Triangle Factory Fire Memorial at Nat’l Museum of Amer. Jewish History

One hundred years ago on March 25th, 1911, the Triangle Waist Company in New York City erupted in flames, and the resulting deaths of 146 people, mostly Jewish and Italian women immigrant workers, many of them teenage girls, galvanized a city and a movement. The Triangle fire was a watershed moment in the history of the American Jewish labor movement and social reform.

On March 24, 2011, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm, the Jewish Labor Committee, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN), the Philadelphia Council of the AFL-CIO and the National Museum of American Jewish History are joining forces to commemorate this tragic event, honor those who gave their lives and discuss the evolution of the labor and reform movements that the Triangle fire inspired.

Join us for this extraordinary program, including a documentary film about the fire and its aftermath and viewing of the first floor exhibit at the new National Museum of American Jewish History. Hear about JSPAN’s new initiative to advance the Kosher Clothes movement here. Tickets are $36 (students $18) but seating is limited. Advance ticket purchase is absolutely necessary from Ruthanne Madway, JSPAN Executive Director, 215-546-3732

More after the jump.

The fire at the Triangle Waist Company in New York City, which claimed the lives of 146 young immigrant workers, is one of the worst disasters since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

This incident has had great significance to this day because it highlights the inhumane working conditions to which industrial workers can be subjected. To many, its horrors epitomize the extremes of industrialism.

The tragedy still dwells in the collective memory of the nation and of the international labor movement. The victims of the tragedy are still celebrated as martyrs at the hands of industrial greed.

The Triangle Waist Company was in many ways a typical sweated factory in the heart of Manhattan, at 23-29 Washington Place, at the northern corner of Washington Square East. Low wages, excessively long hours, and unsanitary and dangerous working conditions were the hallmarks of sweatshops. …

Even today, sweatshops have not disappeared in the United States. They keep attracting workers in desperate need of employment and illegal immigrants, who may be anxious to avoid involvement with governmental agencies. Recent studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor found that 67% of Los Angeles garment factories and 63% of New York garment factories violate minimum wage and overtime laws. Ninety-eight percent of Los Angeles garment factories have workplace health and safety problems serious enough to lead to severe injuries or death.

Jewish Sources on the Provision of Health Care

— Rabbi Gail Labovitz

Reposted from JSPAN in honor of the Global Day of Learning marking the completion today of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s translation of the Talmud. (See Live broadcast at 2pm and various events in the Philadelphia area.)

When one starts from a worldview in which God is active in the workings of the world, it is quite possible to understand illness and physical weaknesses as God’s judgment on the ailing person, so that any intervention is a challenge to the workings of God’s will. This viewpoint has been voiced by some Jewish thinkers, from the sages of the classical rabbinic tradition, through the great bible commentators of the medieval period, and beyond. In other contexts, and in numerous sources, however, saving a life is considered to be one of the highest commandments in Judaism, so much so that almost every other commandment can be violated to further this end. This quite different perspective – one that validates medical expertise and makes the practice of healing a religious obligation – has also been present in Jewish tradition from its earliest expressions.

More after the jump.
Two verses in particular from the Torah serve as the core foundation for what has become the normative Jewish view on healing and access to healthcare. Exodus 21:19 discusses a case in which one person has injured another in an altercation. The Torah rules that the assailant must see to it that the victim receives necessary medical attention: “he shall certainly heal him.” In context, the obvious meaning is that the assailant must pay the victim’s medical costs, but the rabbis derive additional meaning from the doubling of the verb in Hebrew. Thus we read in the Talmud, Berakhot 60a and Bava Kama 85a: “It was taught in the school of Rabbi Ishmael: ‘he shall certainly heal him’ – from this source, the healer is given permission to heal.” As Nachmanides noted in his 13th century work, Torat ha-Adam, “this is to say that it is not forbidden because of the concern that the doctor might inadvertently err; also, people should not say ‘the Holy One has struck (the ill person) and is the One to heal.'” Nachmanides continues, “it is a commandment to heal, and is in the category of saving a life.”

