Op-Ed: Jewish View on the Covid-19 Vaccination

During the last month of 2020 companies have had the vaccine against Covid 19 approved. The first was Pfizer, then Moderna and finally AstraZeneca. More will be forthcoming in the very near future.
I know that there are many people who object to any vaccine on religious grounds. This is more prominent in Scientology, etc. In Judaism however, there are many reasons as to why one should take the vaccine. I will discuss them shortly.
In 2019, there was an uproar in the ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn and Rockland communities. Many of these parents refused to vaccinate their kids against measles. The reason they cited was “religious fatalism,” a term I never heard before. After looking up the meaning, I learned that it was the belief that G-d is in control of the illness rather than a vaccine.
Most Sages agree that guarding one’s health is not only a good idea, it is a Mitzvah. This means that whether you like it or not, it is a command and therefore you must abide. Greats like Maimonides and the first Chabad Rebbe both emphasize that our body is a gift from G-d, and therefore we need to protect it at all costs. At all costs means that even if the virus one is exposed to did not harm 99 people, the 100th person still needs to protect themselves from exposure and take preventative measures such as leaving the city where the virus is located, or taking a vaccine in case there is nowhere to run, like in a pandemic.
Another great thinker, Rabbi Yisroel Lipschutz, who passed in 1860, ruled that despite the risk of death from the smallpox vaccine (at that time 1/1000), one should still be vaccinated. These days the death rate from the smallpox vaccine is so miniscule that it is much safer than Tylenol.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1957 urged people to take the polio vaccine.
There are concerns about non-kosher ingredients, and therefore objections. This too has been dealt with considerably in Jewish law. It has been determined that it is totally acceptable to inject a non-kosher vaccine as a preventative or inject medication as a cure. Even a pig’s valve to replace one’s own mitral valve or aortic valve is considered kosher.
In Judaism, we learn that if there is a dash of concern that by doing a certain mitzvah, one could get harmed, then one is exempt. Take for example, someone who is sick and the doctors tell him that it is deleterious to your health if you fast even on Yom Kippur, then the individual is forbidden to fast. In fact, if he does fast then he is considered a sinner! Of course, this law can be turned around and one can make the argument that a vaccine without 10 years of research is unsafe.
I find it interesting that in Israel the COVID vaccine is being given at faster rates than any other country in the world. I am told that they even give the vaccine on Shabbat because of overriding danger. New York could learn a thing or two from Israel. In my opinion, we should be dispensing this vaccine 24/7. Let us not waste a minute.
I firmly believe that it is the responsibility of each person to take all and any measures to stop COVID. It is our duty, a mitzvah, obligation, burden and privilege to be an active participant in its eradication. As the great Rabbi Hillel said, “If I am only for myself, then who am I.”
We do not live in a bubble. Isolation and quarantining for another 100 days has been proven that it is not the answer and neither is it practical.
I meet many people in the course of a week, and I know that at any moment I can get or spread this diabolical virus. I probably will have to wait a while to receive the vaccine myself. However, when the day comes, I will arrive early for my appointment.
We need to beat this and we will, with G-d’s help and with yours.
If you decide not to take the vaccine, I will not respect you less or feel negative toward you. I don’t think someone can be forced to do something against his or her will. I disagree with you for the above-mentioned reasons, but I won’t be disagreeable.
Rabbi Yakov Saacks
The Chai Center
Dix Hills, NY
First published on Facebook and reprinted with permission

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