Q: “I have heard various rumors that the Coronavirus vaccine is dangerous, and there are serious people who claim that in this entire issue there is a malicious conspiracy of capital tycoons to exploit the people for their own needs, or to advance their worldview. Rabbi, in your opinion do you think it is right to get vaccinated, or should the opinion of those who oppose be taken into consideration”?
The questioners attached various articles, and asked if I was willing to read them and address their arguments.
A: The Torah instructs that in matters of medicine one should act as recommended by the majority of doctors, and since a person is commanded to maintain his health and doctors are the experts in this, it is a mitzvah to listen to them. Over all, this is how our Sages explained the verse in the Torah “He shall cause him to be thoroughly healed” (Exodus 21:19) – from this we learn that permission has been given to the physician to heal” (Berachot 60a).
Indeed, there may be doctors and specialists who are well acquainted with the field of medicine, and whose opinion tends to oppose the vaccine, and since they are sure of this, it is right for them to act according to their professional position. It would be valuable if they delved into their research and attempted to prove their position – perhaps they could benefit the entire world, just as at first, the creators of the vaccines were a minority and the majority of doctors opposed them, and in the end, they managed to prove their position. In any case, the ones who need to determine whether the claims of those who oppose the vaccine are convincing are the majority of experts in the field of medicine.
As for reading the attached material, I am not interested in reading it, because I am not an expert in medical matters and therefore do not have the tools to examine the arguments, nor do I have the tools to examine whether credible people or impostors wrote the articles.
On the other hand, I do have the ability to discern the solid fact that the position of the vast majority of doctors is that it is very important to be vaccinated, and therefore, that is my position. I do not claim that physicians have never been wrong, on the contrary, it is clear that physicians have erred numerous times, but nevertheless our Sages have instructed us to listen to physicians, because a person who listens to their guidance errs less, and in the long run, the benefit that emerges from listening to doctors’ guidance outweighs the possible harm. How much more so today when research methods have developed, are more accurate, and are tested by other researchers around the world, and as a result, the percentage of doctors’ mistakes has decreased.
Even if there are reliable doctors who believe that it is better not to receive the vaccine, in keeping with halakha, one should act according to the majority. This foundation comes from the Torah, for concerning a dispute in the Beit Din (religious court) between the dayanim (judges) the Torah says: “A case must be decided on the basis of the majority” (Exodus 23:2). Our Sages learned from this for all laws, that we follow the majority (see, Chulin 11, a-b). Also in disputes between physicians, we go according to the majority (SA, OC 618; Peninei Halakha: Yamim Noraim 8:5). How much more so in this case, where the position of the majority is clear and solid.
It is worth adding that this rule is a foundation for all of life, for one who does not trust the majority, nor trust the presumption of the validity of people who have not been proven to be lying, will be in doubt all his life. He will be unable to trust any kashrut certificate, lest the mashgiach (overseer) is dishonest, and even if he is honest, perhaps the business owner managed to deceive him. He will not be able to marry, because there is a chance he was not told everything. And if he gets married, he will never be able to trust his wife, because maybe she will decide to betray him, and set him up. He will not be able to have children, because who knows what will become of them. And if he does have children, he will not be able to trust them, because they might try to harm him in order to inherit his money.
This does not mean there are no individual cases where people cheat and betray, but that without solid a reason to judge otherwise, we go according to the majority and the presumption of trustworthiness, and are not apprehensive. In addition, if there are some who raise concerns, we go according to the majority of the experts who are familiar with the issue.
Q: Should a pregnant woman perform various tests to check her health condition and that of her fetus, or is it better for her to trust God to do what is good in His eyes, and not do any tests?
A: Included in the general mitzvah to maintain one’s health is the mitzvah to perform tests recommended by doctors, without overdoing concerns and tests not required by the majority of doctors. In the State of Israel, where currently there is good public medicine, it can be said that it is a mitzvah to perform tests that, in principle, are covered by the kupot cholim (health funds), and for those with supplemental coverage, by the insurance.
In other words, if the health care system does not finance a particular test for all women, evidently it is not so crucial. A woman who decided to do more to maintain good health and to that end added additional coverage to the regular insurance, should thus follow the course she set for herself, and perform tests covered by the supplemental insurance.
However, there is no need to do further testing, for if the kupot cholim do not cover them, it can be assumed that they are usually not necessary, and are intended for cases of special problems. In addition, a woman concerned about a certain issue should ask the doctor who treats her.
Q: May a woman be examined by a male doctor according to halakha?
A: It is halakically permitted, because a doctor is engaged in his work, and his contact with a female patient is professional for the purpose of medical treatment. In addition, if he is caught acting immodestly, his livelihood will be harmed.
