Thursday, September 26, 2019

Open Letter to Chabad Chassidim Worldwide


Open Letter to all Chabad chassidim

29 Menachem Av, 5779

To all Anash of Crown Heights and elsewhere,

Peace and blessing.

1.      Still no protest from Rabbanei Anash

Since my letter this past month regarding the outrageous situation concerning Jewish children being unjustly banned from learning Torah[1] in your community and state, “the harvest is past, the summer is ended; yet we are not saved.” We have yet to hear publicly from even one single Rav of Anash on this painful topic that is affecting thousands of innocent children.

2.      CH Beis Din never permitted banning children from school

However, I wish to share the following important message that one of the esteemed rabbonim of the Crown Heights Beis Din responded to me in writing in response to my letter: “The Beis Din never ruled on this topic” (of banning children from school due to noncompliance of mandatory vaccine schedule).[2]

3.      Abusive administrators acted on their own accord

It follows that all the administrators who expelled children from school did so on their own accord, without any permission or instruction from Beis Din. Heaven forfend. Shomu shomayim.

“Since I called out and no one responded”[3], I must reiterate my most forceful protest against the nefarious deeds of these errant administrators who have cast off the yoke of Heaven and betrayed holy tinokos shel beis rabban, insolently preventing them from learning Torah, cruelly ousting them from the Beis Medrash, without ANY imprimatur from the established Beis Din of their city! Unmitigated and unprecedented audacity. I warn them once more: “Touch not My anointed!” Don’t mess with tinokos shel beis rabban. You’re playing with fire.

It is appalling that certain educational mosdos in Crown Heights have been barring students for the past ten years unless fully vaccinated… with no rabbinic permission. Unprecedented and unspeakable.

4.      Not only the administrators, but their accomplices too

Everyone involved in these egregious violations of Jewish law must be held accountable. Ein shliach l’dvar aveiro[4]. No one can claim that s/he was merely following orders or acting on behalf of someone else when it comes to transgressing the Torah by being mevatel tinokos shel beis rabban. This includes secretaries, board members, liaisons, and anyone who participated in the biggest chilul Hashem in the history of Chabad, Hashem yishmor. This also includes brazen community leaders and physicians[5] who emboldened administrators to take such reprehensible actions.

5.      Take responsibility

While we cannot change the past, we can demand that these errant and unrepentant administrators and their accomplices take full responsibility for their grave error and beg forgiveness from these poor children whom they cruelly betrayed and prevented from learning Torah with no halachically-just cause. 

6.      Make amends and pay

Surely they also must compensate the parents of these children who paid tuition for the year yet whose children were ousted midyear for no halachically-acceptable reason. In fact, some unscrupulous administrators allegedly continued to bill parents and government agencies for preschool and childcare services rendered, while the administrators forbade these very children from attending![6]

In addition, it seems only right that these schools offer monetary compensation for all the grief and humiliation that they caused these families unjustly. It is also appropriate for the administrators to assist these families long-term in their homeschooling efforts by offering support (i.e. curriculum, materials, supplies, books, etc.) and by welcoming these children to extracurricular activities outside of government scrutiny. 

7.      Let Jewish children into school

We may also demand that the administrators allow these unfairly-marginalized children to attend school at least for the first fourteen days of the present school year, since the state permits schools to allow such students for that time period. Yet lo and behold, the administrators are far stricter than NY State and will not tolerate the Jewish child who wasn’t vaccinated for Hep-B for even one SINGLE DAY. Woe to us that the non-Jewish legislators of NY State value two weeks of Torah learning for tinokos shel beis rabban MORE than our own mosdos’ administrators. Woe is to us.

8.      Don’t hide behind state law

They may not excuse themselves by hiding behind the recent draconian NY State law to deflect their own guilt. Even if they now argue that their “hands are tied” etc, last year there was no such DOH ban and exemptions were allowed the entire year, and yet some administrators refused to accept parent’s legally-recognized exemptions! They may not cite “measles outbreaks” either. The so-called outbreak only presented in Crown Heights toward the end of the school year and affected only one school.

Even now, it must be pointed out that an administrator who bars a Jewish child from his school in deference to state law should not delude himself into thinking that he is completely innocent and isn’t the one preventing tinokos shel beis rabban from learning, but instead is merely acting as an agent of NY State. No, this is patently untrue. As mentioned above, “There is no shliach for a Torah transgression” (one cannot claim to merely be a shliach for someone else while transgressing). Instead, the culpability of the transgression falls squarely on the one who committed the act, not on the one who bid him to do so. The administrator who bars children IS the transgressor here. HE is banning the child. HE is betraying tinokos shel beis rabban and NO ONE else. Every moment of bittul Torah of these children is HIS own responsibility and falls squarely on HIS shoulders, and not on the state. Would the chassidim in Soviet Russia have agreed to deprive Jewish children from learning Torah to do the communist regime’s bidding?[7]

9.       “Army of Hashem” gone AWOL!?

