Rav Moshe Sternbuch Writes Letter To Rav Malkiel Kotler About The Halachic Requirement To Vaccinate

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The following translation was done by Rabbi Yair Hoffman from the original letter, which appears below. (Additionally, the issue of vaccinations was brought up at the Agudah Convention at a panel with HaRav Elya Brudny and Harav Yosef Elefant. The video below is from that session.)

B’Ezras Hashem

18th of Kislev, 5779

To the Honorable Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood, HaGaon HaGadol HaRav Aryeh Malkiel Kotler, Shlita,

This [letter] is in further discussion regarding the matter his honor [Rav Malkiel Kotler Shlita] discussed with me on the telephone about the decision of the American Menahelim of schools to prevent children who are unvaccinated with the Measles vaccine (MMR) from entering and studying in the Talmud Torah.

RAV MALKIEL’S VIEW

According to his [Rabbi Kotler’s] words, on account of this, there are thousands of children in the New York and surrounding area that are sitting in their homes. This is because their parents are refusing to vaccinate them on account of a concern that the vaccination itself may be harmful to the child.

THE ADMINISTRATORS’ VIEW

On the other hand, the administrations of the Talmud Torahs refuse to accept these students the entire time that they remain unvaccinated. This is on account of the danger that they will cause the spread of measles throughout the Talmud Torah.

According to his [Rabbi Kotler’s] view, “This is improper, since there is substance to the view that the vaccine may be damaging. There is also the matter that according to his [Rabbi Kotler’s] words, there are Gedolei Torah that agree with the view that parents cannot be forced to vaccinate.”

RAV SHTERNBUCH’S PREVIOUS LETTER

Now regarding this issue, I have written a responsa regarding that which is pertinent to Eretz Yisroel. The matter is dependent upon time and place. I have not come to rule on the issue regarding America. That is dependent upon the rulings of the sages of that place. Nonetheless, in a number of aspects we may extrapolate from here [Eretz Yisroel] to there. I will copy here the letter that I wrote in regard to Eretz Yisroel.

Regarding the measles epidemic that has spread here, to the point where close to two two thousand ill people have contracted the disease in the past year, may Hashem have mercy. Now according to the research of the physicians that was presented to me, out of every thousand people that contract measles one or two will actually die.

It would appear that under such circumstances, where it was demonstrably proven that one out of every thousand dies from the illness – this would be considered Pikuach Nefesh in order to allow a hatzalah for life threatening circumstances.

SOURCE

The heart of the issue is apparent from the words of the Maggid Mishna (Shabbos 2:13) and is cited in the Mogain Avrohom 330:3. “Even though not even one in a thousand women in labor pass away during a birth, nonetheless, a woman in labor is considered as a dangerously ill person to violate Shabbos. [It is just that ideally, one should only violate it with a shinui].

OTHER POSKIM THAT CONSIDER 1 in 1000 PIKUACH NEFESH

Similarly, we find regarding prohibitions [where the concept of bitul is for some reason inapplicable], that we are concerned for a very remote possibility – even if it is only one in a thousand (See Rashi, Bava Metziah 6b “Kulam.”). A matter that involves danger is more serious than a matter that involves a prohibition.

If so, regarding matters of life and death – where we do not follow a majority – it is worthwhile to be concerned even for a remote possibility of one in a thousand.

POSKIM THAT CONSIDER 1 in 1000 REMOTE

On the other hand, we do find a number of Poskim [that are of the position] that a one in a thousand possibility does not qualify enough to be a danger upon which one would violate the Shabbos. as the Mogain Avrohom 316:23 has written – that it is forbidden to kill a rodent on Shabbos even when there is a concern that it will fall into the food. For this is a matter that is not common, and he can always cover the food. Also, the chance that it is dangerous in the food is one in a thousand. It is similarly explained in the responsum of Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Vol. I #60) that even if their is substantial pain and agony, and that there is a remote one in a thousand possibility that it will develop into a life-threatening situation or possible life-threatening situation – this is not considered pikuach nefesh. The Chazon Ish zt”l has already warned about this in his letters (Teshuvos and Ksavim #48), that we should not too quickly declare Pikuach Nefesh for every remote possibility – for if so you give a supportive hand to the derelicts – who will constantly find a remote concern in which to violate Shabbos. They will then come to work on Shabbos for purposes of making a living and will say that they are doing so because of Pikuach Nefesh.