That healing is not only permissible, but can be considered a required act for those with the necessary knowledge and training, emerges all the more strongly from a second verse, Deuteronomy 22:2. In its basic, contextual meaning, the verse tells us that one who finds lost property is obliged to return it to the original owner: “you shall return it to him.” Since the Hebrew suffix meaning “it” can also mean “him,” the rabbis reread the phrase, in Bava Kama 81b and Sanhedrin 73a: “From where do we know the requirement to return a person’s body?” – that is, save a person’s life? “The Torah says, ‘return him to himself.'” Maimonides, in his commentary on the Mishnah (Nedarim 4:4), makes explicit that this includes providing medical care: “the doctor is obligated by law to heal…and this is included in the explication of the verse, that ‘return it to him’ means to include (the ‘return’ of) his body…” Joseph Karo thus brings together these traditions to write in the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 336:1): “Torah gives the healer permission to heal. And it is a commandment, and is a matter of saving life. And if one withholds oneself, this person spills blood.”

We now come, then, to the question much on our minds at this moment – how is health care to be provided to those who need it, and whose responsibility is it to see that health care is provided? Both the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds state that a person, or at least a scholar, should not live in a town that does not have a doctor (P.T. Kiddushin 4:12 [66b]; B.T. Sanhedrin 17b). At a time when all family finances were supposed to flow through the male head of household, the rabbinic tradition ruled that husbands were expected to pay for their wives’ needed medical treatment, and this was considered an obligation as basic as providing for her daily sustenance (Mishnah Ketubot 4:9; B.T. Ketubot 52b). Clearly, individuals and families have the first responsibility to seek out the healthcare they need and to pay for it as they are able.

Nor is a medical provider allowed to overcharge for treatments or for medicines in a case of dire need, a rule codified in the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 336:3): “One who has medications, and another person is sick and needs them, it is forbidden to raise their prices beyond what is appropriate.” Yet because receiving needed medical care can be a matter of life and death, and saving life is a religious and moral obligation, numerous sources suggest that doctors have an obligation to provide medical care in all cases, even to those unable to afford it on their own. The Talmud, in Ta’anit, praises the model of Abba the blood-letter: “He had a spot outside (of his workspace) to put coins; those who had put some in, but those who did not have could come in and sit without being ashamed.” But this approach is an ideal. Certainly, it could leave physicians in an untenable position, obligating them to care for all in need, but not yet insuring that their own needs to make a reasonable living will be met.

I turn, then, to a much more recent source, a modern responsum by Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, published in 1985 (Ramat Rachel, no. 24; published in vol. 5 of Rabbi Waldenberg’s collected responsa, Tzitz Eliezer). He begins by writing that the provision of needed medical care is of such significance that a bet din may, in fact, compel a doctor to provide free medical care to a patient unable to pay, and that it is not the responsibility of the court or the community to reimburse the doctor. However, he then modifies this ruling in a very important way, applying it only when there is just a single doctor in the locale. Where there are multiple doctors, no one doctor can be compelled to provide services not demanded of the others. Rabbi Waldenberg thus suggests several means by which a community might provide for its members, including paying for the medical care from communal charity funds, or creating a system whereby doctors equitably share the case load on a pro bono basis. His preferred system, where the community has the means, is to provide a monthly fee for doctors in exchange for seeing any patients in need. What is most significant about Rabbi Waldenberg’s responsum, then, is not that he provides the Jewish answer for the way in which a community should provide medical care for all. What he does tell us, though, is that providing such care, in the final analysis, is most certainly the responsibility of the community as a whole. It is thus not surprising that Jewish rabbinic and lay organizations across the denominational spectrum have agreed that we must seek the goal of an equitable system of access to healthcare in America.

