By Rabbi Sholom Shuchat – dayan and arbitrator with the Agudas Harabonim – Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the USA & Canada
With the recent news of a measles outbreak in NYC, and the resurgence of the Anti-Vaccine movement in Crown Heights, it is important to step back and take a look at our guiding light, the Torah and the Rebbe’s opinion.
Often, during an argument between pro and anti-vaccine, the anti-vaccine proponent will state that studies have found links between vaccines and autism. Said “study” has been debunked countless times by many medical journals, but the claim still lingers among many, specifically among religious Jews who have only jumped on the bandwagon in recent years, leading to the infamous outbreak of mumps a few years ago.
As Lubavitcher Chassidim, we must look at the Rebbe’s writings for clear directives regarding what we should do. The following includes a sampling of the Rebbe’s directives regarding this matter, leaving no place for doubt or question, and stating clearly what the Halacha is regarding these matters.
THE REBBE’S VIEW
Regarding obeying doctors, the Rebbe writes the following:
“Surely I need not remind you that the Torah granted “permission to the healer to heal,” and thus this directive is of Torah [and not Rabbinic] origin.
It is not similar to those who mistakenly say that if someone is G-d-fearing, he need not listen to the instructions of a doctor [— when the doctor’s instructions seem to interfere somewhat with his religious conduct—] and may act as he understands. Indeed, the opposite is the case.”
Similarly, in another letter, the Rebbe writes:
“I have received a report that allegedly you are not — G-d forbid — obeying the doctor’s instructions. If this report is true, [that you are indeed not obeying the doctor,] then you will surely begin obeying him properly and will do so at the earliest opportunity, particularly as this is an explicit law in Shulchan Aruch — and may you convey glad tidings.”
(Healthy in Body, Mind and Spirit – Volume I, Chapter 4)
Regarding vaccinations, the Rebbe’s view was clear, as stated in the following letter:
“Regarding your question about inoculations against disease:
I am surprised by your question, since so many individuals from Eretz Yisrael have asked me about this and I have answered them in the affirmative, since the overwhelming majority of individuals do so successfully.
Understandably, if there are inoculations that are produced by various drug-manufacturing companies, you should use the ones whose safety is tried and proven.”
And similarly in another letter:
“Regarding your question about inoculations against disease and that which unfortunately transpired in the United States some time back:
The event that occurred in the United States was at the beginning of the use of these vaccines, before the [exact] medical compound was definitively established. This is not the case at present after months of experience with the vaccine.
Therefore once a vaccine’s reliability is firmly established, there should be no hesitation in giving these inoculations. To the contrary, [their use should be encouraged].”
(Healthy in Body, Mind and Spirit – Volume II, Chapter 11)
THE HALACHIC OUTLOOK
When approaching this topic of refusing to inoculate one’s children, the parent must take into consideration the following factors:
1) The health of their child: The Gemara states, that a doctor was given permission by G-d to heal, and it is through a doctor that G-d performs healing. According to Halacha, a person must obey the instructions given by their doctor. In this instance, since the doctor has ordered these vaccinations to be performed, Halacha mandates that they be performed.
2) The need: After hearing the doctor’s orders, a person might doubt the need for said procedure, and doubt whether indeed he should go ahead with it or not. The Rebbe’s view regarding medical procedures was to abstain from unnecessary intervention, but when a doctor mandates the procedure – the Rebbe took the stance that the doctor must be obeyed. In this instance, the vaccines have long proven their effectiveness by severely limiting or completely eradicating a wide swath of crippling and deadly diseases.
3) Putting others at risk: In Parshas Ki-Tetze the Torah commands us “When you build a new house, you shall make a guard rail for your roof, so that you shall not cause blood [to be spilled] in your house, that the one who falls should fall from it [the roof].” When someone does an action which can cause death, or even refuses to do an action which can prevent death, he is compared to a murderer, he “causes blood to be spilled.”
When one refuse to inoculate his children, he exposes his children and other children to a range of debilitating and potentially fatal diseases, putting himself in the above category.
4) The benefit of the community: In many letters the Rebbe discusses the benefit of the community vs the benefit of a single person, i.e. in situations when the benefit of one person is a direct cause of damage to others, the benefit of the many trumps the benefit of the few. In this instance it is the responsibility of the schools and doctors to ensure that the minority who places their children in danger shall not be allowed to cause damage to others by having their children in the same classrooms as children who can be at risk. This is especially important when the teachers are female, who are often pregnant and more vulnerable to sustain irreparable damage to their future offspring from exposure to those illnesses.
To conclude, Halachically a person is obligated to follow the doctor’s opinion, especially in matters pertaining to vaccines and other forms of medicine which prevent illnesses and death.
As a footnote to this article, I would like to present the Rebbe’s view on alternative medicine vis-a-vis conventional medicine, and the Rebbe’s view on certain medical procedures.
In one of his letters, the Rebbe writes:
“With regard to your question about using the services of Mrs. …, who heals without using any healing remedies at all: Inasmuch as “Torah has granted permission for the healer to heal,” I don’t understand why one should pursue unfathomable paths.”
(Healthy in Body, Mind and Spirit – Volume II, Chapter 12)
The Rebbe’s view on the matter is fascinating, as His words infer that G-d’s blessing of healing can only be accomplished via conventional medicine, and not via alternative healing methods.
Even in the instances that the Rebbe has approved using alternative medicines, it was only when the (conventional) doctor approved said treatment, as is evident in the following letter:
“Since the management of your mother’s health by the herbalist/naturopathic doctor has been successful until now, it would be proper of you to inform him of the latest treatments and the tests taken by Dr. … and continue to follow his advice in the future as well, particularly so since — as you write — the doctor who is treating her now agrees that the diet given your mother by the herbalist/naturopath is proper. …”
(Healthy in Body, Mind and Spirit – Volume II, Chapter 12)