RESOLUTION

We must, therefore, distinguish between the situations as follows:

That which the Mogain Avrohom and Rabbi Akiva Eiger have written, that one in a thousand is not considered even a possible Pikuach Nefeshis is in regard to whether we consider the remote one in a thousand chance that it will “enter into a dangerous situation” – as the wording of Rabbi Akiva Eiger indicates – “that it will develop into a life threatening situation.” However, when the danger is clearly present before us – where we have cases of mortality of one in a thousand – like a woman giving birth – it is proper to be concerned for a remote possibility and it is treated like possible Pikuach Nefesh (See further what we have written on this in Teshuvos v’Hanhagos Volume V #399).

APPLICATION TO HERE

If so, here too, where there are before us situations where on account of a failure to vaccinate they arrived at true danger to life it is considered PIKUACH NEFESH to force the parents to vaccinate their children [similarly, even the parents of vaccinated children are permitted to demand that children who are not vaccinated not be allowed to enter the Talmud Torah together with their children, as will be explained later.]

MEASLES CAN DAMAGE LUNGS AND BRAIN

It would further appear that even without a concern of the mortality rate of measles, the doctors testify that measles will at times cause damage to internal organs [where it can cause brain infections and lung infections that cause cause permanent damage to breathing.] I remember that I heard from the Brisker Rav zt”l on that which is explained in the Gemorah, that one must do a hatafas dam bris Metzitzah on Shabbos because without this there is a danger to the child. He was asked how nowadays where it was proven medically that there is no danger or Pikuach Nefesh in leaving out the Metzitzah it should be forbidden on Shabbos. He explained that Pikuach Nefesh also involves long term weaknesses that can cause weaknesses in the future, and here too with a strong attack of measles, this illness can cause damage to the internal organs. At times this will not be noticed immediately, only after several years. On account of this concern, parents have the right to demand that those children who are not vaccinated not study with their own children.

Even though there are some individual doctors who claim that the vaccine can damage the child, since the overwhelming majority of doctors hold that vaccines do not damage at all. We are not to follow the tiny fraction of a minority of doctors who claim that vaccines damage (even though in general in safek pikuach nefesh cases we do not follow the majority in cases of medical opinions as is explained in Shulchan Aruch OC 618:4) because here it is different in that if we follow the minority view, we are endangering others according to the majority view of the doctors. On the other hand, if we follow the view of the majority of doctors, we will be endangering people according to the view of the minority of doctors. In such a situation where on each side there is Pikuach Nefesh, we must certainly follow the majority. For the entire reason not to follow the majority is just in order to save life – and there is no “greater saving” here if we follow the minority view. Thus the halacha goes back to following the majority like in all other Torah cases where we follow the majority. Therefore it is clear that the father MAY NOT prevent his child from being vaccinated and to cause him to enter a situation that is Pikuach Nefesh according to the majority of medical opinion. Certainly here, where refraining from vaccinating a child causes damage to others. For on account of his not vaccinating his child he is causing the epidemic to spread further not only for his child but for others who can get sick from his child.

It would seem further that the parents of vaccinated children can demand that those children that are not vaccinated not be allowed to enter into schools together with their children. For as it is known this disease is very communicable. The vaccination itself cannot completely prevent the spread of it [there remains a 3 percent chance of infection even after vaccination]. The children that are not vaccinated do not have a right to endanger the vaccinated children and to expose them to the disease – even though the mortal danger to them is remote and minimal, since there is a small chance that they can become sickened by the disease. The parents have the right to demand that their children not be exposed to the illness even with no mortal danger.

