John L. Rosove
John L. Rosove

‘The 600 Pound Elephant’ – Anonymous

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.

About the Author
John L. Rosove is Senior Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles. He is a national co-Chair of the Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet of J Street and immediate past National Chairman of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). He serves as a member of the newly created Union for Reform Judaism's Israel and Reform Zionism Committee (IRZC). John was the 2002 Recipient of the World Union for Progressive Judaism International Humanitarian Award and has received special commendation from the State of Israel Bonds. In 2013 he was honored by J Street at its Fifth Anniversary Celebration in Los Angeles. John is the author of two books - “Why Judaism Matters – Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove” (Nashville: Jewish Lights Publishing, a division of Turner Publishing Company, 2017) and "Why Israel [and its Future] Matters - Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove" (New Jersey: Ben Yehuda Press, 2019). Both are available at John translated and edited the Hebrew biography of his Great Granduncle – "Avraham Shapira – Veteran of the Haganah and Hebrew Guard" by Getzel Kressel (publ. by the Municipality of Petach Tikvah, 1955). The translation was privately published (2021). John is married to Barbara. They are the parents of two sons - Daniel (married to Marina) and David. He has one granddaughter.