Skip to main content

Get Vaccinated! It's the Jewish Thing to Do

Can we talk about vaccines? Not the science part, but instead the Jewish piece.

Judaism believes that our primary responsibility is towards others. We are taught to think about the community’s needs first and foremost. A few illustrations. Attending services is about the fact that others need us to be there. We do not say, for example, the mourner’s kaddish except in the presence of a minyan of ten people. Being there is so that others can stand and mourn.

While services are most certainly meaningful and uplifting to the individual, the tradition sees their import in the “we” rather than the “I.” Our prayers are in the plural because we are only one when praying with others. Even dancing at a wedding is not so much about how the spirit (spirits?) move us but instead about making sure the couple dance and celebrate on their wedding day. It is a religious obligation to make sure that the wedding couple rejoice. I dance in large part to lift others on to the dance floor. No one can be hoisted on high for the horah unless they are surrounded by the community.

Getting vaccinated is then about making sure that we are protected and healthy. The difficulty is that we are unaccustomed to making medical decisions with anyone else in mind but ourselves. Many have been faced with difficult medical choices. Do I have the surgery as one doctor suggests or take the medicine as another recommends? Do I have the procedure or wait and see what the next blood test indicates? All such decisions are fraught with risks. No medical decision, or any choice for that matter, is risk free. Even the most ordinary of tests or procedures carry with them some risk.

But when we evaluate the pros and cons we think only of our own individual health. For the first time in many of our lives, we are now faced with a decision that is not just about my health, but also the health of others. Even though the risks of the vaccines appear minimal, they are not zero. We must admit that we could very well discover that vaccines produce unintended health consequences in the years to come. I am skeptical about this, but we must admit this.

And yet we wait to get vaccinated not only to our own detriment, but the peril of others. And this is where Judaism’s voice should be heard loudly and clearly. Get vaccinated for the sake of others. Get vaccinated so that our neighbors will remain healthy and safe. We are supposed to be about the needs of others and the community over the wants of the individual. That is Judaism’s greatest lesson and teaching.

Today’s decision is not about my health but our well-being. It is about the health of the community, and the country, and the world.

When the Jewish people enter the land of Israel, they are instructed to pronounce blessings on Mount Gerizim and curses on Mount Ebal. (Deuteronomy 11) It is not that the blessings reside on one mountain top and the curses on another. It is instead that these mountains serve as physical reminders of the good that will come from following God’s commandments and on the other hand, the consequences of disobeying the commands. The community will suffer. The people will be unable to live in the promised land if they do not follow God’s instructions.

Which mountain top will we gravitate towards? We can only choose one. And we can only choose to travel together. No one gets to go on this quest alone. The individual choice is not part of the Torah’s vocabulary. It is about the community’s will. Choice is not about what I am free to do, or not do, but instead about what we must do so that we can all thrive.

Get vaccinated. Not because it will protect you, but instead because it will protect others. There can be nothing more Jewish than rolling up your sleeves with the health and well-being of others in mind.