We find similar to this in regard to the smoking of cigarettes. There the Halacha is clear that smokers are NOT PERMITTED to smoke cigarettes in a public place since they damage the rest of the public that do not smoke. Even though there are some individuals that claim that smoke does not cause damage, nonetheless, they do not have the right to force the public to follow the minority medical opinion. Here too, since the majority of doctors hold that they should vaccinate, the father is not permitted o force the public to rely on the minority view of doctors that hold not to vaccinate. Rather, the public can demand to fulfill the halachic obligation of Pikuach Nefesh to follow the view of the majority of doctors. It comes out that even the administration of the schools are not obligated to accept a child that did not vaccinate – since it is dangerous [to do so] and against the desires of the parents who are concerned for harm.

And while it is true that perhaps from the perspective of a lofty level of Bitachon a person may be permitted to rely on the Holy One Blessed Be He and not vaccinate (if he is truly on that high level of faith in Hashem in all of his matters), but Bitachon is only in matters that are between him and his Master, but in a place where he is liable to bring others into a state of danger – he is not permitted to endanger others. Rather, he is obligated to function in the manner of the halacha of saving lives. Therefore, the administrations of the schools should conduct themselves in the manner of Torah and they may demand that the students who have not been vaccinated not be admitted into Yeshiva. And even though the Talmud Torah of Tinokos shel Bais Rabban is most serious, for we do not abolish the study of Tashbar even for the building of the Bais HaMikdash – nonetheless, here where there is a concern for danger – even a remote danger – they do not have the right to cause a danger to others. And even though that there is in this a Chilul Hashem – a desecration of the Name for they give power to heretics and derelicts to make fun of Chareidim, for the epidemic is specific to religious communities, and they claim that our religion is not concerned for loss of life – during a time when the opposite is true – that our Holy Torah is concerned for every aspect of Pikuach Nefesh.

In conclusion, since it is proven that vaccines are effective to prevent the spread of disease, it is an obligation upon every father to vaccinate his children to prevent spread of the disease – as is the law of the Torah to follow the majority view of experts. Certainly here, where the view of the overwhelming majority of doctors and the boards of health that one should vaccinate, certainly then the administration of the schools may demand that those children that were not vaccinates not enter into the Talmud Torah.

All our words here apply to Eretz Yisroel, but that which is relevant to America, the Rabbis and Admorim there should judge it, and they should listen to the opinion of the doctors and follow the law of the Torah. Their intent is for the sake of Heaven to clarify the Halacha and they will have Divine assistance, and one who observes the Mitzvah to listen to Divrei Chachomim will know no evil.

I am involved in communal needs and I therefore shortened my words, the intelligent thinker will understand and add a lesson,

His friend who desires his good welfare and who anticipates much Divine mercy, and may he fulfill within us “And I shall remove all illness from within your midst,”

[Rav] Moshe Sternbuch

(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)




33 COMMENTS

  1. “According to his [Rabbi Kotler’s] words, on account of this, there are thousands of children in the New York and surrounding area that are sitting in their homes.”

    Thousands of children?

    What blatant sheker.

  2. “This is improper, since there is substance to the view that the vaccine may be damaging. There is also the matter that according to his [Rabbi Kotler’s] words, there are Gedolei Torah that agree with the view that parents cannot be forced to vaccinate.”

    How is it that we havent seen YWN post this letter and opinion … despite their promise to bring ALL sides to the public’s attention?

  3. With posts like mom me and steve10177, it feels like 1918 – or even 1818 – instead of 2018! What idiotic comments. However, I knew that even when the gedolei hador came out with p’sakim requiring vaccination, as many have now done, the anti-vaxxers wouldn’t listen because they don’t care about Halacha.