One of the mosdos most precious to our Rebbe is Tzivos Hashem. Yet this same mosad cruelly and insolently betrayed the chayolim of Hashem’s actual army, tinokos shel beis rabban, by banning children from their hard-earned Chidon weekend of learning, farbrengens and activities, for no halachically-valid reason and with hardly any advance notice. This feverish and frenzied fury to exclude Jewish children was NOT required by state law, and the DOH itself replied that such action would be rather extreme, excessive, and unnecessary.

Nevertheless, at the behest of a certain doctor who acted independently from state law, dozens of children (some of whom had come from as far away as Australia) were mercilessly excluded after an entire year of preparation. Numerous children were even publicly humiliated, verbally abused and debased, and ousted from shul in front of the entire tzibur. Unspeakably blasphemous. Such brazen individuals responsible for such unjust and vile breach of halacha must take responsibility in public and mend their wicked ways. If not, they are unfit to lead the Rebbe’s mosad that purports to stand at the helm of Hashem’s precious army, tinokos shel beis rabban. Likewise, any rabbi who sanctioned such horrific and bizarre conduct ought to have his tefillin checked.

10.  Administrators outside of NY State continue to ban children for no valid reason

On this painful topic, I hereby vociferously protest the debased actions of administrators of schools of other Anash communities outside NY who are still perpetuating this grave error and barring children who aren’t vaccinated. This includes Anash schools of the states of Florida, Illinois, and elsewhere, where the state allows parents to decline vaccination on religious grounds, but many misguided administrators insist on being more stringent than their states and mercilessly turn these children away. And no one speaks out against these dark deeds, not a single voice of dissent![8]

Where are their rabbis? Who is allowing such reprehensible and halachically-unacceptable injustices against Jewish children to be perpetrated in the Rebbe’s name? Did the Rebbe indeed teach us to exclude yiddishe kinder and deprive them from learning Torah? And instead to send them to Public School? Is that how the Rebbe taught us?

How dare they tarnish the name of our holy Rebbeim with such shameful conduct! An unprecedented Chilul HaShem and chilul sheim Lubavitch.

11.  Why the Rabbinic silence and inaction?

Regarding rabbinic silence, even if it’s true that the Crown Heights Beis Din never permitted expelling unvaccinated students, I am still confounded: why didn’t they raise a voice of protest when this was going on? And even more, why don’t we hear their voice of protest in the current shocking situation of hundreds of CH children and thousands of Jewish children in NYC out of school!? Likewise, we must demand an explanation as to why Chabad rabbonim from outside NY sit by idly and silently while Jewish children are barred from Chabad mosdos and sent to PUBLIC School rachmono litzlan. Does their silence mean they agree? Again, I demand a source or halachic basis or precedent to excuse banning a Jewish child from learning Torah on account of not having received Hep-B vaccine (or others).

And why have we still not heard from Agudas Chasidei Chabad or the Rebbe’s flagship mosad, Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch (Center for Matters of Education), especially as this dire situation concerns the lack of education of thousands of local Jewish children, Hashem yishmor. Or any other Chabad mosad? Do they believe that the Rebbe would have remained silent in such a shocking and urgent situation?

12.  Stop blaming the victims

Some argue that these parents are guilty for the fate of their own children since they hadn’t obeyed the psak of Beis Din regarding vaccines. This is utterly false and baseless. Firstly, the CH Beis Din’s letter was never worded like a psak din, but more as a gilui daas and encouragement.  Secondly, it only mentioned MMR vaccine and no others. There are plenty of children in Crown Heights who were vaccinated for MMR at the rabbonim’s behest, but still cannot attend school on account of other vaccines never addressed in any rabbinic letter. Furthermore, there are many children who naturally acquired immunity to measles, but this was deemed to be insufficient, and were still forced to get MMR because of mumps and rubella that haven’t even been reported in NY as a public health issue.