Finally, I would like to conclude with the words of Maimonides, himself a physician in addition to his many other achievements. In Hilkhot De’ot (4:1), what we might call the Laws of Personal Development, he writes: “Health and wholeness of the body are among the ways of God, for it is impossible that one can understand or know anything of the knowledge of the Creator when one is ill. Therefore one must distance oneself from things that harm the body, and conduct oneself in ways that create health and wellness.” A failure to promote health when we have the ability to do so impedes our chances of achieving our full spiritual and personal potential. And as for the individual, so for the community made up of those individuals.

Additional Primary Sources:

On Exodus 21:19, see also the commentary of Ibn Ezra (both “long” and “short” versions)
On Bava Kama 85a, see also the commentary of Tosafot (who challenge Ibn Ezra’s understanding)
Kiddushin 82a, and the commentary of Rashi
Rambam, Mishnah Torah, Hilkhot De’ot 4:23; Hilkhot Nedarim 6:8
Ramban, Commentary to the Torah, to Leviticus 26:11
Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 336:1-3
Otzar Midrashim, Temurah (the story of Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Ishma’el)

A (Very) Partial List of Helpful Secondary Sources:
Elliot N. Dorff and Aaron L. Mackler, “Responsibilities for the Provision of Health Care,” Responsa 1991-2000: The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement, 319-36; also available on-line at http://www.rabbinicalassembly….
David M. Feldman, Health and Medicine in the Jewish Tradition
Jill Jacobs, There Shall Be No Needy: Pursuing Social Justice through Jewish Law & Tradition, chap. 7
Fred Rosner, Biomedical Ethics and Jewish Law
Fred Rosner & J. David Bleich, eds., Jewish Bioethics
Laurie Zoloth, Health Care and the Ethics of Encounter: A Jewish Discussion of Social Justice

Arlene Fickler to Receive JSPAN Social Justice Award

— Susan P. Myers

Arlene Fickler will receive the 2010 Social Justice Award of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network, in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the advancement of women and her talented, dedicated service to the community.  The honoree is a well known litigator and a leader in Bar programs central to the improvement of the law.  She devotes great effort to building the Jewish community through distinguished service to several key community institutions.

Previous recipients of the reward include:

Flicker’s community service includes the Board of Trustees of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and several of its constituent agencies.  She chaired the Board of Directors of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Philadelphia and has served on the boards of the Jewish Publishing Group, HIAS Immigration Services, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America, and Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel.  She was the co-chairman of the organizing committee that brought 1,750 teenagers from nine countries to Philadelphia for the JCC’s Maccabi Games in August 2001.

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania cum laude and Penn Law School where she was Note Editor of the Law Review, Arlene advanced to partner at Schnader Harrison and then co-founded the law firm Hoyle, Fickler, Herschel & Mathes LLP.  Her professional achievements over many years include service as the chair of the Federal Courts Committee of the Philadelphia Bar Association, trustee of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation (the charitable arm of the Philadelphia Bar Association), Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, member of the American Law Institute, and a Barrister of the University of Pennsylvania American Inn of Court.  She was the co-Reporter for the American College of Trial Lawyers Manual on Mass Torts published by Lexis-Nexis.

Fickler represented American Jewish Congress and the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council in County of Allegheny v. ACLU, the United States Supreme Court case involving the display of a creche and a menorah on public property.  She is a member of JSPAN’s Church State Committee, which monitors and participates in First Amendment and other federal and state civil rights cases.

In announcing her selection, JSPAN Chairman Jeff Pasek stated: “Arlene is honored for her achievements as an outstanding leadership woman in the community.  We celebrate successful women in the law, and at the same time provide needed support for JSPAN’s unique domestic religious freedom and civil rights program.”

