After wreaking havoc in a few Israeli anti-vaccinating communities, measles virus has made its way to some Orthodox Jewish communities in New York City.
Some members of the Orthodox Jewish community who were impacted by the virus and nevertheless refuse to vaccinate, stand behind their decisions. The NY Post reported that one mother said: “‘I was glad that they got it the way God intended them to get it,’ said Esther, 25, an Orthodox Jewish mother of three.”
But does God really intend us to get sick with measles? Does God want us not to use modern medicine as Esther claims? According to Esther’s logic, if one is at risk of heart disease or has high blood pressure, should one not take medicine to prevent heart attack because “God intended them to get it”? Why is the risk of measles any different?
The NY Post also quotes Esther’s friend Gitty, who said, “It’s my religious belief. I will never put anything in my child to alter their immune system.” I want to ask Gitty, what is religious about this belief? Will you give your child steroids if he has asthma? Steroids also alter one’s immune system. What about immunotherapy for cancer? Would this also violate Gitty’s “religious” beliefs? Why not?
The religious and philosophical issue of how to deal with disease is not a new one. The Talmud addresses the question of how one is allowed to put his faith in a doctor to cure diseases, when God says (Exodus 15:26) that He is our healer. Shouldn’t one have faith in God that he will heal a disease?
The Talmud teaches (Bavli, Bava Kama 85) that the Torah specifically instructs us (Exodus 21:19) that one may use doctors to assist in healing. One who consults with a doctor and uses medicine is not considered to be lacking faith. Maimonides, one of the greatest Jewish Law scholars of all time, was also a physician who dedicated his life to healing, medicine and Torah.
My God clearly does not teach us that we shouldn’t vaccinate- the opposite is true. Jewish law requires one to go to great lengths to save a life. Modern day Rabbinical scholars have written about the obligation to vaccinate.
Over the course of history of the Jews in exile, our anti-Semitic neighbors blamed us for many things. Jews were killed in pogroms in the 1300s because of the Black Death, and were blamed for spreading disease and poisoning the wells. Unfortunately, anti-Semitism still exists today. It won’t be long before we are blamed, 700 years later, for spreading disease and causing illness. This time, the haters will point to increased sickness among Jewish communities.
The Jewish community must stand up and show that we choose life. Communities and their leaders need to show that our way is way of life. We choose life because our God wants us to.