  4. There are actually probably thousands of people with measles between monsey, city, Lakewood and Passaic. the anti vaxxers that got the measles most didn’t go to the doc in order for them not to be forced to do what they don’t want to do.

  5. Thousands of kids not in school in the New York area because of this? I find that very very very hard to believe. If there’s more than a hundred I’m in shock.

    The fact is that the vaccines are not dangerous as far as drs know. It had been thought to be because of false information but, BH, that was proven to be a hoax.

    Those who refuse to vaccinate are playing Russian roulette with their children’s lives as well as the wives of anyone else who catches the machla from them or their children.

  6. steve10177:
    If you would read or understand one word of the scholarly geonishe response you wouldn’t ask such a idiotic question. R’ Moshe is definitely one of the most respected gedoldei doreinu. (BTW- The definition of “gedolei hador” does not necessarily mean only someone that’s in the Moetzes…)
    Why would R’ Malkiel send his question to him if not?

  7. Mom me:

    There is no other side to this story. The other side is bogus information, so posting about bogus information is literally fake news (no pun here). There is only one opinion, if you don’t vaccinate you put yourself and those around you who CANNOT vaccinate for medical, age, health reasons at risk. Period.

    This isn’t a conversation. If you disagree you should go look youself hard in the mirror for putting you and your children at risk of getting preventable diseases that can cause sterility and severe health issues, if not death. I had a reaction to a vaccine and I would STILL vaccinate my kids. The odds of having a reaction are so insignificant compared to the odds of getting and spreading preventable illnesses. Unless you are very sick, too young or old, pregnant or allergic, you are a selfish human to not vaccinate. Period.

    End of discussion.

  8. Bulldozer….

    Surprising you can get through a posting referring to Rav Kolter as a liar but I can understand in this case and the matters of pikuach nefesh involved (as so clearly stated in Rav Sternbuch’s letter) it is important to push back against the blatant falsehoods being spread by the anti-vaxers and unfortunately, some Rabbonin and askanim who repeat such falsehoods. Of course, there are individual instances where a vaccine may be problematic to individual kids and those cases can be deal with but otherwise, parents who simply adopt the anti vaccine position should rightfully be told to keep their kids out of school and other public venues. I wish Rav Kotler had never made such an incredibly uninformed statement but kol hakovod to Rav Sternbuch and others who have pushed back respectfully and forcefully.

  9. if YWN and all the distinguished commentators are relying on Harav Shternbuch Shlita, Posek Hador, maybe we should list a few more of his famous teshuvos. Like about Shaitels, voting. maybe his thoughts about the draft law.
    maybe Rabbi Hoffman should write a Halachic analyses about picking a rav and following him. maybe gadolhadorah would like to ask Rav Shternbuch if he agrees that it is infact a kiddush hashem that a frum woman won the Jerusalem Marathon. (Rabbi Gadolhadorah don’t worry you can speak to him he’s a native english speaker)

  10. We live in the USA. As per Din D’malchoso, a child or adult needs to be properly vaccinated before going to class. Otherwise it could cause an epidemic. Statistics lie. Additionally, a school could have 20 cases of measels and still fall in the 1 in 1,000 statistic. Allowing unvaccinated kids into school can cause an epidemic. Two wrongs don’t make a right; they make a disaster!

  11. > yoffi

    You are being vague. Is “Shaitels,” about hair from India? Who says anyone here uses hair from India? (In Israel it is different because they have a majority from India). Is voting about Trump? I quote his response as presented in the media: “We are uninterested in his private behavior, and in any case, we consider all non-Jews to be in this category. We are only interested in how he acts toward the Jews.” And he is quoted as approving of protests against certain things (possibly even the draft ;law) but I find nothing about him approving the blocking of ambulances or blocking people from going to do mitzvahs and learn Torah (which is what the extremists in Peleg are doing). But he is qupted as accusing those who protest only the draft law of being, in my own paraphrase, selfish and self-centered instead of lshem shamayim.

