In a letter to the editor in the September 21 edition of the Boston Herald, one Christine Giroux wrote:
At the core of the health care controversy is the question of whether health care is a basic right held by every American citizen… We all need food, clothing and shelter. Are these basic rights too? … The truth is that these things are not rights and neither is health care.
I found her letter so astoundingly offensive that I had to write a response. Unfortunately, the Herald printed neither my response nor any other objecting to Giroux’s assertion that food, clothing and shelter are not basic rights. Perhaps this is because they felt the issue had already played itself out, or perhaps it’s because they agree with Giroux, or perhaps it’s because they didn’t think my letter was controversial enough, or perhaps they think they’ve printed too many letters from me recently :-). In any case, here’s what I wrote:
To the editor:
Attempting to contrast with the right to health care, Christine Giroux asks, “We all need food, clothing and shelter. Are these basic rights too?”
According to the millennia-old traditions and ethical code observed by me and my fellow Jews, the answer is clear and unequivocal: yes, of course they are!
Supporting the poor is not merely something to do if one feels like it. It is an obligation placed both on individuals and on the community (i.e., the government). Not only is it a good deed to support the poor; it is a grave sin against man and God to do otherwise.
While I would not presume to speak for other religions, I find it difficult to understand how many who deny these basic rights profess to follow a religion whose holy texts teach, “Let the man with two tunics share with him who has none, and let him who has food do likewise,” and, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor.”
American culture encourages the mistaken beliefs that poverty can be eliminated and that the poor are responsible for their own condition. While that may be true for some, the truth is that there will always be people who need the help of others, and help them we must.