The Rebbe’s opinion on vaccinations

The following segment is an excerpt from a future, broader, article about vaccines and Halacha which is currently under research and in the process of being written. Iy”h it will be published in the near future.

The Rebbe’s opinion on vaccinations:[1]

As is known a Jew is obligated according to Torah law to guard his health.[2] According to Halacha, the opinion of professional doctors and health care providers are the sole authorities in regard to all health matters.[3] Accordingly, the Rebbe throughout his life encouraged people who turned to him for advice to follow the directives of the doctors and medical community and explained that the Torah gave them the power to heal, and one is Halachically[4] obligated to adhere to their directives due to the principal that guiding ones health is a Torah command.[5] The case of vaccinations is no different. The Rebbe encouraged people to immunize themselves and their children with the recommended vaccinations that are customarily taken by the masses to prevent the spread of disease and negated those who argued that it should not be done due to worry of possible side effects, or death. The Rebbe also encouraged that the vaccine used should be produced by the most medically reliable and professional pharmaceutical companies. While the Rebbe’s opinion is not necessarily intended to be universal and all-inclusive for all people and for all manufactured vaccines, in all situations, it does give a general perspective that one should not shrug off and ignore the recommendations of vaccinating oneself and his children, and as in all matters that relate to health, one is to speak to his professional health care provider to receive guidance in any cases of doubt or question. It is both strange and ironic that there exist those who refuse to use contact lenses and perform sonograms due to the Rebbe’s undocumented claimed position on this matter, and at the same time refuse to give their children vaccines despite the Rebbe’s very well documented position on its necessity. The following are excerpts from the letters and talks in which the Rebbe discussed vaccinations. The full text is available in the PDF posted on our site.

1. Listen to your Doctor! Vaccines prevent illness-Take them:[6]

“The Torah obligates that in matters of health one must consult with a doctor and obey his instructions. Now, there are two approaches to medicine, one being healing through finding a cure for a current illness, and the second being preventive medicine. It is clearly understood that preventive medicine is the ideal and most desirable any way you look at it, including cost, not to mention the fact it prevents illness and suffer r”l. In addition, it prevents needing to resort to more complex medical intervention such as surgery, which is sometimes necessary when dealing with an existing condition. In order for preventive medicine to be most beneficial, it requires one to commence prevention at the earliest possible age, beginning with vaccinations, brushing the teeth to prevent cavities, and a balanced diet etc.”

2. Doctors have the Torah right to administer preventive medicine in the form of vaccines:[7]

In reply to your query as to whether doctors are [according to Torah] only permitted to heal a current condition or may also administer preventive medicine, such as vaccines. Preventive medicine has been administered by the most distinguished Gedolei Yisrael on a regular basis.”

3. One is to take vaccines and rely on the medical community and its successful administration:[8]

“The deaths that resulted in America from vaccinations occurred at the early onset of the use of the vaccine, prior to its conclusive ingredient list being established. Now, however, after several months of experience with the vaccine and its medical corroboration, there is no worry at all against taking it, and on the contrary [one is to do so].”

4. If most people in one’s country and city vaccinate, one is not to exclude himself from doing so:[9]

“That which you write regarding vaccinations, in this country it is customary to vaccinate all the children. Nonetheless, prior to doing so, the manufacturer of the vaccine and its ingredients should be verified that it has been tested and successfully administered. Being that you write that many people in your city vaccinate their children, you should not exclude yourself from doing so.”

5. Urgent! I have already answered many people that since most people do it, one should do so as well:[10]

“Due to the urgent nature of your query regarding vaccinations, I am replying to your question before even the other most pressing letters. It is a wonder that you ask your question [regarding whether you should vaccinate] as many have already asked me this in Eretz Hakodesh and I have replied in the affirmative, that since close to all people vaccinate, and successfully [therefore, you too should do so].

 

6. Vaccinate your child if it is done to majority of the children in his class:[11]

“In reply to your query regarding my opinion on vaccinations that are commonly given to young children, with regards to these matters the Talmudic dictum of “Al Tifrosh Min Hatzibur/Do not separate from the community” applies. Therefore, you should act according to that which is practiced by the majority of children who are in your children’s class.

