November 18, 2019

Why Vaccinations are Kosher and Required

Let’s face it. Sometimes you can deny certain established scientific truths and it does not make much difference. You can, for instance, believe that the Earth was created about 6,000 years ago and life as we know it will still go on. OK, maybe “>Annie always reminds us, “the sun’ll come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar, that tomorrow there’ll be sun.”

If, however, you deny the safety and efficacy of approved medical vaccinations designed to prevent harmful, debilitating, even deadly diseases, such as polio, measles, hepatitis and tetanus, your belief may well make a great deal of difference to you, your family, your community and, indeed, all of humanity.

And yet, there are those who for a variety of reasons refuse to inoculate themselves or their children, or both, even when established governmental authorities require such action. Political orientation is not a predicable marker of attitudes towards vaccinations, however, as “>discovered one day.

Similarly, while it is tempting to stereotype all such persons as undereducated or acting out of ignorance, the situation is not so simple. Aside from the rare case based on the medical condition of the child, some people object to a “>here and “>Jewcology is a website that aims to be a resource for the “entire Jewish-environmental community.” One of the blogs that Jewcology hosts is written by “>“Water Fluoridation and Vaccinations are contrary to Torah principles.” Bratman’s diatribe is filled with so many erroneous statements that one is tempted to let this dog lie and hope that it gets lost in the tangle that is the World Wide Web.  The problem, however, is that people visit the Jewcology site and several hundred of them have already indicated that they “like” the anti-vaccination post. While undoubtedly some people get their kicks from clicks, and will “like” anything, one cannot discount the possibility that some readers actually believe the nonsense contained in the piece.

Moreover, Jewish tradition teaches that we may not exploit our neighbors by placing a stumbling block in their path, neither may we stand idly by the blood of our neighbor. (See Lev. 19:14, 16.) To the contrary, we are obligated to remove the impediment, to protect the neighbor. So let’s remove this particular stumbling block, piece by piece. Let’s set the record straight.

Bratman’s post asserts three main arguments in opposition to vaccinations. The first is that they don’t work, that the benefits are “unclear and unproven.” The second and third relate to Jewish law. Bratman argues that vaccines are treif, that is, they contain ingredients forbidden to observant Jews, and also that their use violates the primary Jewish principle of pikuach nefesh, the preservation of life. None of the arguments is supported by any credible authority. The first is contrary to well established and documented medical science. The second and third thoroughly misstate Jewish tradition, as understood by a broad spectrum of scholars.

Vaccination Programs are Indisputably Safe and Effective

As explained by the U.S. “>vaccine is a chemical compound that contains a “killed or weakened infectious organism” that is then administered to a human being in order to prevent a disease. The diseases for which vaccines are administered include measles, mumps, pertussis (whooping cough), hepatitis, and smallpox, among more than a dozen. If you are not familiar with one or more of these diseases, thank a vaccination program.

According to the “>vaccines work because they stimulate the human immune system to attack the invading microbes present in the vaccine. That is, they simulate a disease and trick the body into fighting it resulting in immunity to the real disease.

When introduced into a community, vaccination programs have been extraordinarily successful in preventing cases of disease and related consequences. The “>here.)

Time after time, the demonstrated facts are that vaccines work. Moreover, if enough people in a particular community are vaccinated, a process known as “>here and “>we have seen a resurgence of diseases like measles, mumps and whooping cough, that some thought were contained if not eradicated. These outbreaks typically occur in close communities whose members fail to act vigilantly to secure comprehensive compliance with vaccination programs. In 2013, for instance, “>investigation found that 97% of the case patients were Orthodox Jews.

Even more recently, measles has spread to upper Manhattan and the Bronx and has been reported in other areas around Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles. “>here.)

Accepting a non-oral administration of a vaccine with “treif ingredients” is not prohibited.

Referring to certain ingredients found in vaccines, Bratman asserts that for anyone who takes “>list of ingredients contained in those vaccines, as well as ingredients used in the manufacturing process but removed or remaining only in trace amounts.  There is no doubt that some formulations of certain vaccines contain products that, if consumed, would possibly or certainly be considered treif by most authorities. These include not only chick embryo cell cultures and bovine muscle tissue, but such items as Vero (monkey kidney) cells, Madin Darby Canine Kidney (MDCK) cell protein, hydrolyzed porcine gelatin, embryonic guinea pig cell cultures, and human diploid cells such as lung fibroblasts.

