Ask the rabbi

  • Halacha
  • Coronavirus

Covid Vaccne


Rabbi Yoel Lieberman

Iyyar 8, 5781
Does a Jewish person have any responsibility (morally or Halchikally) to get a Covid vaccine based on the principles of communal responsibility? Why or why not?
ב"ה Shalom, I think your question is probably one of the most important questions to be asked at this time. Though, I have seen much Rabbinic literature in regard to different aspects of taking the vaccination, I haven't seen any discourse on this particular aspect. Firstly, I will deal with the moral aspect. Everyone is familiar with "Yisrael Arevin ze bazeh" which refers to the mutual responsibility of Jews one to another. The midrash brings the parable in the name of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai, of two people on a boat and one of them started drilling a hole under his seat. His friends asked him why he was doing that. To which he answered " What do you care? Am I not drilling the hole under MY seat? "To which they answered "But you're sinking the boat on us too !!". I think the message is clear if one does not wear a mask, if one does not vaccinate himself, he may think he's making the hole only under his seat but in actuality he is endangering others and sinking the entire boat. Rav Asher Weiss shlit"a, one of the prominent poskim of our time, wrote in his psak in regard to the vaccine writes: " To our great distress and shame, we have become indifferent to the plight of others. At the start of the pandemic, every person truly felt responsible for the other – we mourned together with those families who had lost a loved one to this dreaded new virus and felt their pain. People scrupulously upheld the recommendations of masking and social distancing in order to protect the elderly and the vulnerable. But today, as the death toll mounts, and even some of those who have recovered from the virus continue to suffer from its lingering effects, and as studies reveal that this virus causes irreversible damage to many of the body’s systems, many have become indifferent to the suffering of others. Woe to us who experience that embarrassment and shame. Whereas originally a feeling of unity rested upon our communities, today this has been reversed and in place of love and caring there is hatred and dispute. Lest we forget, disputes cause the trait of strict judgment to be unleashed upon us from Heaven." I will write about another familiar story from the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) which illustrates the same idea, but perhaps from a different perspective. When a gentile comes to Hillel, the great sage, asking to convert to Judaism, Hillel tells him: "That which you hate do not do on to others." I'm sure nobody wants to be sick with Covid 19, therefore neither should anyone want someone else to be sick because of him. We have a halachic principle which is found in the Tosafot on Baba Kamma ( 23a). "A person must be more careful that he does not inflict damage to others more than he must be careful not to have damage inflicted upon himself". Rav Yeshayahu Karelitz, known as the Chazon Ish zt"l, adds to this principle that the obligation to avoid inflicting damage to others goes beyond the normal call of duty. Although, in the context of the passage in the Talmud, (which I won't get into here) there are those who dispute Tosafot's position along with the legal parameters, the moral principle of the obligation not to inflict damage to others was quoted by many over the generations. We see again, how morally we have an obligation not to make others ill as well. From the Halachic perspective, there is a dispute as to whether a person is held liable for causing another to get sick by spreading a virus in the air. This is due to the difference in opinions on how to define an airborne virus by halachic guidelines. However, it is undisputed that a sick person must keep away from healthy people. (ערוך השולחן אורח חיים סימן תקעו סעיף יב) and this follows the general rule of the Rambam that it is part of following in the ways of G-d that a person must preserve his health. A most interesting insight on the issue of vaccinations, and the most directly related to your question was given Rav Moshe Dov Wolner zt"l, who was the first Chief Rabbi and Av Beit din of Ashkelon. He writes that taking a vaccination is part of the mitzvah of building a guardrail for your roof as commanded in the Torah(Devarim 22:8) . Building a guardrail for the roof is so that people do not get hurt, similarly, taking a vaccination avoids the possible danger of other people getting infected. Having said all this, not all Rabbis see getting vaccinated as an absolute obligation and neither do they feel that according to Halacha a person who is healthy can be coerced to take a vaccination. May Hashem watch over all of us and protect us from harm, and influence those who haven't been vaccinated to do so for their benefit and the benefit of others. All the best
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