  12. “if YWN and all the distinguished commentators are relying on Harav Shternbuch Shlita, Posek Hador, maybe we should list a few more of his famous teshuvos. Like about Shaitels, ”

    I don’t know if this blows my cover, but I don’t wear shaitels.

  13. 1. The moral of the story is, don’t ask a question whose answer is to be published, unless you already know it’s going to come down on your side.

    2. Rav shternbuch quotes Rabbi Kotler’s argument: “This is improper, since there is substance to the view that the vaccine may be damaging. There is also the matter that according to his [Rabbi Kotler’s] words, there are Gedolei Torah that agree with the view that parents cannot be forced to vaccinate.”
    A reader asks: “How is it that we havent seen YWN post this letter and opinion … despite their promise to bring ALL sides to the public’s attention?”
    Because there is no such letter/opinion.

  14. Yoffi: Rav Shternbuch is without any question whatsoever one of the gedolei hador and one of the major Poskim in the world. It is idiotic to try to switch the subject to something else that we are not discussing. Anyone who doesn’t rely upon his p’sakim is a fool. Why your chutzpadik nonsensical comment is even allowed to take up space is beyond me. Regardless, nearly all Poskim and 100% of credible, well-trained doctors have stated unequivocally that vaccination is required (with the very rare exception of one who has a medical contraindication). But, we know that, at the end of the day, anti-vaxxers don’t care about medicine or Halacha-they just have their own dangerous agenda that has no sense behind it. Just keep your families away from our community until you come to your senses and vaccinate.

  15. i agree with rav shterbuch but rav malkiel is allowed to argue with him and anyone who brings raiyahs from medicene is wrong,since when do we pasken a halacha only because of danger ,of course their is a din of pikuach nefesh but poiskim are allowed to argue what pikuach nefesh is and anyone who says rav malkiel kotler has “his own dangerous agenda”is being oiver many avairos

  16. The Shailah was presented incorrectly. You can apply brilliant Halacha all day long to the wrong set of circumstances and your psak will be wrong. The majority of doctors have not done their own research and are simply relying on the pronouncments of a few concentrated central bodies who are all basically feeding off of the CDC. The CDC has been outed multiple times to be LYING. This means the the “rov” we are considering is not a real “rov”.

    A Rav has tremendous responsibility on his hands and needs to be dan very very carefully. This means hearing out all parts of the argument. This is an extremely complex issue.

  17. Shimon 2010….the right wingnuts have argued their case on any number of public policy issues from vaccination to global warming etc. based on some vast conspiracy to promote a left wing agenda where all the government experts and the 99 percentile of private sector experts are all lying to impose their “agenda”. For every scientific issue there is always going to be a small dissenting minority of “experts”, some legit and some simply seeking publicity from taking a dissenting view. In today’s 24×7 electronic media news world, the networks are desperate to find a contrarian talking head to create the broigas which is the lifeblood of news ratings. In the case of vaccination, the science is almost universally in support of vaccination with recognition that a very small minority has to forego for legit reasons. However, from a public policy perspective (and derivative haalachic questions) we decide/paskin based on the 99 percentile, not the 1 percentile, but provide some off-ramp for the 1 percent where necessary. In this case, the gadol hador has rightfully pushed back hard to squash a rav who has issued questionable statements that could lead to really adverse and deadly consequences for both his own tzibur and others. And no, a contrarian view from an otherwise respected Rav is NOT worthy of respectful consideration once the fundamental error and critical dangers of that view have been made clear to him and others.

  18. > shimon11210

    Just because of your post I personally did a quick web search on CDC and lying. The sites returned are so infantile and moronic that it is embarrassing to have it referenced even indirectly on a Jewish web site.