13.  Stop ostracizing fellow Yidden

Most importantly, even if it’s true that parents defied a psak din… where do we find that a community is enjoined to punish children for the sins of their parents? Do Chabad chassidim really believe that it is appropriate to excommunicate children and prevent them from learning Torah to punish their father who didn’t obey a psak din (לא צייתא לדינא)? The Torah states: “Children shall not be put to death on account of their fathers.”[9]

And especially in the neighborhood that was founded by the Rebbe Rayatz, who was once asked: “Why do you show love and affection to certain Jewish individuals who fall in the category of “One should throw them into a pit and not bring them up”? To which the Rebbe Rayatz responded that the questioner ought to learn the entire Shulchan Aruch first, and then finally reach these laws that are located at the end, etc., to demonstrate that it’s no simple thing to marginalize fellow Jews, how much more so young innocent Jewish children.

14.  Unbelievably shocking acts of mesirah

One more painful topic to address:

A most disturbing rumor is circulating. Apparently, a delegation from Crown Heights went to visit with NY State assemblywomen and/or senators and asked them to eliminate religious exemption from mandatory vaccination. The members of this delegation –  which is said to have included an ostensibly-religious Jewish doctor from the neighborhood AND a respected Rav from the community – petitioned the state to force all parents to submit to ALL vaccinations, including Hepatitis-B, without any exceptions (except medical exemptions, which are nearly impossible to obtain), and if the parents don’t comply, then to ban their children from school, to prohibit schools from allowing these children to attend, and to fine schools for non-compliance to the tune of thousands of dollars. According to some sources, this delegation initiated legislative action and was pushing the draconian bill from its inception!

This rumor is unfathomable. Surely each person is entitled to his own opinion, since there are 70 faces to the Torah, and no two minds are alike, etc. Whoever truly believes that one is obligated to give all the vaccines al pi din Torah, to each his own. But for someone to approach the government and express this view, asking for the government to enforce vaccination on all parents who think differently by threatening to cruelly deprive their children of a Torah education… such lowly behavior is called “mesirah”, informing non-Jews to malign a fellow Jew, as explained in Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat siman 388. It is reminiscent of historic persecution of Jews when the Czar or Catholic Church enacted laws preventing teaching Torah to Jewish children. It’s reminiscent of the chappers[10] who delivered innocent and defenseless Jewish children into the hands of the Russian authorities for the sake of conscription, doomed to be hapless Cantonists!

Worst of all is the rav who allegedly participated in this shocking act of betrayal against the children of his own community and of all NY State. How dare he requisition a non-Jewish government to oust Jewish children from Talmud Torah just for lacking the Hepatitis-B vaccines (or others), one which everyone agrees is totally unnecessary[11] (hence questionable whether it’s even halachically permissible)?

This shocking rumor has been corroborated by witnesses who heard it from a non-Jewish assemblywoman, who had casually and innocently related to them (“כמשיחה לפי תומה”) that she was personally approached by this delegation.

If this horrific rumor is indeed true, I hereby protest in the strongest of terms against this deplorable act of mesirah. Regarding the mosrim themselves, “May the sins cease” – “the sins but not the sinners.” My fervent hope is that these errant individuals already regret their folly and are ashamed of their dastardly deeds.  At the very least, I demand that they beg public forgiveness from all the children and families affected by this unjust law that THEY asked for and warn others not to follow their example in other states. Likewise, they are surely obliged to do all within their ability to protest this terrible law and petition the government to repeal it. Most of all, they must feel a direct and personal responsibility for all the children abandoned and marginalized by this law and must not rest until every single child in their community is provided a qualified teacher and is succeeding in his/her studies.

As I mentioned above, these unscrupulous individuals ought to check their tefillin and mezuzos at once. It is inconceivable how any Chabad chassid could commit such grave errors without compunction. 

15.  Who will stand up for the tinokos shel beis rabbon?

Certain individuals criticized my letter last month and accused me of slighting the kovod of rabbonei anash and community leaders, school administrators or doctors. Please understand: it’s not my intent to challenge anyone’s authority or honor, but merely to stand up for Jewish children. If we are all frightened to speak up so as not to risk insulting anyone for their inaction or worse, who will stand up for tinokos shel beis rabbon!?[12]

16.  Prayer for these misguided individuals:

Permit me to conclude with a prayer on behalf of these administrators and members of the alleged delegation who “sinned and caused others to sin,” Hashem yishmreinu:

