Rabbi Hershel Billet of the Young Israel of Woodmere endorsed “the view that advocates a pro-vaccination policy,” in an email to his congregants that was accompanied by a strongly worded article by Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, an assistant rabbi at YIW who is also chief of infectious diseases and hospital epidemiologist at South Nassau Communities Hospital.
“Parents who do not vaccinate their children are negligent at the very least — and the net conclusion is that they are irresponsible with their children, the children of others, and all newborns up to a year old,” Rabbi Billet wrote in the Nov. 28 email.
“There are no legitimate religious grounds to oppose vaccination. There are very clear religious grounds to make vaccination of children obligatory! Herd immunity only works if everyone is vaccinated. Clearly and tragically it did not work in Brooklyn or Monsey.”
Meanwhile, the president of the Touro College and University System and the chief executive officer of Touro’s New York Medical College published a column that also criticized outliers in frum communities who continue to refuse to vaccinate their children.
Attached to Rabbi Billet’s email were articles by Dr. Irit Rasooly, an Orthodox Jewish pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and by Rabbi Dr. Glatt from the Jewish Press, as well as links to a halachic decision by a prominent chareidi authority.
In her article, Dr. Rasooly emphasized that “vaccination is clearly the most effective way” to prevent measles.
“Measles is highly contagious and the list of potential exposure sites includes shuls, restaurants, and simcha halls,” she wrote. “Individuals likely spread the infection unknowingly.”
She described the seriousness of the disease —“approximately 1/500 individuals with the infection will die. … Moreover, measles encephalitis can cause neurologic devastation and the virus can live dormant in the body and cause a neurologic infection that emerges years after infection.”
She concluded: “In your personal lives, you can encourage families who approach you with concern to speak to their pediatricians about steps to increase protection against measles.”
In his Jewish Press article, headlined “The People of the Book Should Follow the Book,” Rabbi Dr. Glatt spoke of the “small yet very vocal and influential group of ‘anti-vaxxers’ living in our heimeshecommunities. They should stop reading now, as they will not like what I have to say, will not listen to what I have to say, and will write scathing diatribes against me. However, I hope the rest of klal Yisraelkeeps on reading this critically important pikuach nefashosarticle, which the Yerushalmi essentially states is a primary chiyuvof a Rav to darshen(explicate) about.”
Rabbi Dr. Glatt continued:
“This is only the latest … amongst numerous similar and preventable outbreaks in recent months and years, in our communities, in the US, Eretz Yisrael and Europe. … Almost all the cases of measles are directly related to someone (or many people) being unvaccinated and spreading their illness and ignorance to others.
“I am very sorry if that offends anyone, but one of my vaccinated grandchildren (2 years old) just had to get an urgent premature second dose of MMR vaccine and a 5-month old grandson too young to be vaccinated had to get a painful gamma globulin shot, because of such incorrect and therefore dangerous medical views. Hashem yeracheim.
“There is absolutely no one who disagrees with the psakthat a parent is required to remove one’s child to safety when a danger is present. Indeed, this is part of the basis for the halachic ruling of Harav Elyashiv zt”l who viewed normal childhood vaccinations as being an obligatory part of parental obligations.
“Harav Asher Weiss shlit”a, posekfor Shaare Zedek Hospital, a premier Orthodox-run hospital in Eretz Yisrael, says it is a mitzvah and chiyuvto get vaccinated, bringing a proof from the story of Sodom from this week’s parsha. 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 similarly the written psak of Harav Yitzchok Ziberstein shlit”a, as well as the psakof 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 Yisrael… 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(false) to officially vow that Jewish law forbids vaccination — which is the only way in some states to avoid mandatory state vaccination laws by providing such a false religious attestation.
“So why all the headlines, anguish and outbreaks in our camps, amongst the ‘People of the Book’? Why did 180 children, 80 percent who were unvaccinated, die in the US 2017/18 from flu, along with 80,000 adults? Why do yeshivas and camps have to close down and stop learning because of mumps outbreaks? …
“In my humble opinion, as a ravand infectious diseases expert, it is because we somehow have forgotten to read the (halachic and medical) Book. Halacha states that if there is a dispute regarding whether a patient should eat on Yom Kippur or if Shabbos desecration is necessary to save a life, the most competent and/or the majority of experts make the determination.
“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 US, the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society, the American College of Physicians, plus every other major professional infection control organization in the world, clearly opine unanimously. … All strongly urge vaccination as the only way to control these preventable and rachmana litzlan 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 are people not following these medical experts as halacha requires? Why are my (and your) precious children and grandchildren exposed to lethal illnesses, forced to take painful and unnecessary additional medications and shots, because you, a non-expert, ‘believe’ otherwise? …
“All the major rabbinic organizations have rightly and strongly spoken out against physician-assisted suicide; I myself also recently published on this subject. Therefore, I feel compelled to publicly speak out (again) as well against ’non-vaccination assisted suicide,’ a cause which unfortunately does not get enough similar support.”