The Jewish Social Policy Action Network is a non-profit organization under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3), formed to advance equality and opportunity for all women and men in our pluralistic democracy, and to protect the constitutional liberties and civil rights of Jews, other minorities, and the vulnerable in our society. JSPAN concentrates its efforts on domestic issues, pursuing social action in such areas as health care, immigration reform, gender equality, gun control, death penalty and other issue of justice in legal proceedings and the courts.  By filing amicus briefs in court cases, articulating progressive principles drawn from Jewish tradition, advocating policy alternatives, and speaking out on timely issues, JSPAN helps shape a better community and nation.

Fickler will receive JSPAN’s sixth annual Social Justice Award at a reception on November 16, 2010 at 5:30 pm at the Visitor’s Center on Constitution Mall.  For a reservation call or e-mail Lynn Gottlieb (610-527-5062 or [email protected]).

Health Reform Hits Main Street


Confused about how the new health reform law really works? This short, animated movie — featuring the “YouToons” — explains the problems with the current health care system, the changes that are happening now, and the big changes coming in 2014.

Written and produced by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the movie is narrated by Cokie Roberts, a news commentator for ABC News and NPR and a member of Kaiser’s Board of Trustees.
Let’s face it folks, the new health care reform law is com-plex. It runs about a 1,000 pages even in tiny print.
So it’s no surprise that very few Americans have actually read it.
But it’s about to affect all of us, and many have been wondering what it will mean for our health, our wallets and our country.
Let’s say we take all 310 million Americans and squish us down to just 25 people.
Yep, each of these folks would represent about 12 million of us. And this is pretty much what we’d look like.
Polls show about three out of ten of us say health care reform will make us better off, a similar number say worse off, and a similar number again say it won’t make much difference at all. Some of us don’t know what to think. I guess you could say we’re kinda split on this one.
But no matter where you stand on the issue, it’s likely you’re thinking, “Hello? I got some basic questions still unanswered here.”
And you deserve real answers, not the partisan rhetoric and spin we’ve been flooded with.
So let’s break down what the reform law does and doesn’t do and what it will cost. If you want to read the whole law, go ahead. But watching this video is the next best thing.
Ready to jump in?
Let’s begin with the problems in our current health care system. Problem number one is, what problem number one usually is, money.
Most people agree that health insurance policies are too expensive.
For a family, the average premium is almost $14,000 dollars a year…and growing. Premiums have doubled over the last nine years, ballooning way faster than inflation!
Plus, our population is aging, meaning more people with more health problems. So, health care costs are the fastest growing part of the federal budget.
The second problem is that the system is full of holes. Like the fact that people buying insurance on their own can be turned down for having a pre-existing health condition. Small businesses may be charged extra if some of the workers are sick, making insurance unaffordable. And some insurance policies have a lifetime limit on benefits. After that, you’re out of luck.
That means some of the people least likely to have coverage are the ones who need it most. Nice, huh?
High costs and holes in the system mean more than one in seven of us have no health insurance to protect us at all. Many more struggle to pay their bills and can only afford bare minimum policies that may not cover much.
High costs to households, strain on the federal budget and people with no protection. It’s easy to see why many people were looking for something different.
So here’s what the health reform law plans to do in its first phase, between now and 2014.
To start dealing with costs, insurers will be limited in how they spend our premium dollars. If they use too much for administrative costs or profits, they’ll be forced to give some of it back through rebates. This won’t stop premium increases, but it may help some.
Some services will become free in all new private insurance policies, and in Medicare — preventive care like screenings and vaccinations.
People on Medicare, because they’re over 65 or disabled, will get more help with their drug costs. Young people can save money and stay insured by remaining on their parents’ policies up to age 26. And some small businesses will get tax breaks to help them pay for health insurance for their workers.
And the holes? Well, some will be closed starting now too. Lifetime limits on health coverage will be gone, whether you buy insurance on your own or get it from your employer. And it will be illegal to turn kids down for having a pre-existing health condition, like asthma or diabetes.
