Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Don't Misrepresent the Rebbe's Words!

Recently I read an article on Chabad.org that examined the Rebbe's position on vaccines. I was shocked to discover an excerpt from a sicha that was subtly altered. Naturally I notified the editor at once. The editor replied that they had merely copied the story as it appeared in a recently published book, "Mind over Matter," page 322 (or 328 in older version). While I do not know who is responsible for this grave error in translation, I feel obligated to publicize it here for all to read. This was no small oversight, but appears to be deliberate misrepresentation of the Rebbe's opinion on measles and its vaccine.

Beware agenda-driven translations.
Shockingly, an excerpt from a sicha of the Rebbe that has been circulating online (on Chabad.org and elsewhere) appears to have been doctored.

A Jew visited me recently, and we discussed education. He told me that statistics have shown that a bad education harms only 5 percent of children.
I asked him if he vaccinated his children for measles, polio [1], etc. He replied: “Of course! We are parents!”
“Do you know what percentage of children who do not receive the vaccine actually contract the disease?” I asked. He happened to know the statistic—less than 3 or 4 percent. In other words, even for a possibility of 4 percent, and especially in these countries where these diseases are even more rare, it is still worthwhile to vaccinate [2], with all of the pain, etc., that it causes. Why?
“Who cares about those minor inconveniences, as compared to what possibly could happen without vaccinating?” he responded.
I said to him: “If for a doubt of 4 percent it is worth causing the child pain, enduring the child’s screaming and all the other effects of the vaccination [1], just to avoid the disease—even though for the most part [3] there is not even a possibility of any life danger, but rather just severe [4] discomfort for some time—how much more so is it worthwhile to ensure the health of the child’s soul, where the doubt is 5 percent, and where the vaccine does not cause any pain. All that is required is to sign the child up for studies in a Torah-true educational facility! This action will affect his entire life!”
This translation is fraught with errors:

1) In the original transcript, the Rebbe never mentioned polio, but only measles and small pox. The side-effects he mentioned were redness, rash, itching, and possible fever.

2) The Rebbe did not exactly state that "it is still worthwhile to vaccinate." Instead, he said: "It's worth it all the itching, redness, light pain that one endures when getting the vaccination."

3) The Rebbe did not say "for the most part." Instead, he said unequivocally that there is no mortal risk.

4) The word "severe" does not appear in the transcript. The original reads: "Even though there is no mortal risk, but rather just discomfort for a few weeks."

The story was said at the farbrengen of Shabbos Parshas Shoftim in the summer of 1981*. Here is the original yiddish of the relevant sentences:
קומט אויס, אז צוליב א ספק פון 4%, ובפרט נאך במדינות אלו וואס דער גאנצער ענין איז א דבר בלתי רגיל -- איז כדאי דער קראצן און די רויטקייט און כאב קל וואס מ'באקומט בשעת מ'מאכט די איינשפריצונג. האט ער מיר געזאגט במה נחשב הוא די אלע זאכן לגבי דעם וואס קען ארויסקומען בספק הכי גדול אויב מ'וועט ניט מאכן די איינשפריצונג
האב איך אים געזאגט, מה-דאך אז צוליב א ספק פון 4% איז כדאי דער קראצונג און די רויטקייק און כאב, און דערצו שרייט נאך דער קינד, און עס קען נאך זיין א ווארעמקייט -- אבי באווארענען פון דעם ענין פון היפך הבריאות, אע"פ אז דאס איז ניט קיין סכנת נפשות, דאס איז נאר אן אומבאקוועמליכקייט פאר א פאר וואכן

This adaption is very serious.

The Rebbe stated unambiguously that measles poses no mortal risk to a child. He said the only consequence is a few weeks of discomfort. Not "severe discomfort."

Not only do these added words not appear in the transcript, they make no sense at all. If the Rebbe had conceded a mortal risk, even in a minority of cases, then there is no kal v'chomer comparison to Jewish education. If there were even a slightest mortal risk to child from getting measles, there is no question that vaccination is imperative. Pikuach nefesh is paramount in Jewish law.

Severe discomfort or pain would have been a compelling reason to vaccinate too. Certain laws of shabbos are suspended when there is severe pain. This arguably would have rendered vaccination as the more serious chomer as well. No convincing argument could have been made in support of Jewish education.

No, of course he didn't acknowledge any risk to child's life, nor did he recognize any severe degree of discomfort.
The Rebbe was minimizing the sense of urgency to vaccinate for measles. A childhood case of measles merely entails discomfort for a few weeks with no mortal risk.
This sicha makes it clear that the Rebbe saw no medical imperative to vaccinate for measles, but just convenience and sound preventative advice. Surely he saw no moral obligation to vaccinate for so-called "herd immunity" either.

Misrepresenting the Rebbe's words to conform with public opinion -- even "mainstream medical opinion" -- is unbecoming for Chabad.org, or for any chassid.

While I appreciate the vital work that Chabad.org does in disseminating the Rebbe's teachings, promoting such doctored translations is simply unacceptable.

I have no choice but to publicly challenge the apparent political agenda behind this falsification. It's a reckless agenda that threatens to seize parental rights over their own children's well-being. It's also an assault on our civil liberties.

Ironically, the Rebbe's entire talk was devoted to insisting that every Jewish child be entitled to attend a Jewish school. The Rebbe NEVER suggested that unvaccinated children have no such entitlement.

I call upon Chabad.org to publish an article demanding that every Jewish child be welcome in every Jewish school, irrespective of his/her vaccine record.

At the very least, I hope that the folks at Chabad.org will make the necessary edits to this story. If they do, I'll gladly update this post.

* Sefer Hisvaaduyos 5741, volume 4, page 598-599.


Anonymous said...

Yet, people do die of measles. But that is between the individual, his rav and mashpia, and child's school.

That said, I agree that liberties should never be taken with the Rebbe's words. The rabbis at chabad.org have an obligation to verify anything said in the Rebbe's name from the original. They should also verify that any opinions given on societal, medical, or political issues be verified to be directly grounded by the Rebbe himself with no speculative extrapulation. I do not believe they are careful on either at the present time.

Rabbi Michoel Green said...

Dear Anonymous, thank you for your comment. Yes,"people" might die of measles, but the Rebbe was specifically addressing this person's school-age child. Clearly the Rebbe precluded the possibility of mortal risk for this child, but not necessarily for others, like elderly, malnourished indigents, or those in distant lands where measles might pose a risk for children too. What emerges from the Rebbe's talk is a self-evident truth: "herd immunity" is NOT a Torah value. We are not required to medicate a child in order to protect someone else (or even a so-called herd) from risk, but only if it's for his/her own medical benefit. In this case, not catching measles is a benefit for this child, since s/he'll thereby avoid a few weeks of discomfort. However, it is NOT a moral obligation NOR is it a medical imperative. Just sound medical advice. Surely the Rebbe would NEVER tolerate banning unvaccinated children from receiving a Torah education! Shomu shomayim.

chaimyv said...

perhaps it would be worthwhile to write something about it, or how you clarified the Rebbes position, in the comments of that article, I think many more would read it and be more informed

chaimyv said...

don't you think it's worthwhile?

Rabbi Michoel Green said...

good idea. will try to get to it

Monish said...

I'm wondering how you would address the language the Rebbe uses in this letter: