Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Exposing Lies, Part II


Part I addressed the numerous lies that are frequently repeated by proponents of mandatory vaccine policy.

Today let's expose misconceptions prevalent in the orthodox Jewish world, and Lubavitch in particular.

Let's start with Lie #1:
  • "All contemporary poskim support the vaccine policy."
This is patently false. In fact, it is the exact opposite. There is not one single posek who supports current vaccine policy. Not one. 

Certain rabbis from Israel and abroad have ruled that one ought to vaccinate for measles, and certain others have endorsed several other shots. Not one ever endorsed current policy that includes hepatitis B, and will likely include HPV and flu shots in the near future. Not only has no rav ever endorsed current policy, none have ever written responsa permitting an orthodox Jewish parent to give their child the hep-b vaccine.

So the reality is the opposite. No contemporary poskim support the mandatory vaccine policy.

  • "All the gedolim instructed their adherents to get vaccinated."
False. Numerous gedolim have respected parental choice on this matter. Some of our nation's most prominent gedolim recently urged lawmakers to uphold religious exemption.[1]

  • "A child may be barred from school if he isn't vaccinated, since he is endangering others."
This is insidiously untrue. A healthy unvaccinated child endangers nobody. It is forbidden to prevent a healthy child from learning Torah with his peers. Moreover, such a draconian policy causes the entire community to be remiss in its halachic obligation to provide schools that will educate all its local schoolchildren. Such errant communities are deserving of excommunication.[2]

  • "A yeshiva or synagogue is entitled to decide its own policies."

False. Yeshivos, schools and shuls are not private enterprises, but exist to service their local population. Consequently, they must welcome all Jews, irrespective of medical choices, and may not discriminate. Synagogues may not bar Jews either. Doing so would transgress the prohibition of "לא תתגודדו: לא תעשו אגודות אגודות. Do not divide your community into agudos agudos," i.e. do not make divisions among Jews of your local community that forces them into different factions that are at odds with one another.[3]

Schools which have such exclusionary policies are no longer "community schools," but private businesses that exist to serve an exclusive clique. As such, they are not entitled to be seen as charitable institutions, and have no business raising funds from their local community whose children they have cynically neglected.

Shuls and mikvaos that adopt such draconian policies should be shut down, or at least let them acknowledge that they are not orthodox since they operate in violation of normative halacha. It's no different than if they'd decide to remove their mechitza. Actually, it's worse.

  • "Jewish camps are entitled to set policies that protect all their children and staff, so unvaccinated children may be excluded."

Incorrect. Jewish camps aren't private daycare centers, but operate with the stated purpose to educate Jewish children during summer months. Education isn't exclusive. It must be offered to all Jewish children without exception.

Furthermore, a healthy unvaccinated child poses no risk to anyone in camp unless s/he was exposed to a contagious disease during an outbreak.

  • "Stop complaining about your kid not being allowed in school (because of vaccines). Don't make your kid my problem."
This bizarre sentiment is so thoroughly un-Jewish, it's hard to fathom that any self-respecting Jew (let alone rabbi) could utter such unspeakable words. "כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה -- all Israel is mutually responsible for one another."[4]

In addition, all Jews have a communal responsibility to provide Torah teachers for all the children of their city.[5] This obligation is paramount. Failure to comply resulted in excommunication or worse.[2]

Even one single child out of school in your community is YOUR problem. YOU are remiss. If you can't find the time to worry about this serious problem, then move away and find another community in which all children are deemed entitled to a Jewish education.

Don't counter: "עזוב תעזב עמו -- I'm only required to help you if you help yourself, so go get your kid vaccinated." This isn't accurate either. Getting a child vaccinated isn't a halachically-sound prerequisite to learning Torah. It's unreasonable to demand a child be vaccinated in order to attend chumash class, so yes, we are all remiss if a child is excluded from school for unjust reasons.

  • "The Rebbe encouraged vaccination."
True, but that statement requires qualification. In fact, the Rebbe was somewhat ambivalent about vaccines. With regard to the polio vaccine, he encouraged it with the caveat that the particular shot and manufacturer should be known to be safe with no injurious side effects.
Such is not the case anymore in the US where hundreds of cases of vaccine injury are reported each year, from every known vaccine on the market. Moreover, the Rebbe held this view back in the fifties, sixties, seventies and up until the mid-eighties, when vaccine companies were still held accountable for vaccine injuries. In the fall of 1986, congress passed a law protecting vaccine manufacturers from lawsuit. Consequently, there is no recourse for side-effects suffered from any vaccine. Not surprisingly, no one has reported any endorsement from the Rebbe of any vaccine since the summer of '86, in public or in private.

