Israeli rabbi urges 'limited sanctions' on COVID-19 vaccine refusers

The sanctions must not be used as a punishment, but as an incentive to vaccinate.

A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine" sticker and a medical syringe, October 30, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC/FILE PHOTO)
A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine" sticker and a medical syringe, October 30, 2020.
Anyone who refuses to take the coronavirus vaccine should be hit with limited social sanctions as a result, Tzohar Center for Jewish Ethics director Rabbi Yuval Cherlow said in a statement.
The sanctions proposed by Cherlow, who is a leading ethicist in Israel, would consist of keeping people from frequenting business establishments like retailers and public transportation. Businesses, he explained, should be allowed to ask customers for proof that they've been vaccinated, and public transport and flights have an ethical obligation to turn away those who haven't been vaccinated.
While schools would also have an obligation, though, Cherlow admitted that the exact nature regarding childhood contagion isn't fully understood, so it would need further research before imposing such a policy.
“The ethical question becomes when the decision people make for themselves impacts on others - in this case increasing the risk for widespread infection by refusing to vaccinate," Cherlow explained.
"We cannot allow certain people who disregard the overwhelming science in support of widespread vaccination to impact the fate of the population at large."
But despite encouraging sanctions, Cherlow made it clear that this does not resemble similar situations, such as when pressure is placed on a husband to give his wife a get. Instead of a punishment for not being vaccinated, the rabbi explained that it should be used as an incentive.
“We have been blessed with a remarkable path to help dramatically reduce the damage from this virus, and we therefore need to use all ethical means to ensure that people are embracing that path,” Cherlow explained.
“If sanctioning those who act against the science is a further way to encourage people to behave responsibly, than that is certainly well within the realms of both ethical and responsible social behavior. But it is critical to understand that enacting sanctions can only take place after carefully weighing individuals’ rights of personal choice and privacy against the interests of the public to protect itself, so only those actions which are vital to protect the public should be considered.”
Many in Israel and abroad have expressed hesitance in getting vaccinated, should one become available, some of whom also refuse to take vaccines in general. For many who are hesitant only towards a COVID-19 vaccine, this appears to be due to fears that the vaccine is too new and rushed, rather than being tried and tested like vaccines for the flu and measles. For those against vaccines entirely (also known as anti-vaxxers), however, this is due to a belief in debunked scientific information about the dangers of vaccines, along with wide distrust for authority.
However, it seems a majority of Israelis are willing to be vaccinated. The first vaccine to have received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, which was developed by Pfizer, is set to be distributed to Israelis starting December 20.