For many, whether those items are more or less appetizing than other ingredients like formaldehyde, thimerosal, hexadecyltrimethylammonium bromide and sodium taurodeoxycholate is a matter of, well, taste. But the question here is whether they are treif when received by way of inoculation or spray or some other non-oral application.

Israeli Orthodox Torah scholar “>summarizes the legal situation as follows: “There is no prohibition in using medicines which contain forbidden ingredients if they are administered by injection, suppository, enema, medicated bandage, and the like, since they are not eaten.” Bratman seems to have missed that distinction.

The general principle announced by Rabbi Samson received specific application last year in the United Kingdom, when “>Rabbi Abraham Adler from the Kashrus and Medicines Information Service “>Rabbi Yehuda Brodie, registrar of the Manchester Beth Din, “>Mishna and the Talmud. The rudimentary understandings of the great twelfth century physician scholar “>Joseph Caro’s mid-sixteenth century restatement of Jewish law, reaffirms that there is a religious obligation to take affirmative steps to prevent an anticipated danger to oneself or to others. (See Shulchan Aruch, “>Edward Jenner introduced the first effective vaccine against smallpox in England in 1796. In Eastern Europe, the Chassidic master “>here (14/31).) Sadly, in 1810, Rabbi Nachman died at age 38 of tuberculosis, a century and a half before the development of a TB vaccine.

More recently, the Reform and Conservative movements in the United States have issued formal commentaries on the issue of vaccination. The Reform analysis was published in 1999 by the Responsa Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (“CCAR”), “>Rabbi Joseph Prouser. It begins with a review of state immunization mandates and various objections to vaccinations. In its review of Jewish law, not surprisingly, it places a greater emphasis on a larger number and wider variety of traditional sources than did the CCAR. The results were, however, the same.

Prouser’s review of halachic literature begins with the telling observation that “(e)nthusiastic halachic support for immunization protocols emerged even before” Jenner’s development of a smallpox vaccine, at a time when the best practice, called variolation, consisted of deliberately infecting patients with smallpox or cowpox. While the risk of contracting the disease from that technique was about one in a thousand, at that time such a risk was considered negligible, especially given the potential benefit.  (See Statement, at 12/31.)

The analysis also references three contemporary Orthodox authorities, each with a different, though consistent approach. One argues that society has a right to compel “life-sustaining treatment” even when a parent is opposed to it and even when that opposition is religiously motivated. Another supports vaccinations mandated by the state under the principle of Dina d’Malchuta Dina, that is, the law of the land is the law. A third finds that the laws of Shabbat may be set aside in order to avoid a “life-threatening situation.” (See Id. at 15/31.)    

The conclusion, based on hundreds of years of experience with vaccinations, is clear to Prouser. There is a “well established preference for preventive medicine as a religious mandate.” (Id. at 15-16/29.) Consequently, “(u)nless medically contraindicated for specific children, in extraordinary and compelling cases, parents have an unambiguous religious obligation to have their children immunized against infectious disease.” By doing so, parents fulfill a “religious obligation to remove hazardous conditions which imperil the public’s health and safety.” Conversely, failure to do so is “a serious, compound violation of Jewish Law . . . .” (Id. at 29/31.)

And let’s not forget the Reconstructionists. Concerning a theoretical decision by parents to avoid vaccinating their children, “>fourteen million Jews on this planet. And we cannot afford to lose a single one to a preventable disease. As Rabbi Prouser reminds us, in prior times, in places where Jewish law governed, those who endangered the health and well-being of the community could be lashed or excommunicated. (See Statement, at 22-25/31.) In America today, lashing and excommunication are not likely, or even desirable, remedies to achieve compliance with Jewish norms. But we can still speak, and still insist: For the sake of the children and in the interest of the Jewish People, Mr. Bratman, take down that post!

A version of this post was previously published at