Furthermore, the Rebbe encouraged vaccination for polio, a disease that posed great threat to children at that time period. When other vaccines were added, the Rebbe approved, but refrained from telling anyone that they were obligated to get them. In the summer of 1981, the Rebbe spoke lightly of many parents' sense of urgency to vaccinate for measles:

"If for a doubt of 4 percent [of catching measles if not vaccinated], it is worth causing the child pain, screaming, itching, redness and possibly fever, just to avoid the disease—even though there is no mortal risk, but rather just discomfort for a few weeks—how much more so is it worthwhile to ensure the health of the child’s soul...(and enroll child in a Jewish school etc.)” [6]
So while he approved of vaccinating children for measles, the Rebbe saw no medical imperative to do so, but just for convenience sake and sound preventative advice. Clearly he saw no moral obligation to vaccinate for so-called "herd immunity" either. 

In another letter, the Rebbe added that one "ought not separate oneself from the community" (אל תפרוש מן הציבור), so if the majority of children in the class are vaccinated, then vaccination is indeed advisable. The concept of not separating oneself from the community is not halachically-binding per se, but rather a matter of laudatory piety (לפנים משורת הדין). Surely this factor is irrelevant if a parent is concerned over documented health risks or side effects associated with any given vaccine.

To summarize, the Rebbe only approved of vaccination if the particular shot (and its manufacturer) is categorically safe with no reported injuries. No such vaccine exists in current times. Furthermore, he only expressed approval for polio, measles, and small pox vaccines, certainly not for STD's like hepatitis B. He did not declare vaccination a moral and binding obligation, but merely recommended it as proper and advisable, since it aims to benefit your child. He never endorsed "herd immunity." Most importantly, he never suggested that a child not be allowed to attend school or camp if not fully vaccinated! In the same letter in which he advised to follow majority practice, he acknowledged a minority of the student body that may choose not to vaccinate.

  • "The Rebbe's words are eternal, חי וקיים. If he approved of vaccination for thirty years (from 1956-1986), then shouldn't a chassid believe that this approval applies to all vaccines of all times?"
No, not at all. His approval of vaccination was not accross the board or absolute by any means. It was always contingent on their safety. His responses dealt with the specific vaccines of particular time and places.

There were numerous examples of matters concerning which the Rebbe gave advice or directives that pertained to a specific time period, and after a while, when circumstances changed, became non-applicable. The Rebbe's general approval of the concept of vaccination, and his endorsement of specific vaccines in certain time periods, cannot be misconstrued as an unconditional hechsher to all vaccines of all times.

Which instructions of the Rebbe are eternal, חי וקים? His directive to enable every Jewish child to attend Jewish schools, yeshivos, and camps.

In the sicha cited above[6], the Rebbe drew a kal v'chomer from a parent's urgency to vaccinate for measles. If for something so non-obligatory like the measles vaccine one feels obliged, how much more so are we obliged to ensure that every Jewish child attend a Jewish school and receive an authentic Torah education.

That directive is eternal and ever-relevant. It applies in all times, all places, and for all Jewish children, irrespective of vaccine records.
  • "Halacha instructs us to listen to doctors."
False. Halacha acknowledges the expertise of doctors and relies on their testimony concerning a metzius (reality). For example: Is this patient ill? What is his diagnosis? May his condition worsen as a result of fasting?  These are questions which doctors are qualified to answer.

Halacha does not defer to doctors for moral decisions. For example, the reason a sick person eats on Yom Kippur is not because a doctor said so, but because halacha says he should eat if an expert physician diagnosed his condition and said that eating might cause danger.

Here too, a doctor might testify about the risk and prevalence of a particular disease, and about how that risk is mitigated by vaccinating. However, since the vaccine also entails a risk (concerning which most doctors lack experience or training), the decision whether to vaccinate or not is a moral one. The doctor cannot make that decision for his patient. Furthermore, a doctor might testify about efficacy of herd immunity from preventing an outbreak of disease in a given population, but that still does not mean that the Jew is now morally obligated to vaccinate. This decision is a moral one, and only halacha or a rav moreh hora'ah may dictate moral obligation.