May it be Hashem’s Will that a spirit of mercy be poured upon them from upon high, and may they seek to rectify the terrible churban they caused in their communities, as soon as possible. May they resolve from now on to be faithful to their calling and do their holy work properly, without any deviation from the yetzer hora. That is, to realize their obligation to educate “all the children of the city”[13] without exception, and to follow in the path of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidus, who used to kiss the school children going to learn Torah with the same devotion and affection as one kisses a holy Torah scroll. Especially now in the upcoming month of Elul which calls for increasing in Torah study with all, especially with tinokos shel beis rabban, as alluded to in the initials E.L.U.L. – אנה לידו ושמתי לך – “(Hashem) brought it to his hand, and I shall grant you (a place of refuge)”, which refers to Torah learning. And as Hashem earnestly asks each of us: “Open up for Me like the opening of a needle’s eye, and I shall open up for you like the expansive opening of the antechamber in the Beis Hamikdash. If these administrators will begin to worry about all the tinokos shel beis rabban of their city, then Hashem will surely grant them refuge (ושמתי לך מקום) and respite from the far-worse decree that looms over all the children in their community and threatens chinuch al taharas hakodesh of all children, not just the unvaccinated.[14]

In the merit of the above, we’ll surely merit to the complete revelation of Moshiach, who will learn Torah with all, including and most importantly, with all tinokos shel beis rabban without exception.

With blessings for all to be inscribed and sealed for a shana tova umesuka, for a good – “there is no good other than Torah” – and sweet – nothing is sweeter than the sweet sounds of the Torah study of tinokos shel beis rabban, “sweeter than honey and dripping honey combs” – year, may it be the year of our final Redemption. 

Respectfully, and stating all the above solely for the honor of the Torah
and for the sake of the precious tinokos shel beis rabban,
in the merit of whose breath the world exists,

Rabbi Michoel Green
Westborough, MA

[1] In which I urgently pointed out that Jerusalem was destroyed precisely because children were being prevented from learning Torah, עולל בחוץ, which is exactly what is being allowed to happen now, 1,950 years later, and no one is protesting! See Shabbos 119b.
[2] This is contested by numerous members of the community who claimed to have received explicit permission to oust children from that same Rav, but I choose to trust the Rav himself who recently conveyed this message to me in writing. As such, I must assume that the administrators fabricated the story of rabbinic directive.
[3] Yeshayau 66:4.
[4] Kidushin 42b.
[5] As the saying goes, “דעת בעלי בתים היפך דעת תורה – the opinion of laymen is contrary to daas Torah.”
[6] If rumors are correct, the legalities of the institutions' allegedly pocketing these ill-gotten funds – and their obligation to return them – is beyond the scope of this letter. It behooves these administrators to consult with rabbonim about this matter, just as they ought to have consulted before ousting Jewish children from school in the first place. Or perhaps in this latter case they should consult with more-qualified dayanim whose expertise includes Choshen Mishpat. The former shaalo is a lot simpler, and any rav musmach would do, since the clear prohibition of barring children shelo kadin from cheder appears in Yoreh Deah. In fact, it’s a basic tenet of Judaism that all schoolchildren know!
[7] I am not necessarily expecting every administrator to accept these children into school in way that endangers the fate of the entire school and risks its closure at the hand of state agents, as such degree of mesirus nefesh might not be שוה לכל נפש (although arguably expected from one who calls himself a Chabad chassid). Furthermore, I acknowledge that an administrator’s current guilt here is mitigated by the fact that he is now “אונס”, acting under duress, but nevertheless he should realize his obligation to worry for the welfare of these children and work to assist them however possible in their homeschooling, or perhaps by assisting them to open new chadorim that will educate them.
[8] These schools outside NY appear to be using the reprehensible model of Crown Heights schools and the abovementioned doctor as their golden standard, adopting a halachically-indefensible policy that was designed by this doctor several years back, well before it ever became state law. This furthers underscores the grave responsibility that lies on the Crown Heights community and its leadership, or rather, its lack thereof.
[9] Devorim 24:16.
[10] Kidnappers
[11] As I was once told by our eldest child’s pediatrician when we were patients in the practice of the same Crown Heights doctor who allegedly committed this unspeakable act of mesirah. It was confirmed by countless other doctors since then.
[12] Who will stand up to defend Hashem’s only abode in this world, the only place He calls His own? The Rebbe once wept at farbrengen while speaking about the importance of chinuch al taharas hakodesh for all children. “After the churban beis hamikdash,” the Rebbe wept, “the only place He feels at home in His world is in the four cubits of pure Torah learning of Jewish children… and even this you wish to deprive Him of!?” (Simchas Torah 5715)
[13] Alter Rebbe’s Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:3
[14] Recall the shocking story from Jewish history in medieval France when Jewish opponents of the Rambam’s philosophical works burned his works in public, and then only nine short years later, the Catholics burned 24 wagonloads of gemaras on that precise location. Similarly, in our times, the Jewish community and its administrators abandoned some Jewish children and deprived them of an education, and now Jewish education of ALL children is in serious jeopardy. It’s truly shocking that people cannot see the eerie correlation of these two painful developments and fail to connect the dots.