Of course, some adults who buy insurance on their own will still be getting rejected between now and 2014. But those who do can enter something called a high-risk pool, run by the government.
No, it’s more like a policy that covers the sickest uninsured people, meaning it’s riskier for insurance companies. That’s why the government will chip in some money to bring down the cost.
Some say these high-risk pools will help a lot of people. Others say these pools will still be too expensive, and may not have enough government money to stay in business until they’re replaced by something better, in Phase II.
On New Year’s Day 2014, some big changes kick in. First, let’s look at how the law makes health care more affordable. Medicaid will be expanded to cover all low-income individuals and families in every state.
And depending on what you make, if you lose your job or your employer doesn’t provide decent coverage, you may get a health insurance tax credit.
And while most of us will continue to get health insurance at work just like now, if you don’t have that option, you’ll be able to buy coverage in what’s called an “Exchange.” You’ll be hearing a lot about them, so let’s stop and look at how they work.
An exchange is like a virtual insurance mega-mall. Based on where you live, you’ll get an easy- to-understand menu of options to compare plans in plain English. And the exchange makes sure insurance companies compete fairly under strict rules.
The idea is that by giving consumers good information, a fair playing field and access to lots of choices, competition among insurers will keep rates competitive.
Now, onto plugging the holes. In 2014 insurers will no longer be able to turn people down or charge them more if they’re sick.
You might say, hold on a minute, if I can’t be turned down or charged more, why not just wait until I get sick or injured to buy insurance at all?
Not so fast buddy. See, with few exceptions, people will be required to have insurance or pay a special tax. Same with larger businesses, who will pay fines if they don’t insure their workers.
Of course, nobody likes being told they have to buy anything. But without this rule, experts say you can’t require that everyone be eligible for coverage. Imagine telling home insurers they have to cover people whose houses are already on fire!
So the government will provide credits, expanded programs and new rules. They say that by 2019, 32 million of us who don’t have health insurance will have it. Some of those who will still be uninsured: undocumented immigrants, who aren’t eligible for coverage under the law.
No surprise, all this is going to cost money. 938 billion dollars over the next ten years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the impartial referee when Congress debates these kinds of things.
It’s a lot of money, sure, but if you look at it another way, it’s 2% of our federal budget, and 3% of what we’ll be spending on health care overall.
Now, the President and Congress insisted these new costs will be paid for so they don’t push the budget deficit up any further. That means money will come out of someone’s pocket. That’s where the tough politics come in.
A lot of the savings will come from health care providers and insurers in the Medicare program.
The fees the government pays to hospitals under Medicare won’t be allowed to rise as fast as they have been.
And, insurance companies that provide services to people on Medicare will be paid less.
Medicare will also create a bunch of experiments around the country to test different ways of paying doctors, hospitals and other providers to make the health care system more efficient,
and improve the quality of care. With luck some of these experiments will work, and then be adopted by the private sector and help lower costs for employers and families too. Plus, a new federal advisory board will make recommendations about other ways to deal with increases in health care costs.
Some taxes will go up too. People with high earnings will pay higher Medicare taxes. There will be new taxes on insurers and businesses who offer high-end benefit plans, and on companies that make medical devices and drugs. And oh, anyone who visits a tanning salon now has to pay a new tax too.
With these new cost-cutting measures and new taxes, the Congressional Budget Office says the whole package will actually reduce the federal deficit over the next ten years. Of course, the total federal deficit is expected to run into the trillions, so the health reform law isn’t going to solve that problem.
Well, that’s the reform law. Do you love it, hate it, still don’t know? Either way, there’s still a lot of work ahead. You’ll be hearing lots of different things about this law. Some people support reform, and if anything want to expand it and increase government oversight of insurers and the health care industry. Others oppose it, and think it creates too big a role for the government. Some states have even gone to court claiming the requirement that everyone buy insurance is unconstitutional.
Politicians and pundits will be talking to you as if you’ve got no idea what’s in that thousand- page law. But by watching this, you’re on your way to getting informed. And you can make sure your friends and family are too, just by passing this little video around.