thousands of individuals every year — hangs in the balance—THAT is not JUSTICE.
I am here this morning because Jewish sages for thousands of years have made clear that healthcare must not be exclusively for the affluent, that a JUST society is one that ensures access to healthcare for all of its people, no matter where they live.
And if the most vulnerable in our society are denied access to affordable healthcare coverage—THAT IS NOT JUSTICE.
I am here this morning because Jewish values teach that I cannot stand idly by the spilling of my neighbor’s blood, that it is my responsibility to save a life.
When someone is forced to choose between their health and their economic security— their very life becomes at risk.
Taking away the tax credits under the Affordable Care Act will force this question onto millions of women, children, and families across the country — and we know it will fall hardest on our sisters and brothers who can least afford to make up the difference; THAT is NOT justice.
I am here this morning because the Jewish tradition teaches us that each and every one of us is made in the image of God, which means that that the health and well being of each of us must be absolutely unassailable.
And I am here this morning in the spirit of Esther, the heroine of the Jewish holiday of Purim that begins tonight, who reminds us that it our obligation to stand up and speak to power when the lives of others hang in the balance.
We stand on these steps here, together today to pursue healthcare justice for all, in order that all have the ability to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.