Judaic Grounds to Decline Vaccination?

Background: the questioner is an ordained rabbi. He had previously petitioned his state legislature to abolish religious exemption, claiming that "there are no valid religious grounds to decline any vaccine." I countered that he has no jurisdiction to speak for anyone other than himself, and that there are indeed legitimate religious grounds to not comply with mandatory vaccine schedule. He then emailed me personally, and a correspondence ensured. 


If you defend religious exemption to mandatory vaccination and you are an orthodox Jewish rabbi, does that mean you reject the widely-held assumption that Judaism allows vaccination? And if so, do you then opine that whoever vaccinates their child is violating halacha? If so, please explain which halachic prohibition they are violating.


Judaism is not monolithic. There are different views, and that's okay. Jews can agree to disagree, and rabbis may do the same. However, we must respect every individual's rights to their own religious beliefs.

Before I list the precise prohibitions involved (in my opinion, at least), let me preface by stating that I am not necessarily anti-vaccine in principle, nor do I believe Judaism is either. However, I find strong Judaic basis to not comply with current mandatory vaccine schedule.

It is halachically prohibited to make a chavala (a wound) in oneself unless for a curative benefit to oneself. It is also forbidden to endanger oneself (or even expose oneself to a tiny risk unnecessarily) if not for curative benefit to oneself, i.e. to save oneself from a greater long-term danger. One may not expose oneself to danger even if it will bring some benefit to someone else, and certainly not to protect a so-called herd.

The nature of this prohibition is complicated and a brief email cannot possibly do it justice. Suffice it to say that mandatory vaccination is in serious conflict with halacha, since the mandatory schedule clearly includes vaccines which are medically unnecessary for many children, and have no curative or preventative benefit. I am referring to Hepatitis-B in particular, a disease that cannot be contracted by casual contact, but only through sexual intercourse or contaminated drug needles.

Indeed, those who vaccinate their children in full compliance with schedule may well in fact be violating halacha. As you noted, it depends on which vaccine and the degree of its alleged benefit to this child (versus risks of actual disease).

As to one who vaccinates himself solely in order to protect others who are immunocompromised etc, that may be considered laudatory and praiseworthy conduct, akin to one who donates a kidney in order to save the life of another. See footnote 5 of my previous blogpost

However, it is halachically dubious as to whether a parent may make this decision for his child, who is not old enough to choose for him/herself.

Of course, while donating a kidney is a wonderful and altruistic thing to do on part of the donor, it cannot be mandated, as halacha generally prohibits it, and only allows it for someone who wishes to go beyond the letter of the law to save someone else, what the Radvaz calls "ממדת חסידות," a measure of extra piety. Even if the risk factor is extremely low, a risk still exists. It's not just that halacha doesn't require kidney donation... it actually prohibits it as a general rule, but makes exceptions for pious individuals.

[Parenthetically, perhaps this may be compared to din in Laws of Yesodei Hatorah 5:4 where the Rambam rules "הרי זה מתחייב בנפשו" yet see Kesef Mishna regarding others who held that "צדקה תחשב לו", and moreover as Nimukei Yosef writes דאפילו לפי סברת רבינו אם הוא אדם גדול וחסיד ירא שמים ורואה שהדור פרוץ בכך רשאי etc. Surely the din remains the same, that such behavior is prohibited by the Jewish religion (even if there might be exceptions for יחידי סגולה etc.]

However, something is troubling about this entire discussion.

Your question to me was whether halacha prohibits vaccination.

With all due respect, that is the wrong question to ask.

Ask better: does halacha permit vaccination?

Vaccination (in most cases) requires a chavala, prohibited by Jewish law, Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 420:31.

The question must be asked, does halacha ever permit chavala?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ruled that one may receive an injection only when it is intended to heal him from an actual ailment. (Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 3:90).

Preventative measure (i.e. to prevent him from catching a disease in the first place) might be considered a valid reason as well, but only so long as the risk for disease is substantial (and the disease itself carries significant risks if he contracts it.) And even then, it is doubtful as to whether halacha would ever actually require preventative injection, since every injection carries its own risk (allergic reaction), even if it might encourage it. Furthermore, the CDC delineates a formidable list of possible side-effects for every single vaccine.

You asked about the mandatory vaccination schedule. As I mentioned above, there's at least one vaccine on that list for which its disease poses no risk to anyone's school-age child, and certainly not to any orthodox Jewish child: Hepatitis-B.
For this reason alone, I cannot see how any orthodox rabbi can possibly sanction mandatory vaccination policy.