However, regarding the prohibition of yichud (the prohibition of seclusion in a private area of a man and a woman who are not married to each other), the doctor and the patient must make certain they are not alone in a locked room, or that it is known that one of the staff members may knock on the door to talk to the doctor, and if he does not open, suspicion will arise.
When a doctor treats patients in a place where there are no other people, nor the doctor’s wife, a woman should come for an examination with her husband, sister, or mother.
In general, God-fearing physicians should be preferred, because the field of gynecology requires special sensitivity to halakha. For example, when a woman needs to prevent pregnancy during or after nursing, the pills intended for this may cause bleeding rendering her impure, and doctors should be aware of this and do their best to prevent this type of bleeding.
In addition, when fertility treatments or termination of pregnancy is required, one should be familiar with halakha to offer the appropriate treatment from a halakhic point of view as well. Even a doctor who does not meticulously observe the mitzvot, if he is known to be familiar with halakha and respects its observers, and knows how to offer them the appropriate treatment from a halakhic point of view, he is included in the definition of a God-fearing physician in this matter.
Nonetheless, when necessary one may go to any doctor, and in a case where a question arises, consult a rabbi.
Q: Is it preferable to go to a private doctor and pay extra?
A: In the State of Israel where public medicine is one of the best in the world, for routine treatments it is preferable to go to doctors who work within the framework of kupot cholim, both because there is no need to spend money on treatments that a person is entitled to, and also because when a person who is not especially wealthy goes for private treatment, there is a concern that in order not to spend additional money, he will avoid other necessary tests and treatments.
It is also worth adding that it is preferable for one to go to his or her regular doctor, because various problems are solved by trial and error, and the more familiar a doctor is with the patient, the more he will know how to prescribe the right treatment. However, if every time a problem arises a patient changes doctors, solving the problem will likely take longer.
However, sometimes it is necessary to consult another doctor who is a specialist, and it is preferable to do so in coordination with one’s regular doctor.
Q: Someone who asked a chacham a question about the appearance of a blood stain concerning the prohibition of nidah or for a heter (halakhic permission) to abort in a case where the fetus is found to be very ill, and received an answer that the blood stain renders his wife impure, or that it is forbidden to abort, is he permitted to ask another chacham who might give him a heter?
A: Our Sages said: “If a Sage declared impure, another Sage may not declare it pure; if he forbade anything, his colleague may not permit it” (Nidah 20b). Thus, whoever asks one chacham and he says the bloodstain renders his wife impure, or tells him that it is forbidden to abort, should not ask another chacham to receive a possible heter (Avodah Zara 7a).
There are two reasons for this. One, since it has already been halakhically ruled that the bloodstain is asur (prohibited), the prohibition applies to him, and he cannot receive a heter. Secondly, because of the honor of the first chacham whose directive should not be appealed.
Although when necessary, such as when the questioner is desperately looking for a heter to his question, or such as the questioner is a Talmid Chacham who is interested in clarifying his question in greater depth, the questioner is permitted to ask another chacham, provided he is told that he has already asked a certain other chacham, and he prohibited. Then, if the second chacham succeeds in convincing the first chacham that he was mistaken, it would be possible to retract and give a heter regarding the blood stain, or permit the questioner to perform an abortion (Tosfot, Avodah Zara 7a: Rosh and R’ma, YD 242;Lavush 31).
Some poskim say that if it is clear to all that the second chacham is greater than the first, he is allowed to give a heter even if the first chacham is not convinced (Ran, Maharik, Aruch HaShulchan, YD, 242:62).
On the other hand, according to the majority of Rishonim, if the first chacham reached hora’ah (permission to teach and decide), the prohibition remains in force (Rashba, Ritva, Tashbetz, Radbaz).
Consequently, le’chatchila (ideally), one should be machmir (stringent) in accordance with the opinion of the majority of Rishonim, and in a shaat dachat (in times of duress), such as in the question of abortion, one may be lenient when it is clear to all that the second chacham is greater.
If the questioner emphasized that he was asking for an opinion and not a psak halakha (halakhic ruling), and the first chacham expressed his opinion to prohibit, one may ask a second chacham, and he is allowed to permit, since the first chacham did not issue a prohibition on the question. There are chachamim whom, when they see that in their opinion the question brought before them is prohibited, but it is possible that another chacham will permit it, they do not rule to prohibit, but answer thus, “I cannot permit.” Then, if the questioner wants to, he can ask a second chacham who may permit.
The prohibition on asking a second chacham is precisely on the body of the same question, but if a new question arises, one can ask the second chacham who permits, since the prohibition applies only to the body of the question on which the first chacham ordered to prohibit (Ritva, Radbaz, R’ma YD, 242:31). In a sha’at dachak when an additional doubt has arisen, such as when more severe information was obtained as to the condition of the fetus, one may ask a second chacham.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.