To my sisters and brothers who oppose the vaccine, I want to draw attention to a new and growing group of Israelis: those who received the vaccine in the past week. This includes a lot of people, approximately 150,000 a day. It’s a fair assumption that whoever is getting the vaccine now is someone who delayed until now as they were nervous about it. Then they humbly accepted reality and went to get vaccinated.
Each week more than half a million Israelis are reaching this conclusion, even though it isn’t easy. We need to say thank you to these people just as much as we thank others who showed their commitment to getting vaccinated by standing in line for three hours.
But there are many more people who have not yet been vaccinated. There are days I receive close to a thousand messages from those opposed to the vaccine on social media. I haven’t responded until now, but maybe it is important to.
“We thought that you would have the courage to stand up to the media,” said one commenter. “It turns out you are just a sheep who follows the flock like everyone.” (She also informed me she is unfollowing me.)
“You always say we have to have unity between different parts of our people,” wrote another person. “Why now are you so extreme in trying to silence the other side?”
“Nu, did you enjoy all the ‘likes’ you got from posting a photo from your vaccination? Clearly, you don’t care about supporting dangerous experimentation on human beings,” wrote a third person.
Let’s start with the facts. The scientific and medical world is telling us to vaccinate. It’s as simple as that. The harmful effects of the vaccine are minimal compared to the harmful effects of coronavirus, which unfortunately we see manifested in 5,500 tombstones in Israeli graveyards, and hundreds of people currently in intensive care wards struggling to breathe. So how many times is it possible to send a video of some random Italian doctor “who tells the truth that everyone is hiding, you have to share this!” Why is the suspicion directed at what the whole world says? The battle against coronavirus is a story of global solidarity in a common struggle. How long can one play intellectual gymnastics, with endless subgenres of conspiracy theories?
But in general, facts are beside the point. There are people who are scared and need reassurance. Some people have questions, and they need to be answered. But for some people, this is about something deeper in their personality. Rational proof is of no use with someone who is always against the “establishment.” No argument will convince someone who sees themselves as a Father Abraham, alone against the world (rather than just being Moshe Feiglin). There are people who fundamentally have decided to not trust anyone.
Once the reasons are not rational, then the language that follows is also totally unhinged. Since when do people pull out terms like apartheid, Holocaust, selection and Mengele when discussing something like this? How can someone who cannot enter a gym because they have not been vaccinated feel it is in any way similar to a concentration camp?
Many opposed to the vaccine have written to me about their vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, about being connected to nature. That’s wonderful. Your critique of our engineered and artificial world is justified, but this should be included in a worldview, not replace everything else. These forms of medicine can add, but should not replace traditional medicine.
And for those who have chosen a holistic and inclusive worldview, how can people of such high principles be so self-centered? How can you endanger people around you? The doctors in the corona wards are struggling under the burden and pleading with people to get vaccinated, and you are against it? What happened to values like seeing the positive, faith and optimism? So often people write to me that “this is my right.” But the world does not exist for what is my right. In the world there are rights but there are also obligations, and we have obligations to each other now.
As for the religious readers, let’s talk about rabbis. “Aseh lecha rav,” — “Find yourself a rabbi,” says the Mishnah. As a religious person, you consider yourself part of the Torah world, right? There is an overwhelming Halachic consensus in the Torah world. There are no debates about the vaccine. Litvaks and Chassidim, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Religious Zionist and Haredi, from Chabad to Ponevezh, Torah leaders in Israel and the Diaspora — all of them are calling to get the vaccine, and as soon as possible. Not because they are the experts, but because the Torah tells them to ask those who are the experts. So why do people work so hard to find fringe opinions? Why get dragged into bizarre side alleys rather than following the main highway of the Torah world? Are we serving G-d or ourselves? For any small question about kashrut and Shabbat, when we don’t know, we go to ask. So what has changed here, when the question is life and death, and the answer is so obvious?
“You have a new G-d — this vaccine!” one person wrote to me. Indeed, one must not overstate our role in determining our fate (“kochi veotzem yadi”). I don’t pray three times a day to the CEO of Pfizer. The vaccine isn’t G-d, and people are not G-d.
If corona has taught us anything, it is the need for humanity to be humble. We have learned how limited and fragile we are. One year on, we are less subservient to ourselves and our globally interconnected world. We have been struck a major blow and need to do a lot of soul-searching. G-d is the one who calls us to develop, heal and fix His world. He created us in His image, and it is in that image that we are able to develop this vaccine. The Torah portions that we have been reading lately, Terumah and Tetzaveh, are much longer than the story of the creation of the world. The Torah does not go into great detail about the creation of the world, but goes into every detail of the building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. What man builds and fixes in the world is what is most important.
And some words to my fellow baalei teshuva, those who embraced Jewish religious observance. It is true, that you have challenged many of the basic assumptions you grew up with. I am embarrassed by what I thought of Haredim, other religious people and Torah based on growing up watching Israeli TV. But the fact you start asking hard questions doesn’t mean you have to question whether 1 plus 1 equals 2, and whether one should stop at the red light. Derech Eretz, common courtesy, comes before Torah. Sanity comes before Torah.
“The media tries to brainwash us about the Oslo accords, the disengagement and how we are supposedly forcing the whole country to become religious, and now they are doing the same with the vaccines, it’s all the same,” one commenter wrote to me.
They are correct about the first three, but incorrect about the fourth. Sometimes in the TV studios, they indeed push agendas, but sometimes they say things that are really important. One cannot live like a robot. You need to be critical about what you hear. But one who is also critical may sometimes be critical of simple truths; the truth that is called “And You Shall Choose Life.”
Translation to English from the original Hebrew courtesy of Mizrachi World Movement.