7. Polio vaccine-Since close to everyone already does so, it is proper to do so:[12]

“To Nishei Ubenos Chabad. In response to your query regarding the Polio vaccine for children [and if the residents of Kfar Chabad should be vaccinated for it], it has already been administered in many countries, and in the USA close to everyone does so, and successfully, and therefore it is proper to do so. Regarding the company brand that you should choose for the vaccine, this is dependent on quality and reliability, and one should choose the best one after doing the proper research.”

8. No Kashrus issue involved in taking vaccines-but choose a reliable brand:[13]

“That which you ask if one may use vaccines if they contain non-Kosher ingredients, every day people do so even amongst the G-d fearing without any question, as it is permitted to benefit from non-kosher foods. Regarding the Polio shot, it is done even by the most G-d fearing and there is no Kashrus worry of doing so, although one should verify that the vaccine comes from a reliable company.”

 

9. The lesson in Avodas Hashem from vaccines:[14]

“Several decades ago, medicine discovered that the body could avoid certain diseases through vaccination. The vaccination works through stimulating the body, through injecting it with a weakened version of those diseases, to create antibodies to guard against them. The lesson in service of G-d that can be learned from this is that minor challenges and difficulties which people face in new endeavors should be viewed as a vaccine against a more severe challenge later on.”

 

The statistics:[15]

In Israel, 97% of children are vaccinated, holding one of the highest rates of vaccinated children in the world. In the USA 92% of children receive the MMR vaccine, while 99.3% of children receive at least some vaccines. The worldwide estimate of vaccinations against measles [MMR] stands at 85%.

 

An analysis of the Rebbe’s opinion:

While it is clear that the Rebbe’s looked positively upon the administration of vaccines as an integral duty of a Jew in preventive medicine, and thus advised people to do so, in a number of the above letters the Rebbe depends this on whether majority of people have taken the vaccine, and the question is asked as to why this point makes a difference. If according to medical science vaccines are a necessity for disease prevention, and one must heed their words according to Halacha, then why should it make a difference whether majority of people do the right thing or not. The following are several speculations on the possible intent of the Rebbe:

1.       The Torah follows majority: The successful administration of a vaccine to majority of the population shows that it works and does not have lasting side effects, thus proving its reliability according to Torah law, which follows the majority.

2.       Hashem guards the masses-Shomer Pesaim Hashem: When the majority of people and Jewry perform an action which carries certain health risks, they receive Divine assistance and protection against any harm coming as a result of it.[16] Accordingly, there is no need to worry of any possible long-term side effects of a vaccination, as one receives Divine assistance regarding it, and thus the long-term benefits of disease prevention override.

3.       Not to separate from the community practice-Halacha: The Torah does not take lightly the fact that one disengages from the common practice of the community and it thus encourages one to join their efforts.[17] Doing so may have both Halachic and spiritual ramifications. In Halacha we find that if a certain standard of living is accepted in a neighborhood, then people who live in that neighborhood must adhere to those public standards.[18] In the case of vaccines, one who does not vaccinate his children in a community where this is the standard practice makes that community susceptible to potential outbreaks due to their unimmunized child who walks around the neighborhood and attends in their schools and classes.

4.       Not to separate from the community practice-spiritual:[19] Another reason for why one should not separate from the community practice is spiritual, as doing so can cause undue personal observation and scrutiny of the spiritual attribute of judgment. A community receives certain Divine protection that is not afforded to one who separates himself from them. Accordingly, one who does not vaccinate possibly places himself under the eyes of scrutiny of the attribute of judgment, heaven fore-fend.[20] 

 

Q&A

Does this mean that according to the Rebbe everyone should immunize themselves and their children? What if I know people who had bad side effects, or I or my children had bad side effects? In fact, I even know someone whose child passed away r”l right after an immunization!

