I am bound not to quote anyone who writes on a restricted rabbinic listserve on which 2,300 Reform rabbis internationally discuss matters large and small, religious and mundane, lofty and pragmatic. However, a recent posting elicited a great deal of response about which I want to say a few words while, at the same time, holding to the confidentiality agreement.
One colleague asked what we all thought she ought to say and do concerning her adult son-in-law who is anti-vaccine and an 8th-grade teacher where the local hospitals’ ICUs have been overwhelmed by people fighting for their lives against Covid. (I changed a few of the details to protect this colleague’s identity).
Some of my colleagues argued from philosophy; others from the position of parenting adult children and their partners; and others from the position of autonomy (a high value in liberal Judaism) and social responsibility (a high value in Judaism generally).
The old story of the acceptability of a man drilling a hole under his seat in a boat thus allowing water to enter the craft and eventually sink it and then defending his action because the hole is under his seat and no one else’s is obviously appropriate to this conversation and to the many mandates for vaccination of federal and some state workers, those in large companies, many school districts, religious houses of worship, and in Israel’s Haredi and Arab communities.
One colleague put it right when she responded to another colleague who called this conversation “complicated.”
“It is not at all ‘complicated’ in any ethical system I know of” she wrote. “Society has the right to limit the freedom of its members to protect the public. Sometimes it may be difficult to determine where to grant license and where to apply limits to personal conduct, but not on the question of the value of human life.”
The problem in America today regarding vaccines and masks has nothing to do, ultimately, with autonomy and personal freedom, and everything to do with POLITICS (a la Trump and his sycophants) that are distorting morality and social responsibility and threatening people’s lives. It’s an entire other issue in Israel’s Haredi and Arab communities. But, in all of them, we are each other’s keepers and those government, business, educational, and religious leaders who require proof of vaccine for entry and participation in employment and social spaces are our best guarantors of freedom and life because everyone who dies or is disabled from this pandemic because of rigidity, ignorance, or refusal to get the vaccination risk losing everything.