By COLlive reporter
A Jewish woman who is against administrating vaccinations to children wrote an open letter to Rabbi Yosef Braun, member of the Crown Heights Beis Din and the Rov behind AskTheRav.com.
There have been 535 cases of measles confirmed as of May 23 since the beginning of the outbreak last October, the Health Department of New York City told COLlive.com.
The outbreak has been especially felt in the frum Jewish communities of Williamsburg and Boro Park where a sizable amount of people refuse to vaccinate their children against measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR). This is despite the ruling of rabbis to do so in the name of saving lives.
Here is the full exchange between the anti-vaxxer woman and Rabbi Braun:
My main reason in sending this email to you is because the gap between the Klal and the leadership is growing to a point that many people (including myself) feel disregarded, scoffed and misunderstood by Rabbanim. I do not have to explain the integral role that Rabbonim play in leading a frum life, and what devastating results this dynamic leads to.
With children not allowed to go to school (whether or not you agree that they should), the Chinuch of many hundreds of children is suffering.
Families have been placed under tremendous burdens during this time affecting Sholom Bayis and family Achdus quite literally.
The emotional toll of being rejected, humiliated and verbally assaulted by one’s own community, only to be “backed” by the seal of Halacha*, is one that has left many feeling turned off from Yiddishkeit and certainly lacking any leader who can guide them in how to proceed and navigate this difficult journey.
Whether you are staunchly convinced of your opinion or not, if only to be compassionate and available to guide the subset of your congregation who (are apparently sorely mistaken) and have very serious questions, I respectfully request that you review the letter by Dr. Bob Sears.
While this is only a sliver of the information that parent of unvaccinated children wish would not be overlooked by Rabbonim (and there are more questions and concerns we have regarding vaccination that I would like to express at a later point), it does address the current situation quite thoroughly.
I implore you to not “write off” this letter and its various points raised because in doing so, the families that this is nogeah to are not more inspired to follow the Psak that Badatz of Crown Heights publicized, but quite the contrary….
We are frum mothers, who try to adhere to the strictest standard of halacha. We have been entrusted with children to care for by the Aibishter and are doing what we believe is most aligned with ונשמרתם מאוד לנפשותיכם. We each have a personal story that has led us to where we are. (Many of us were strongly supportive of vaccinating and relied on our doctors unanimous assertion that vaccines are safe and effective for everyone until we saw our childrens’ health deteriorate). Please do not assume we are just some naive “anti-vaxxers” that have been misled by some conspiracy theories. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are asking with humility and respect that a Rov, that has Paskened so strongly regarding vaccinations, should explore this matter thoroughly so that our questions are actually addressed and not ignored.
*Although this issues extends far beyond the Lubavitch world, being that the Rebbe addressed the topic of vaccines it behooves every chossid to explore those letters. However, as one who has done so, I, as many as other chassidishe families have found these letters to be misappropriated in Piskei dinim. I can explain why in a follow up email if there is interest.
I have read your email several times. Your pain and anguish is clearly noticeable and very well understood. At the same time, I don’t want my reply to come across as an off the cuff answer coming from someone who wishes to give you a wishy-washy answer, just to get you off my back. Therefore, I was seriously considering the notion that it might be better not to answer at all, because the answer might be perceived as though not taking your considerations seriously.
An additional point noteworthy of consideration here is: What I have encountered in many such discussions is the fact that the two sides often have strong opinions on the matter and they’re hardly convinced by hard facts, rationale or evidence. The different opinions are often based on cultural differences, personalities or backgrounds and other similar distinctions. A verbal or written exchange of ideas often results in further disillusionment, disappointments and widening the gap even more. This is no good for anyone. Obviously, this does not preclude my responsibilities as a Rav to express my opinion clearly on the matters I believe are governed by Halacha, especially when dealing with issues of potential Sakanas Nefashos. I understand that you’re well aware that I have done so already and that you appreciate the fact that my sole motivation for doing so was in order to act in accordance with my responsibility as a Rav.
(The fact that these rulings aren’t popular, or make me unpopular, is really not relevant. Many a time, a Rav has the Achrayus to give a communal Psak which won’t sit well with some members in the community. Of course, the Rav has to assess the situation well and reach a decision whether it’s better to speak or to remain silent. But once a decision has been reached that it’s incumbent upon him to state his opinion he may not shy away from it due to fear of reprisals or even of people being alienated by the Psak. Some recent examples come to mind: the Eruv controversy, call of the Shofar etc. In all these cases, the Rabbonim have researched the issue and have given a Psak which many people didn’t like. But that wouldn’t be a reason to withhold the Psak from the public.)
At the same time, repeating this Psak again and again won’t accomplish much and will only serve to alienate further those who have already been alienated, or even those who have not been alienated so far.
The same applies to a point by point rebuttal of the arguments mentioned: in my opinion they serve no purpose. There’s enough information available out there for those who wish to avail themselves of it in order to know the response that the pro-vaccination establishment, or in my opinion more correctly stated as the position of those who follow credible science, would say – and have said – about all the points raised. There are many doctors and professionals who could give you satisfactory answers to all these points, much better than anything I would write.