In this case, halacha does not recognize the value of herd immunity. Instead, halacha defers to the patient himself in consultation with medical experts, to deliberate and compare risk to benefit to his own body, not to the so-called herd.

  • "Halacha instructs us to follow a majority of doctors."
False. Halacha instructs us to follow the expert who has experience diagnosing the specific condition in question[7]. Numeric majorities are irrelevant. Here, we are discussing vaccine injury. The vast majority of physicians have no experience researching and diagnosing vaccine injury, and those who do often advise against vaccination.
  • "There's nothing halachically wrong with making use of human cell lines in vaccines. The aborted fetuses presumably weren't Jewish."
False. It is forbidden to derive benefit from a non-Jewish cadaver as well[8]. Worse, using the vaccine means paying the manufacturer for it, effectively compensating the perpetrator for the abortions he committed in order to produce the cell line included in that vaccine. Furthermore, the tissue was harvested via water bag method, i.e. live dissection, which involves excessive cruelty. Lastly, new human cell lines are being developed all the time. "Water bag method" abortions have been documented as recently as 2016. By using these vaccines (i.e. MMR, varicella, hep-A, zostavax, polio), one is supporting and helping to perpetuate this practice.[9]

  • "It's okay to use aborted humans for this purpose since it's saving lives."
Wrong. A vaccine doesn't save lives. It decreases a person's chance of catching a disease in the first place, which might prevent future risk. This distinction is critical. A patient who needs a heart transplant is in mortal danger right now. Poskim permit him to receive a heart transplant -- even though the donor is euthanized while heart is harvested -- since the donor would have been euthanized regardless. The logic is, since the donor was going to die anyway for another recipient, this patient suffering heart failure might as well benefit and save his life in the process. Conversely, a vaccine is saving no one's life at present. Consequently, we may NOT benefit from killing of a human fetus now in order to prevent potential disease in the future.[10] 

In contemporary times, the practice of abortion in medical research and production of human cell lines is rampant. As orthodox Jews, we cannot be party to this horrific practice. Moreover, we are obligated to teach the Seven Noahide Laws to our non-Jewish neighbors. For Noahides, abortion is murder, and these practices are all categorically forbidden. It is our obligation as Jews to teach these laws to others.

This is not a psak din, but merely pointing out the obvious, that the use of aborted fetal tissue in the production of vaccines is highly problematic from a halachic point of view. As such, there are strong religious grounds to decline these vaccines. Perhaps some might find grounds to be lenient, but they'd be the exception and not the rule.

  • "As a parent, I am responsible to my community to ensure that dangerous diseases don't make a comeback."
False. As a parent, you are responsible to protect your child from harm. You may not expose your child to risk even if it's to supposedly benefit your community.

However, you are responsible toward your community to ensure that every single Jewish child be provided an authentic Torah education. Your entire community shares this grave responsibility.  If it is remiss in this holy obligation, it is better if the community didn't exist altogether.[2] ומכלל לאו אתה שומע הן -- from the negative we may infer positive: the only reason your community exists as a Jewish community is to ensure a Torah education to all its local Jewish children.

Let's start living up to that responsibility.

[1] See recent letter by nation's largest rabbinical college, Beis Midrash Govoha in Lakewood, NJ. See also 54-page "Gedolim Letters on Vaccination, Parental Rights, and Religious Freedom." Available upon request.
[2] Shabbos 119b. Hilchos Talmud Torah (Rambam), 2:1.
[3] Yevamos 14a, based on Devarim 14:1.
[4] Sifra, Bechukosai 7:5.
[5] Bava Basra 21a. Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:3 (of the Baal HaTanya v'hashulchan aruch).
[6] Hisvaaduyos 5741 volume 4, p. 598-599.
[7] Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 618:9.
[8] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 349:1. See also Mishne Halachos, mador hateshuvos, 6:203, prohibiting nivul hameis even if it's to save a future life. See also Mahadura tinyono, 2:253.
[9] Not only is this a violation of לפני עור לא תתן מכשול, it is effectively becoming an accomplice to the abortion itself, akin to השוכר הורג להרוג etc.
[10] See Mishne Halachos cited in footnote 6 regarding nivul hameis.

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