It is an anathema to Jewish law, and a grave violation of the bodily autonomy of all Americans.

Even worse, it threatens to unjustly ban Jewish children from Talmud Torah, an unthinkable violation of our faith and the very reason our Holy Temple was destroyed! See Masechet Shabbat 119b.

Years ago, people would ask their rabbanim whether they may vaccinate.

No one ever needed to ask whether they may not vaccinate. That's obvious and requires no rabbinic imprimatur. No one may be stabbed with a needle against his will unless it's to save his life (as per Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 328:11).

Something has strangely hijacked the narrative in recent months and years.

Somehow, there is a false notion that everyone must vaccinate, and that special rabbinic dispensation is required in order to opt out.

This is false and without any halachic basis.

All rabbis who perpetuate this falsehood ought to take a sabbatical from their duties and reeducate themselves in authentic Jewish law by reviewing shas and poskim, sans any bias of contemporary prevalent attitudes.

Secular ideas like public health policy might have some hashkafic virtue, but are not factors in halacha.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter with you in person if you ever happen to be in Massachusetts. Happy to discuss by phone as well.
This is a serious matter that deserves every rabbi's utmost concern and objectivity.

There are other halachic issues that I haven't even touched on above. Also, there's lots to say on each vaccine individually. I hope to write on the topic of MMR and measles outbreak as well in the near future, and I'll gladly forward it to you once completed.

Wishing you a ktiva vchatima tova lshana tova umetuka
Michoel Green

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Bodily Autonomy and Halacha

Is bodily autonomy a Jewish value?

Freedom of movement and personal choice is at the very core of liberty. The verse etched on our Liberty Bell is a direct quote from Levitcus 25:10 – “You shall proclaim liberty throughout the land” (on the Jubilee year). “Liberty – דרור” is defined by Rashi to mean “one may live or dwell wherever he pleases and isn’t under the jurisdiction of others.” A Hebrew servant who wished to perpetuate his term of indentured servitude was to have his ear pierced by his master. A pierce to his body by the hands of another person was a symbol of his enslaved status and lack of autonomy.

In Torah, freedom and personal independence is a cherished ideal. “’The Children of Israel are Mine, they are My servants’ (said G-d) – and not servants of servants.”

However, the Torah clearly doesn’t advocate unmitigated bodily autonomy.

For starters, if you actively pursue another person to cause harm, you may be bodily restrained. Likewise, if you seek to physically assault, abduct, or inappropriately touch another person, your autonomy is not respected. By attempting to violate the bodily autonomy of another individual, your own autonomy no longer matters.

Of course, the abovementioned laws don’t contradict the paradigm of bodily autonomy. Instead, they augment it. By threatening to interfere with someone else’s bodily autonomy, you’ve temporarily surrendered your own.

[Parenthetically, your bodily autonomy may also be disregarded if you attempt to steal, rob, or trespass, i.e. if you threaten to violate the property of another individual. Perhaps that’s because one’s property or personal space is an extension of his/her own body. Consequently, you may be rightfully restrained or removed.]

Moreover, your personal autonomy may be suspended if you attempt to mortally harm yourself [2]. Judaism expects a bystander to interfere with your ability to do so. “Do not stand over your brother’s blood.” (Leviticus 19:16). Halacha similarly enjoins us to force-feed a person who is refusing to eat, in a situation where his not eating is directly jeopardizing his life, as advised by expert medical advice.

However, here it gets a bit tricky. Someone’s autonomy may not be violated unless the mortal risk to this individual is real and unambiguous. The medical expert must clinically observe the patient and determine that the patient is in fact ill. Further, the physician must diagnose the illness, and must confirm reasonable possibility that lack of nutrition might aggravate the patient’s condition [3]. Mere speculation is insufficient.

Force-medicating is similar to force-feeding, provided that a medical expert has diagnosed patient with known life-threatening condition and prescribes a particular curative medicine or therapy. [4]

However, here lies an important distinction. If the medical expert prescribes a procedure that also carries risks of its own, the patient has autonomy to decline, depending on the degree of risk versus benefit

Likewise, a person has autonomy to decide whether to undergo a procedure that will safeguard someone else’s life, even if the risk to himself is minimal and the life-saving benefit to the other is certain.

