Haredi rabbis
Haredi rabbisCourtesy of Behadrey Haredim

Contending that “whoever isn’t vaccinated is a murderer”, a group of senior haredi rabbis released a public letter ordering their community to immunize their children amid an outbreak of measles that has already led to the death of a child.

According to the rabbinic luminaries, immunizing one's children is obligatory under Jewish law. "Whoever does not vaccinate is a murderer," read the missive.

"Every father must ensure that his son and daughter are immunized immediately", continued the rabbis, adding that "a father has no right to prevent them from the vaccine, and in particular after recent events".

Among the signatories were senior halachic authorities, including Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein, Rabbi Shimon Ba’adani, Rabbi Yisrael Rosenberg, and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Lubin.

Haredi communities in both the United States and Israel have been rocked recently by an outbreak of measles. The Ministry of Health reports that the number of those in infected with measles in Israel is approaching 1.400 individuals, with over 60% of those infected are residents of Jerusalem from the haredi sector, many of which are not vaccinated.

The measles outbreak claimed its first victims when an 18 month-old child died after contracting the disease. The infant was not breathing and had no pulse upon arrival at the hospital.

Health officials and community groups have reported relatively low vaccination rates in Orthodox neighborhoods. Some blame a faulty perception that fervently religious Jews are protected from infection by the relatively insulated nature of their communities, on top of rumors, unfounded according to public health officials, about dangers from vaccinations

As a result of the concentration of measles cases among the haredi population, the Ministry of Health is working to send out special mobile vaccination units to haredi communities in order to stop the disease from spreading.

The disease has not been limited to Israel. Following a measles outbreak in New York, the city's Health Department last week enlisted community figures to encourage vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), including Rabbi David Niederman, president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, and Rabbi Avi Greenstein, executive director of the Boro Park Jewish Community Council.

“It says in the Torah ‘V’nishmartem Meod L’nafshoseichem,’ that a person must guard their health,” Niederman said in the Health Department news release. “It is abundantly clear on the necessity for parents to ensure that their children are vaccinated, especially from Measles.”

The Health Department is working with local health care providers, religious schools and Orthodox newspapers to spread the word about vaccines.