Another important point: responding to the specific arguments would mean that I’m engaging in medical and scientific issues, which is not my field or specialty. This would also take away time from my primary duty to teach Torah and Pasken Halachic Sha’alos. It is self understood that it makes no sense for a doctor to engage in Halachic research in order to reach a Halachic decision; if he would be doing so he will be overstepping his boundaries and would undermine even his medical standing. Likewise, the Rav must indeed seek out medical information from doctors and professionals and form a Halachic ruling. But it would be wrong for him to be involved in medical discussions and medical research on his own.
Incidentally, this is one of the core issues at the heart of the so-called vaccination debate. Society has reached a point where everyone has at their fingertips a wealth of information on the subject and can now form their own decisions without having the requisite training to know how to distinguish between fact and fiction or pseudoscience vs. real science. Even a simple matter such as statistics is a very thorough and comprehensive field, and stats can often be manipulated to achieve the desired result, something very different than the real truth. Only someone with a real understanding of the issues would be able to see things for what they really are.
Many of us experience this issue with our kids, specifically teenagers. The little bit of knowledge that they have makes them think they know better than us and should be making their own decisions. At times they are right, but unfortunately sometimes their choices can be quite dangerous.
A healthy dose of humility is in place for one to recognize their standing and know about which matters they’re capable of reaching decisions on their own and when they should rely on those wiser or more experienced than them to decide what the correct strategy is.
This is something we have heard countless times from the Rebbe about the delineation and demarcation of the various different professions and how it’s important that only the specialist in each field is consulted in order to form an opinion. When it came to territorial concessions in Eretz Yisroel, the Rebbe made it clear on many occasions that only the military experts are to be consulted and it should not involve politicians who have a different agenda. The Rebbe compared this to medicine that only doctors are the ones trusted according to Torah to rule what’s medically necessary.
As a general rule, the Rebbe has requested that the following formula be followed regarding all future questions that people wish to ask him: When it comes to business matters, friends who understand the situation should give advice; for Halacha matters – Rabbonim should Pasken; for medical issues we should follow the opinion of the majority of doctors, and in issues of Avodas Hashem the opinion of one’s Aseh Lecha Rav should be sought.
This brings me to the issue of the letters of the Rebbe you mentioned in passing. I take it that you, or others who are like minded, seek to interpret these letters in a different manner. I’ve heard many such arguments in the last few months from quite a few people. Truth be told, it seems to me that their interpretation is at best stretched, or worse an interpretation which is motivated by a preconceived notion. But none of this is germane to our discussion. It really makes no difference what I think of other people’s attempt to interpret these letters. The most important point for me is that as a Rav who’s been given the task to rule on such matters I must follow what I believe is the Rebbes’s position on these issues, even when others think their interpretation is superior.
(Moreover, the normative Torah approach is that Rabbonim are the one’s interpreting Torah and the laypeople follow their interpretation; it is surprising that people who always accept a Psak from a Rav in all matters of Torah are quick to point out in this matter the shortcomings of the Psak and attempt to impress upon the Rabbonim their own Peshat.)
As for the fact that some people are unfortunately alienated by this Psak, sadly there is not much that can be done about this. But there is a workable solution.
Under ordinary circumstances I wouldn’t take this approach. However upon reading your email over and over, I realize this is most suitable here, especially since we are dealing with an issue which involves saving lives and we cannot afford to sit back and relax. I don’t know who you are (at least, the name you used in this correspondence is not familiar to me), but the sincerity is clearly noticeable in your writing and indicates to me that you really desire to do the right thing Al Pee Torah. I therefore have taken the liberty to urge you to consider the following approach:
This can be understood by comparing it to the following scenario. One is involved in a heavy duty din Torah and has presented all their claims to the Beis Din, only to receive a Psak which deems them guilty and compels them to pay out of pocket thousands of dollars. The individual knows he is in the right. The Beis Din seems to have gotten it totally wrong. What is he to do in this situation? According to Torah, how is he supposed to perceive this situation? Unfortunately, there are many people who after losing a Psak in Beis Din were totally alienated from the Beis Din and Batei Dinim in general, refusing to accept the Psak and in some cases have even decided to take the issue up in secular Court, a grave offense according to Torah.
However, the Torah approach which many individuals have successfully mastered despite their initial misgivings and the obvious difficulty involved is to accept the Psak with humility and Bittul and appreciate that the Ratzon Hashem now is for him to pay the hard earned money to the other litigant, regardless of what he thinks about the matter. The same Torah that instructs him to wear Tefillin or her to wear a Sheitel wants him to pay out the money.
The only thing I can think of that can work over here is to do the same: accept the Psak with Bittul and Kabolas Ol and recognize that as “Chassidishe families” who understand “the integral role that Rabbonim play in leading a Frum life” we ought to follow them even when it doesn’t sit well with us. I know this might sound harsh and demanding, but anything else would really be untruthful to the perspective of Torah. It is plainly clear that the position that some Piskei Dinim are up to our discretion whether to accept or not is anathema to Torah.
The following might seem extreme to you but it is a real reflection of the truth according to Torah. I imagine that If you would have asked the Rebbe and received a clear answer to vaccinate here and now and to publicize this to others you wouldn’t hesitate for a second, despite all the issues you have raised. The truth is that a Psak from Rabbonim is exactly the same (aside from the fact that the Rebbe has already answered). For the sake of your kids’ lives and our kids’ lives, please take my words as they are intended, words from the heart which enter the heart.
Wishing you Hatzlacha.