During my visits to coronavirus wards at hospitals across Israel, I encountered a most worrying statistic. All of the hospitalized were relatively young people who had not been vaccinated. A few minutes after one such visit, I learned that a childhood friend of mine, a healthy individual with no pre-existing conditions, had died. That morning, he had found it difficult to breathe; by 5 p.m., he headed downstairs to the ambulance waiting to take him to the hospital. By 2 a.m. the next morning, he was gone.
These visits and this news have led me to call on all of you to get vaccinated.
We have the incredible fortune afforded to us by God to have a vaccine, but many of us still contemplate the move, despite the fact that halachah (Jewish law) mandates that we inoculate against the virus.
According to senior physicians in Israel and around the world, the vaccine is the best answer to the coronavirus. The risk of the virus is certain. The risks posed by the vaccine are in question. These doctors’ unequivocal position has been that we must vaccinate unless instructed otherwise by a doctor.
Unfortunately, this phenomenon of convention-breaking is not just typical of our battle with the coronavirus; we see this in many other fields. Those same people who work so hard to prevent people from getting the vaccine bear no responsibility for the public. While they say that they want to preserve their rights, they are in fact harming their fellow man.
Our obligation to be careful is not a choice. One cannot harm his/her own body or that of those around him/her. Those who do not get vaccinated are not just putting themselves at risk, but more importantly, they could cause harm to others. More than a year ago, I made clear that beyond an individual’s need to make sure he/she is safe, he/she must ensure not to inflict physical or emotional harm on others.
Hope and willpower are the solutions to many illnesses. One of the Torah’s commandments is to visit the sick. The intention here is not to ask the ill how they are doing but to see what they need. Those who undermine the vaccines weaken public resilience, and that’s a shame. The Torah’s command that we take care includes the obligation for preventative medicine, and the existing vaccine helps with that.
To my mind, anyone who doesn’t fulfill this commandment is being ungrateful that merciful God gave his world and us this vaccine to exit this pandemic.
Rabbi David Lau is the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.