As in everything in life, there is no one shoe that fits all, and specific medical conditions and/or family history require special scrutiny by a medical professional regarding the question of whether vaccines are in their best health interest. This concept can be found in the Torah itself. While, the Torah obligates every male child to receive a “spiritual vaccine” called the Bris Milla on the 8th day, it recognizes special cases and situations of illness where this cannot medically be done and thus must be pushed off indefinitely until the child is deemed healthy. Likewise, we find parents with a family history of death caused by circumcision to at least two of their children, are required to push off the great Mitzvah of circumcision and not circumcise their child until, if at all, it is deemed medically safe.[21] From here we can learn a number of Halachic perspectives: a) Don’t ignore family history or a medical condition when it comes to taking a normally accepted medication or treatment. b) Don’t abstain from taking medication [in our case vaccines] just because you know of a case where it had negative or lethal effects. The Torah speaks to the majority, and for every case of negative consequences due to vaccines you have millions of others who attest to their reliability and health benefits. One cannot sabotage the norm due to the exception, without medical reason to believe that he is part of that exception group. A simple example of the above is with regards to peanuts. About 1.4 percent of children in the U.S. are said to be allergic to peanuts, and between 150-200 people die each year as a result.[22] Now, does this mean that the average and normal child is to avoid peanuts and is Halachically mandated to do so. Absolutely not! Since 99% of children are not allergic, we follow the majority, and only in a case of a medical reaction witnessed in one’s child is one required to avoid it.

 

Perhaps the Rebbe’s opinion is “outdated” and was correct at the time based on the information known. However, today, where new medical research has shown and proven the potential damaging effects of vaccinations, the Rebbe would reverse his opinion?

Without getting into the subject of belief in the words of a Tzadik and the immortality of his teachings, the statement above is factually and Halachically misleading, misguided, and incorrect. As stated in the opening of this discussion, according to Halacha, the opinion of professional doctors and health care providers are the sole authorities regarding all health matters, and it is forbidden to take an amateurs opinion into account. Halacha does not give credence to conspiracy theorists, or any other amateur opinion, regarding medicine. Accordingly, a Halachically valid medical opinion regarding vaccines must come from a medical professional and not a conspiracy writer, or an individual with a prior agenda, or even from an unbiassed medical novice who is analyzing the subject to the best of his ability. Any and all information that the non-medical community provides regarding the danger of vaccines is to be given to the medical community for them to review and establish or reject. Many people read various articles of propaganda against vaccinations and become convinced with the “facts” and statistics they read. Once, again, the Torah gave the authority of digesting this information, and giving medical advice based on it, solely to professional doctors, and not to the amateur writer irrelevant of how convincing his one-sided arguments may seem.

 

With that said, aren’t there MD’S and people in the medical community who have voiced the dangers of vaccines, past the Rebbe’s times?

To the best of my knowledge this is factually incorrect. To this date there is no credible medical research which has shown a common link of vaccines to any long-term medical side effects. The entire medical community as a whole suggests and encourages vaccinations to prevent disease. A further, most important point regarding the above is that even if it were to be true that there exist credible doctors from within the professional medical community who voice dangers of vaccines, the Torah instructs that a Jew must follow the majority and most expertise opinion amongst doctors.[23]

Dr Andrew Wakefield:[24] The single known MD who took the public stand to call out vaccines after doing a so called thorough medical research on 12 patients was a British doctor named Dr. Andrew Wakefield and 11 colleagues. His findings were published in 1998 in the highly esteemed medical journal called The Lancet. In his essay he claimed to have found a link between autism and other neurological related disorders and the old MMR vaccinations which used Thimerosal [a now extinct mercury-based ingredient used in the MMR vaccinations of previous decades]. While at the time his findings received much media attention and medical speculation, it was rejected by the medical community as being sloppy, not adhering to medical standards of research, and being logically flawed. As a result, the research paper was retracted and eventually redacted after discovering that the said Dr. had in fact received funding for his research by lawyers who were representing a law suit [which they eventually lost] against the pharmaceutical companies who manufacture vaccines. He eventually went on to lose his license to practice medicine after the British Medical Council (GMC) found that he had been dishonest and irresponsible in his research. Surely from a Halachic [and common sense] perspective, there is no room to use this man’s medical opinion against the professional medical community.

