Friday, August 28, 2015

Can This Really Be Daas Torah?

Rav Matisyahu Salomon, one of the signatories
Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechoffer said it best. “Whatever happened to "Rak am chacham v'navon ha'goy ha'gadol ha'zeh? - How wise and understanding this great nation is! This Pasuk from the Torah speaks of the Jewish people and how the world will see them if they follow the will of God.

Rabbi Bechoffer made this comment in response to a published Halachic ruling made by the Roshei Yeshiva of BMG (Lakewood Yeshiva). It was distributed to the heads of elementary day schools and Beis Yaakovs in that city. It states that they are forbidden by Halacha to deny entry of any student that has not been vaccinated for various childhood diseases. 

It goes on to bolster this view by claiming that vaccinations have been shown by the medical establishment to have serious medical risks and that no one should be forced to have them.  It cites a 2011 Supreme Court comment (which was probably taken out of context) to the effect that vaccines are ‘unavoidably unsafe’.  They have therefore concluded that no one has a right to vaccinate a child against their will.

They go on to say that setting school policy should be based on medical knowledge upon which only Daas Torah can speak. Not the medical establishment. As such they cite Rav Chaim Kaneivsky’s ruling that schools may not refuse children that have not been vaccinated.

I am not a medical expert. But it has been standard practice in America for decades to vaccinate children against childhood diseases.  Which has resulted in a drastic reduction of these diseases - some of which can be deadly. To the best of my knowledge it is the very same medical establishment quoted in their ‘psak’ that tell us the benefits of vaccinations far outweigh the risks.

More importantly, those children that are not vaccinated run the risk of exposing other children to the diseases they are now more likely to contract. To the best of my knowledge vaccination are not 100%  effective. They only improve the odds of not getting the disease. Which increases the risk for others getting it -  even if they have been vaccinated. Which increases the chances of it spreading. The best way to reduce the odds of any child contracting one of those diseases is if everyone is vaccinated. The only exception I would make is if a child is known to be allergic to the vaccine – making his risk of danger greater if he is vaccinated than if he isn’t. Otherwise all children should be vaccinated.

For me this is a no brainer. It is plain old fashioned common sense. The overwhelming benefits of vaccinations strongly argue in favor of requiring them for a child’s entry into a classroom full of other children.

So I truly do not understand this Psak at all. It states as part of its rationale, ‘Veshamartem  Es Nafshoseichem’  -‘ you should guard your lives’. But their interpretation of it seems to favor a more dangerous scenario for all. Far be it from me to question the Halachic wisdom of these great Roshei Yeshiva. But I have to ask: Is not the greater risk to the child and the community to not be vaccinated?

For me the answer is clear. I truly do not understand what these Roshei Yeshiva are doing, other than going against vast majority of current medical advice on this issue.

As Rabbi Eliyahu Fink put it on Rabbi Bechoffer’s Facebook page, 
Schools cannot deny enrollment to unvaccinated students.  But schools may or even MUST deny enrollment to students with Internet at home / long hair / blue shirts. So to recap, parents who risk the physical health of an entire school are cool. Parents who are merely perceived as risking spiritual wellbeing of others are not cool.
I think that says it all.