Do Orthodox Jews believe in vaccinating?

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Dear Jew in the City,

Lock the kids [with mumps] up…do not sicken everyone. You have no right to impose your beliefs against vaccination on the rest of society.

If you don’t see it this way…advice…leave this country. Go to someplace where ignorance and stupidity are bliss.  America is NOT such a place.  We lose ours, you will lose yours.

M.A.

Dear M.A.,

Though you have not specified which children you’d like to lock up, based on the news, I’m assuming your message is related to a recent outbreak of mumps in the Orthodox communities of Monsey and Brooklyn.

From the tone of your email you are obviously very upset with what’s going on, but you are also misinformed. There is no Jewish law against vaccinations. In fact, most rabbis are probably strong supporters of them.

When it comes to health care, the basic principle in Judaism is to use the best medical knowledge and treatment that’s available. Preserving life is one of the most important ideas within Judaism, and we are instructed to break  nearly every commandment in the Torah in an effort to save a life. (This, by the way, is known as pikuach nefesh.)

Now there are certainly some Orthodox families that don’t vaccinate or space out their vaccinations because they believe that alternative/non-mainstream medicine is the healthiest choice for their families. There are families of all religious backgrounds that adhere to this way of thinking/lifestyle, and it has nothing to do with Judaism specifically.

From what I read, the majority of kids in those communities were vaccinated, but still somehow got the disease when a boy from England brought the mumps to a Jewish camp this past summer (where it spread). I’m sure that the families of the sick children are doing everything they can to help their kids get better and prevent the disease from spreading further.

I’m glad that you reached out to me so that we could clear this confusion up, but next time you might consider doing some research about a subject before you start making threats.

All the best,

Jew in the City

P.S. - For a detailed discussion of the Jewish laws and practices pertaining to vaccinations, click to read this article from Hakhirah Journal: Vaccination in Halakhah and in Practice in the Orthodox Jewish Community by Asher Bush

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Comments

  1. Aliza Hausman says:

    I’m glad you were able to turn around this obvious piece of anti-Semitic hate mail into a lesson on what Judaism does or doesn’t preach. But it’s really sad that people sit down and write letters like this. Every single news article I’ve read regarding the mumps outbreak has elucidated all the points that you made in your response. It’s amazing that people can’t even see, or read, past their hate.

  2. Even with my logical response, Aliza, it probably won’t make much of a difference since anti-Semitism is rarely based on rational ideas.

  3. Kol HaKavod for not blowing up at this-individual. Thank you for your polite and thorough response.

  4. I’m impressed that you managed such a rational and kind tone, replying to such vitriol. I hope they read your excellent response!

    One nitpicky thing: about pikuach nefesh I would have said, “We are instructed that it is acceptable to break nearly any commandment in order to save a life”. The way you wrote it, it could be misconstrued as you saying that breaking commandments is the rule, not the exception in order to save a life. Anyway, this is a very small phrasing thing.

    • Actually we are required to break commandments in order to save a life. The point that becomes blurry is where does something move from a plain sickness to pikuah nefesh. At the grey area where it is not clear, that is the point that things may considered permissible as opposed to obligatory. An example of this is the blanket prohibition of a woman within 7 days of giving birth of fasting on Yom Kippur, and that any melacha must be done on her behalf.

      The Manchester Rav had a heart attack on Shabbat. While the EMTs were rolling him out to the ambulance, he was smiling and wishing everyone a good shabbos. He was asked why he was smiling when Shabbat had to be broken on his behalf. He answered that just as it was a mitzvah not to do melacha on Shabbat, it was also a mitzvah to do go to the hospital when one needs to.

  5. I wonder if the person even feels ashamed now that they know the truth? Probably not since they felt this way in the first place. You handled it very well. B”H that you could be so level headed.

  6. Ilana, I wanted to respond to your comment on pikuach nefesh (saving a life). You are right that the concept of pikuach nefesh is generally used in the sense of permitting (rather than requiring) the breaking of a commandment to save a life. However, pikuach nefesh is related to the Biblical commandment of v’chai bahem (“you should live by them”) – which the Talmud understands to mean “you should live by the commandments, and you should not die by them.” Through this positive commandment, the Torah does in fact require one to break almost any commandment to save a life. I imagine that JITC was using pikuach nefesh loosely to encompass v’chai bahem, since pikuach nefesh is a more widely recognized term.

  7. There are many angry people in this world who are misinformed. No big deal. We just have to educate them and when they eventually learn, they too will have the privileged of turning another angry person around.

    I think it comes with age, which in turn brings wisdom, which in turn brings patience. Having a good teacher doesn’t hurt, either.

  8. We were blamed for the Black Death,too…This is about anti-semitism,not this specific mumps outbreak…You were sooooo nice, I don’t know that I could have been…

  9. I know it exists, but still can’t believe such hate speech is still so fervent. Might I point out that the irony of the person saying “Go to someplace where ignorance and stupidity are bliss America is NOT such a place.”, when it is they who are actually the ignorant one! I hope they read your response.

  10. did the person ever respond?

  11. I don’t understand- if this person and their child is vaccinated (which it would seem) why should they worry?

  12. Dr. Ohana says:

    From your local pediatrician,

    The New York Orthodox Jewish community was vaccinated well above the national level. (Greater than 90 percent to nationally 75%) Vaccinations are not a 100 percent guarantee from getting that illness – just around a 95%. So in 100 kids, 5 of them are still vulnerable if they get exposed to something like mumps. New York is lucky Orthodox Jews are so provaccine or they would be struggling with wildfire spread – like pertussis in California.

  13. This knucklehead sounded off to aggressive. You can ask a question and ask it in a respective manner. I do not agree with vaccines as I believe they do damage to people, so I try to stay away from this. I am not jewish, but peace to my jewish bruthas!

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