Orthodox Union, US Rabbinic Council advise use of coronavirus vaccine

Jews are obligated to care for their own health and protect others from harm or illness under Halakha.

An Orthodox Jewish man wears a mask while talking on a cellphone in the Orthodox Jewish community of the Borough Park neighborhood during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID19) in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., April 30, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/CAITLIN OCHS)
An Orthodox Jewish man wears a mask while talking on a cellphone in the Orthodox Jewish community of the Borough Park neighborhood during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID19) in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., April 30, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS/CAITLIN OCHS)
The Orthodox Union and the Rabbinic Council of America released a detailed document advising followers to receive the coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday.
The advisement comes at a pivotal time as companies producing coronavirus vaccines around the globe are advancing further in their development, with major companies such as Pfizer having received approval and being set to make their way to the public.
Moreover, the announcement can be seen as an important one, as the ultra-Orthodox sector, which statistically has high rates of coronavirus transmission, will typically seek approval from rabbinic leaders over state-leaders when it comes to adopting a new practice such as the decision to get vaccinated with such a rapidly developed vaccine.
The OU and the council released the document based on guidance from the two poskim (legal scholars who determine the position of Halakha) Rabbis Hershel Schachter and Mordechai Willig.
The document states that by the law of what is known as Halakha, or Jewish law based on the Talmud, Jews are obligated to care for their own health and protect others from harm or illness. Moreover, Halakha directs Jews to "defer to the consensus of medical experts in determining and prescribing appropriate medical responses to both treating and preventing illness."
Due to the wide-standing medical backing of vaccines as an effective tool, both in modern and past times, poskim generally encourage the use of vaccines. However, due to the rate at which the coronavirus vaccines were produced, the poskim had to make special considerations for their usage.
"Notwithstanding these factors, the conclusion of our poskim is that, pursuant to the advice of your personal health care provider, the Torah obligation to preserve our lives and the lives of others requires us to vaccinate for COVID-19 as soon as a vaccine becomes available," the document reads.
In the end, approval was given and the document proceeds to explain that medical and scientific advisers clarified that neither health nor scientific standards were sacrificed in the review process.
In a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, sources close to Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, the two most senior rabbis in the Ashkenazi, non-hassidic ultra-Orthodox community elaborated on the coronavirus situation in the community.
Officials in the ultra-Orthodox division of the Health Ministry’s public advocacy unit say that some leading rabbis have been in touch with them about the vaccine and requested information, but said that the ministry was not yet directly requesting support for vaccinations among the community.
A spokesman for the ultra-Orthodox division said that he believed the majority of senior ultra-Orthodox rabbis will support the vaccination and that a majority of the community will indeed get vaccinated.
He noted that the reason large segments of the ultra-Orthodox community have not adhered to government COVID-19 regulations specifically because doing so would disrupt everyday religious life and that the vaccine would therefore be appealing because it provides for an easy return to normalcy.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.