    But let me make on observation. The entire world – every major country and nearly every minor country as well – has nearly identical vaccination schedules (for major childhood vaccines). Countries that hate each other, are enemies, and would even commit genocide on each other given the chance still have nearly identical basic vaccine schedules. So one would have to believe that that some evil vaccine force has taken control of the whole world. The point is, if that were true then instead of population booms and over-crowding the world should be dying off. What magic is giving the world such a population if vaccines are killing them all off? Or, I suppose, one simply denies the population of the planet and one claims all those reports of over 7 Billion people and growing are also such lies. After all, which of you actually counted them?

  19. the question sent was NOT pro vax or anti. the shaaloh was as manhig in lakewood who is being pulled in every direction and is getting calls from either wifes or husbands whos kids are home because of no vax and one or both parents are stuck . if both agree and dont vax than momy and the kids are going crazy staying home . and if its ONE parent that says lets just vax and get the kids back on the bus you can imagine the “koilos” at home . so its a big mess and rav malkiel was looking for some direction to lean on.

  20. Rav Kotler has an obligation to provide accurate and truthful information on matters he can claim to be knowledgeable about or otherwise refer his tzibur to those who are expert. To make assertions that “thousands” of kinderlach have been thrown out of school for not being vaccinated and the parents (or kids) are “going crazy so let them back into school is totally irresponsible. While being careful about being mevazeh talmeidi chachamim, there is an even greater burden on such leaders of the tzibur to themselves speak accurately and truthfully about matters of critical importance to t and that is why Rav Sternbuch presumably felt obligated to address R’ Kotler’s lies about the dangers of vaccination warranting allowing unvaccinated kids back into school. If he wants to set up an interim set of yeshivos and BYs for the Lakewood anti-vaxer yidden, do so but STOP promoting dangerous ideas about matters where the vast concensus agrees that vaccination must be required.

  21. Our community has a serious problem. We treat anyone in a leadership position who is a talmid chochom as expert in absolutely everything. I think back to my yeshiva days when bochurim would pose halacha shailos to the Rosh Hayeshiva. His responses were focused on the lomdus aspect, not the applied halacha. This was his expertise, and his responses were appropriate. However, the bochurim interpreted them as psak halacha, and implemented some very incorrect practices.

    Rav Malkiel Kotler is a fine talmid chochom. He occupies prestigious roles in the frum community. And I do not challenge him as worthy of the distinction, honors, and positions he occupies. But, I ask, is he a posek? Does he have the experience and breadth of knowledge to pasken shailos, that include both the medical portion as well as the public policy? We are well within reason and responsibility to question this. Notice Rav Sternbuch’s open statement about not having jurisdiction in America. Does Rav Kotler state the limitations of his expertise or his public role? Not every Rosh Hayeshiva is equipped to pasken shailos. Not every Rosh Hayeshiva is equipped to determine public policy. And the assumption of the responsibility of accepting a small minority professional opinion over the overwhelming majority is a massive task. Does Rav Kotler have that capacity? I am not intending negative about him ch”v. I am just posing a perfectly rational question whether his expertise is consistent with the role. Being a great magid shiur is not a small achievement. But does that render that person a posek?

  22. We must be sensitive to the great pitfall of chillul HaShem and lack of emes that is occuring with this matter. Rav Kotler presumed that “two thousand” children were sitting home because the respective health departments ordered unvaccinated children out of schools. In Monsey, this involved 25 schools with low vaccination rates. The Health Dept order is as good as law in NY. Had all those children stayed home, the number would have been accurate. However, in speaking to reliable local sources, the large majority of those schools did not comply with the Health Dept order and the schools are allowing the children to continue to attend. I’ve been dealing with the state and county DOH and can testify that it is causing a tremendous chillul HaShem. Measles has now spread outside of the community. It’s very likely that there are hundreds of cases of unreported measles due to anti-vaxx parents refusal to bring their kids to their doctors. The Health Department is very aware of the situation. Anti-vaxxers want to maintain their “right” not to vaccinate their children but where do they get the right to endanger the lives of others thereby creating such a terrible chillul HaShem? May we all daven that this epidemic of sheker and violation of Daas Torah end.