For example, while it might be laudatory to donate one’s kidney or bone marrow to save another’s life, since there is some risk involved, even if just minimal risk, it must be the choice of the donor. We may not violate someone’s autonomy to save someone else’s life if there exists the slightest risk to the former. [5]

Consequently, halacha does not sanction the violation of personal autonomy by mandating vaccination. Firstly, the individual is healthy and is in no present danger. There is no precedent in halacha for coercing preventative medicinal measures. Secondly, every incision or hypodermic/subcutaneous puncture carries a risk, such as allergic or anaphylactic reaction. Furthermore, each particular vaccine carries risks of its own, including severe injury or death. This is an undisputed fact. Even if the risk is minimal, since there is a risk there must be a choice, unless the case can be made that this presently-healthy individual is in serious risk of contracting and succumbing to a prevalent disease that this vaccine may effectively prevent.

What is the risk factor that might justify overriding the patient’s autonomy is this regard?

Halacha prohibits killing spiders on Shabbos, even though there is one-out-of-a-thousand chance someone might be endangered by the spider falling into his food [6]. Apparently, one out of a thousand is insufficient risk.

On the other hand, one in a thousand is considered sufficient risk elsewhere in laws of Shabbos:

Childbirth is considered a potentially-life-threatening situation. Consequently, we may violate Shabbos for the needs of a birthing mother. However, since the mortality rate is “less than one in a thousand,”[7] our sages were strict and required us to avoid Biblically-prohibited labors on her behalf, but to endeavor to do these labors in an unusual manner that isn’t Biblically prohibited.

Surely if our sages were uneasy concerning Shabbos violation, how much more so we ought to be uneasy with regard to violating the autonomy of the birthing mother by forcing her to accept assistance that she has declined.*

However, if no alternative, the labor may be performed the regular way too. Even less than one in a thousand is considered sufficient risk to override Shabbos. How do we reconcile this law with the apparent contradiction from the law against killing spiders?

It’s quite simple. The spider hasn’t even fallen into the food yet. It’s crawling around elsewhere. One may not kill it, since even in event it falls into the food, the risk factor would be a mere one in a thousand. Conversely, a birthing mother is presently experiencing a condition which can potentially result in death, even in less than one in a thousand, but that present condition allows us to violate Shabbos on her behalf.

The takeaway: if it is indeed true that measles has a mortality rate of 1/1000, it would certainly justify violating Shabbos (and violating patient’s bodily autonomy if called for) once the patient presents with measles! If the individual is healthy, then the potential risk of 1/1000 in the possible event that he might contract measles does NOT constitute valid grounds for violating Shabbos, and certainly not his personal autonomy. Clearly, a healthy individual may decline measles vaccine, since a) he is in no present danger, b) he presently poses no danger to anyone else, and c) there is some risk involved in receiving the injection, even if minimal.

“Public health policy” and “herd immunity” are not factors in halacha, so there is no compelling reason to sanction coercing patient to vaccinate in order to protect others from theoretical disease that he might be more prone to contract and spread based on statistical speculation. 

While it is certainly laudatory for an individual to vaccinate out of concern for others more vulnerable in the community, it cannot be mandated. To do so would be a grave violation of the bodily autonomy of those who do not wish to subject themselves to the needle wound and injection that the vaccine entails.

A few more parting thoughts on autonomy:

The Torah prohibits self-inflicted gashes, tattoos, mutilation, castration, or striking oneself in any way [8]. It does not respect the individual’s right to choose in this regard. Judaism sees the body as on loan from the Creator. Your body is not your own but has been entrusted to you for the duration of your life. You are enjoined to return it intact and without blemish. That’s why the Torah exhorts us “Guard your souls exceedingly well.” [9] We have been granted autonomy to safeguard our body and protect it from unnecessary gashes, wounds, and needle stabs.

The Torah commands us to circumcise our male children on their eighth day of life. The child’s bodily autonomy is not respected in this regard, so we don’t need to wait until he’s an adult to ask his permission. Generally speaking, though, the autonomy of children is entrusted to their parents. That’s why a child cannot go where he pleases and must submit to his parents’ guardianship. This is because a  child is not old enough to live independently. Autonomy is commensurate to independence. However, the child does have a degree of autonomy. No one may inappropriately touch, harm or endanger the child, not even his parent.

If circumcision indeed caused actual harm to child, there would be grounds for the state to interfere and protect the child’s autonomy. However, since Jewish circumcision has been observed for millennia with no known adverse effects, and when performed by a competent mohel, is a benign cosmetic surgery with religious significance, the parents’ wishes must be respected. [FGM, on the other hand, has well-established long-term adverse effects on its victims. As such, state has an obligation to protect children from this harmful practice.]

