This article is long overdue. The Orthodox community has been the focus of local and national news due to the high rate of measles unique to that community. See the front page of The Wall Street Journal (April 9 issue, this week) for a horrifying account of the extent of the disease and the deaths it can cause, G-d forbid. The reason for this elevation of the disease in Orthodox circles is simple. Many within the community refuse to vaccinate their kids against the disease, and some refuse to even vaccinate against dreaded diseases such as polio. Their stated reason is that it may cause autism or other life-altering illnesses. In addition, there are those who claim that our religion demands of us that we be extra cautious in preventing health-related calamities. Avoiding vaccines is one way of avoiding these calamities.
Our shul, the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, issued a written policy a few weeks ago that states clearly that any parent who brings his or her non-vaccinated children to the shul will politely but firmly be asked to remove the child(ren) from the premises. We want no part in helping to spread measles in our community. Overwhelmingly, this policy was well-received, although there was some adverse reaction, as well.
Although we are clearly on the side of getting children vaccinated, our shul, together with other rabbanim and educators, met with a group of parents vehemently opposed to vaccination, together with their lawyer and doctor. As cogent as some of their arguments were, at times, the bottom line is: We all realized that we cannot support this group under any circumstances. We simply cannot support a group that helps spread disease and endangers the lives of countless others. To the argument that a tiny percentage of vaccinated children develop some possibly related ailment, goes the argument that a tiny percentage of children react adversely to certain kinds of food, or even choke on food. Does that mean all mothers should withhold food from their children?
A very informative article on the topic was written by Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer in the March 27 edition of Cross-Currents. It is titled, “The Measles Outbreak: A Chilul Hashem on Multiple Levels.”
At this time, I do not wish to address the “non-vaxers.” They are committed to their (errant) policy and will not let facts get in their way. There is simply no point in engaging in a dialogue. My message is one of chizuk, encouragement, to those in the mainstream who are horrified by what non-vaccination has caused.
Here are questions that you should be asking regarding those who refuse to vaccinate their children:
Are they okay with the fact that the overwhelming amount of evidence shows no direct correlation between vaccines and diseases such as Autism?
Are they okay with the fact that virtually every medical professional says that it is the duty of parents to vaccinate their children?
Are they okay with the outbreak of measles in primarily ultra-Orthodox communities in many parts of the country?
Are they okay that just about every respected posek agrees that halachah mandates that parents vaccinate their children? One such posek is known to be against vaccinations, but he has been conspicuously quiet on the topic in recent times. In fact, his own grandchildren and great-grandchildren are vaccinated. To proclaim religious exemption for an Orthodox Jew is the height of absurdity. Halachah clearly mandates vaccinations.
Are they okay if they cause measles-bearing children to enter an environment such as a shul or yeshivah where children and adults may be suffering from a compromised immune system?
Are they themselves comfortable dwelling in a measles-infected area?
Are they okay with their expectant daughters being in the company of a child that may be carrying the measles?
Are they okay with the fact that they have caused the Jews to be subject to age-old anti-Semitic canard that Jews breed disease?
Are they okay with the fact that 20 percent of children with measles develop pneumonia, which could lead to death even in previously healthy children? (See The Wall Street Journal article.)
Are they okay with schools that allow non-vaccinated students to enroll?
Are they okay with the measles outbreak in Detroit, caused by an unimmunized tz’dakah collector who nearly blinded some people who themselves were vaccinated as children?
I wish we could focus on the Four Questions of our precious children at this time. But right now, we must focus on protecting these very children – and us! The Rambam in Hilchos Chametz U’Matzah (7:3) states that even if a person is all alone, he must ask himself the Four Questions. If we do not pose these questions to the irrational ones, let’s at least pose them to ourselves.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.