To the Editor:
It was with great regret that I read the lead article written by my friend, editor Larry Gordon, in last week’s 5 Towns Jewish Times. The title, “Medical Dilemmas,” implies there is a medical dilemma regarding vaccinations. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Unfortunately, we are in the midst of a preventable measles outbreak in our communities, one of many in recent years. I was truly saddened, but more importantly, afraid for our children, by the suggestion that there are “two sides” to this story. There are not. I feel compelled to reiterate some of the comments I made in an article published in this paper just a few weeks back. I unfortunately do not have the time to fully address each of the major points of misinformation that you (and others) stated, but I will address what I can in the piece below.
There is no medical dilemma. Regarding vaccination against the major vaccine-preventable childhood illnesses, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, all 50 State Departments of Health in the United States, the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society, the American College of Physicians, plus every other major professional infection organization in the world, opine unanimously. Bar none. There is no expert organization that disagrees.
The evidence is overwhelming that vaccination is the only way to control these preventable fatal diseases. Chasdei Hashem – no one dies anymore of smallpox; polio is almost wiped out – solely, and only because of very successful vaccination programs. Why should anyone in 5779 die from measles? The article stated – without quoting any source – the ludicrous statement that it is beneficial to get childhood illnesses (which rachmana leztlan are potentially fatal) because it strengthens the immune system and prevents people from getting cancer later in life. This is totally unfounded and there is not a single valid study that supports such madness.
Because measles has spread in our communities, schools have been closed and unvaccinated children have been barred entry into their yeshivas. Think of the bitul Torah. Think of the unbelievable chilul Hashem when papers and media identify it is Orthodox Jews not vaccinating and putting others at risk. So many Jewish and non-Jewish colleagues have questioned me about this: does Jewish law truly forbid vaccination? At this time of Chanukah, when Jewish education was forbidden, we should be especially concerned about attacks on our holy mesorah.
Unfortunately, these attacks are different: they are coming from within, not from without. It was stated that HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky and HaRav Malkiel Kotler came out against vaccination, implying it is halachically forbidden. That is incorrect. There is no poseik ever who has forbidden modern day vaccinations. NONE. Further, a basic journalist faux pas was committed by trivializing the vaccination side, stating “other rabbonim are in favor of the practice”. Who are these “other rabbonim”? They represent the vast majority of poskim of great renown.
Almost all cases of measles today are directly related to unvaccinated people spreading their illness to others. There is absolutely no one who disagrees with the psak that a parent is required to remove one’s child to safety when a danger is present. To allow a child with potential illness into school is a matter of pikuach nefashos. This was reiterated recently by HaRav Moshe Sternbuch in a very strongly worded teshuva to the very same Rav Malkiel Kotler of Lakewood that you quoted. This position was strongly seconded by HaRav Elya Brudny at the recent Agudah convention. Both poskim hold that parents should get their children vaccinated and that yeshivas should not allow unvaccinated children in class, based upon the overwhelming medical evidence supporting this halachic opinion.
The Mir in Eretz Yisroel paskened that all their 6,000 or so talmidim must get vaccinated. Indeed, HaRav Elyashiv zt”l, a world accepted gadol hador, viewed normal childhood vaccinations as an obligatory part of parental obligations. HaRav Asher Weiss, current poseik for Shaare Zedek Hospital, a premier Orthodox-run hospital in Eretz Yisroel, says it is a mitzvah and chiyuv to get vaccinated, and he further states that yeshivas have the right, and even obligation, to protect other students, and should not allow unvaccinated children into school. This is also the written psak of HaRav Yitzchok Zilberstein, as well as the psak of HaRav Elyashiv, who ruled that parents have the right to have unvaccinated children excluded from class so as not to cause unnecessary risks for their children. Many other gedolei Yisroel, including HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, HaRav Yehoshua Newirth, zt”l, and yibadeil bein chayim lechayim, HaRav J. David Bleich, HaRav Reuven Feinstein, HaRav Hershel Schachter and HaRav Mordechai Willig, shlita, have all ruled that there is no basis in halacha to suggest that vaccinations should be avoided. All strongly urge and support appropriate universal vaccination against the major childhood potentially fatal illness that are preventable.
Indeed, it is sheker (dishonest) to officially avow that Jewish law forbids vaccination – which is the only way in some states to avoid mandatory state vaccination laws by providing such a false attestation about our religion.
The thing that bothers me the most however, is that well-healed anti-vaxxers are now suing yeshivas that follow the psak of these gedolom. Can you think of a more horrible situation? What is the heter to go to a secular court before going to a Beis Din? What is the heter to make our underfunded impoverished yeshivas spend huge sums of money defending their halachic right to bar such students? Shame, shame on such people. You are forcing yeshivas to waste highly limited resources to defend the rights of all the other children to a safe classroom environment, instead of using those funds intensifying Torah study. Worse – most Yeshivas do not have the funds or ability to fight and are forced to capitulate to this extortion. What halachic right do you have to impose your unscientific minority opinion on all of Klal Yisroel?
Continued tomorrow: The false arguments against vaccinations
Rabbi Aaron E. Glatt, MD, is board certified in Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases; Chairman, Medicine, and Chief of Infectious Diseases / Hospital Epidemiologist at South Nassau Communities Hospital and a local rav who gives daily halacha shiurim and lectures on numerous medical and halachic issues.