 

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[1] See Healthy in Body, Mind and Spirit Vol. 2. Chapter 11

[2] See Michaber Y.D. 116, 335:1 and C.M. 427:10; Admur C.M. Hilchos Shemiras Haguf Vihanefesh 4

[3] See Michaber Y.D. 335:1 “Do not involve yourself in medicine unless you are an expert and there is no one greater than you, otherwise you are a murderer”; Admur 618:9 “A doctor who does not have experience with the illness is viewed like any other amateur, of whom their medical opinion has no bearing or weight, neither to be lenient or stringent”; Admur 328:2 “Even if there is a definite danger one may only transgress Shabbos for medical treatment that is known to all or is done by a professional [doctor].”; Tzemach Tzedek Y.D. 81 regarding not to follow an amateurs advice on curing rabies; Igros Kodesh 7:303 See also our Sefer “Topics in practical Halacha Vol. 1 on the Hashkafa of alternative medicine and  http:::98.131.138.124:articles:ASSIA:ASSIA9:R0091090.asp

[4] See Admur 328:11 If [the sick person] refuses to accept the treatment because he does not want Shabbos to be desecrated on his behalf, then he is to be forced [into taking it] as this is a ludicrous form of [supposed] piety.”; This certainly applies during the week, that we force him to take a medicine or listen to doctors orders even to cut off a limb, even if he does not want to do it due to the pain and ridicule he will have to live with. [Mor Uketzia 328]

[5] The Rebbe’s directives to visit professional doctors and adhere strictly to their instructions are documented in literally hundreds of letters and talks printed in the three-volume series Healthy in Body, Mind and Spirit.

[6] Letter of Rebbe 15th Tamuz 5746 [1986], printed in Healthy in Body, Mind and Spirit Vol. 1

[7] Igros Kodesh 14:107 printed in Healthy in Body, Mind and Spirit ibid

[8] Igros Kodesh 14:343, printed in Healthy in Body, Mind and Spirit ibid

[9] Igros Kodesh 14:426, letter 5203

[10] Igros Kodesh 14:357, printed in Healthy in Body, Mind and Spirit ibid

[11] Igros Kodesh 11:137, Healthy in Body, Mind and Spirit ibid

[12] Igros Kodesh 14 p. 238, printed in Healthy in Body, Mind and Spirit ibid

[13] Igros Kodesh 14 p. 108, printed in Healthy in Body, Mind and Spirit ibid

[14] Igros Kodesh 11 p. 58, printed in Healthy in Body, Mind and Spirit ibid

The following [unreferenced] talk of the Rebbe is noted in an article on Chabad.org: The following incident was related by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. 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, 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, 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, just to avoid the disease—even though for the most part there is not even a possibility of any life danger, but rather just severe 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!” [https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/2870103/jewish/What-Does-Jewish-Law-Say-About-Vaccination.htm]

[15] See https://www.statista.com/topics/3283/vaccinations-in-the-us/ and http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/immunization-coverage

[16] See various instances where this rule has been used to allow a dangerous activity: Yevamos 12, 72; Kesubos 39; Avoda Zara 30a; Nida 31a; Beis Yosef E.H. 9; Chaim Sheal 59; Terumos Hadeshen 211; Machatzis Hashekel 260; Teshuvah of Tzemach Tzedek, elaborated on in Shaareiy Halacha Uminhag 3:13

[17] Hillel in Pirkeiy Avos 2:4; Bava Metzia 86b “A person should never swerve from the norm and common practice”; Tanya Igeres Hakodesh 16 and 23

[18] See Choshen Mishpat 156 and particularly Rama 156:7 for various powers a community has in preventing others who cause a potential financial risk from coming to live in the city, and certainly this would apply to a health risk

[19] The concept of a global protection provided to a community over that of an individual is well document in Torah literature and will Iy”h be referenced to in an updated version of this article

[20] So we see statistically that the first to become inflicted with a given disease are those who did not receive vaccinations against it. Meaning, the Satan who inflicts the plague focuses on them first and in majority r”l.

[21] See Michaber Y.D. 262:2 and 263:1-3

[22] See https://health.howstuffworks.com/diseases-conditions/allergies/food-allergy/peanut/how-many-people-die-each-year-from-peanut-allergies.htm

[23] See Admur 618:3-5 regarding fasting on Yom Kippur that if one doctor says the patient needs to eat while two doctors say the patient does not need to eat then he is not to be fed. If, however, the doctor who says that he needs to eat is a much greater physician than the other two doctors, then the patient is to be fed.

[24] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Wakefield#Fraud_and_conflict_of_interest_allegations

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