Once the child reaches a certain age, he may no longer be circumcised without his own consent. An adult male may NOT be circumcised against his will, even in ancient times. Moreover, in ancient times when institution of slavery existed, a Jew was not permitted to own a slave who wasn’t circumcised, but he could NOT circumcise a slave against the latter’s will [10].

Parents may presumably pierce their child’s ear even though she’s not old enough to choose to do so herself since there is cosmetic value and no known risks.

In conclusion, our body belongs to G-d, but He entrusts us with bodily autonomy that we must cherish and safeguard. [11]

In a purely-halachic state, vaccination would most definitely not have been enforced, not even during an outbreak. How much more so in a non-halachic state, we must defend bodily autonomy at all costs. No one may be medicated or vaccinated against their will. A child cannot be vaccinated against his parents’ will. 

Similarly, we may not quarantine or banish a healthy individual from the public simply for not submitting to state’s vaccine schedule. That is also a violation of his autonomy and freedom of movement [12].

We cannot afford to tolerate such tyranny. There’s too much at stake.

End mandatory vaccination.

May freedom prevail.

[1] Leviticus 25:55. Bava Metzia 10a.
[2] Likewise, the Sanhedrin cannot convict a person of a crime punishable by corporal or capital punishment just by his own admission, since a person has no true ownership of his body and lacks autonomy to cause himself bodily harm. See Radvaz on Mishneh Torah, Laws of Sanhedrin, 18:6. Conversely, he is believed with regard to monetary matters, since a person has true ownership of his assets and may cede or destroy them if he wishes. However, see Shulchan Aruch Harav, Choshen Mishpat, Laws of Shmiras Guf v’Nefesh, 14, that it is forbidden to destroy one’s assets wastefully because of Biblical prohibition, “You shall not chop down its tree” (Deut 20:9). In Likutei Sichos vol. 34, page 106-106, the Rebbe points out obvious distinction between the prohibition to cause bodily harm versus causing monetary destruction. In the former, one has no permission to do so to begin with since his body is not his own possession. Monetary assets are his own possession, and technically is entitled to destroy them, were it not for a Biblical commandment bidding him not to. This doesn’t contradict tenet that all belongs to G-d, as explained below.
[3] Shulchan 6 Harav Orach Chayim 618:2, 12 והנסמן שם.
[4] Ibid 328:11.
[5] Radvaz in Responsa 3:625. Cited in Pischei Teshuva, Yoreh Deah 157:15
[6] Shulchan Aruch Harav Orach Chayim 316:23.
[7] Ibid 330:1.
[8] Likewise, it’s categorically forbidden to strike one’s fellow, even if the latter had given permission or requested it, since a person has no jurisdiction to inflict harm on himself. Mishna, Bava Kama 90b. See Shulchan Aruch Harav, Choshen Mishpat, Laws of Nizkei Guf v’Nefesh, 4.
[9] Deuteronomy 4:15. Note “your souls” plural. This indicates that each individual is enjoined to safeguard his own personal health and the health of his children for whom he is responsible, not necessarily the ‘health’ of a community. Of course, all Jews bear mutual responsibility for one another (Sanhedrin 27b), but the health of others in no way supersedes explicit Biblical obligation to safeguard his own health. “Your life comes first” (Bava Metzia 62a).
[10] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Milah 1:6. Instead, he was required to sell or emancipate a slave who refused to be circumcised.
[11] See Berachos 35b, that although “the world and all that fills it belongs (exclusively) to G-d” (Tehilim 24:1), nevertheless “He gave the earth to the children of man” (Ibid 115:16). He entrusted it with us to safeguard, but unless we acknowledge and bless our Creator, even eating and drinking would have been forbidden.
[12] Of course, a patient with diagnosed contagious illness who poses present and actual risk to others may be quarantined, since his free movement is directly endangering others, as explained above. However, the "present and actual risk" would need to have been demonstrated empirically and incontrovertibly before any quarantine measure could be justified. Mere statistical conjecture is insufficient.
* Regarding maternity and bodily autonomy, it must be pointed out that a pregnant woman who wishes to give birth at home must be respected as well, as long as she’s assisted by a competent midwife. Even if there are certain risks involved with giving birth outside a hospital without its modern lifesaving measures, there are also inherent risks in giving birth in hospitals, like increased rate of unnecessary c-section, episiotomy, sleep-deprivation, contagions, etc, risks that don’t exist when giving birth at home. As such, a mother’s autonomy must be honored, and insurance companies ought to be required to cover home births. If the woman has a diagnosed condition that presents actual risk, a risk that increases by giving birth outside of a medical facility, then it may be different. Each case ought to be individually considered, and not viewed in a statistical context of “public health.”