With the Talmudic Encyclopedia marking 75 years, Rabbi Professor Avraham Steinberg, the Israel Prize laureate who is the head of the Talmudic Encyclopedia, told Israel National News that there is a “vast literature of various aspects of ethical and halakhic behavior during a pandemic.”
“Just to illustrate an example, how far do we have to listen to the experts in protecting ourselves and even more important in protecting others, especially when it comes to a pandemic,” says Rabbi Steinberg, who is a doctor at Shaare Zedek Hospital.
“From a general secular ethical point of view there is a concept of autonomy, which means that I am the owner of my body and I make my own decisions no matter what the consequences are. So for instance if all experts say that i have to take a certain medicine or I have to be vaccinated, you have an obligation to do what is best for your body, and what is best for your body is not what you think it's what experts think. Therefore if experts say that vaccination is the right approach to save yourself you are obligated to do it halakhically. There is certainly an obligation upon society to make sure that no one is harming others and in a pandemic if I'm infecting others and some of them may die because I infected them; so these rules are very strong in halkha, much stronger than in secular ethics.”
Rabbi Steinberg says that anti-vaxxers in the religious and observant world “claim they understand better than the experts and the regulatory committees that are world renowned and they themselves trust them for other issues; if they have cancer they use medications that were approved by the same governing bodies that approved the vaccine. But on the vaccine they decided they know better.”
He adds: “I find myself in various situations, whether it's conferences, whether it's a private debates, whether it is rulings that we publish from time to time, that I think that the situation today is such that it is clearly beneficial to be vaccinated both for oneself and especially to protect others and therefore even if there's a minority opinion that thinks differently the majority rules.”
As the head of the Talmudic Encyclopedia, which began during World War II in 1942, he explains that “Israeli rabbis held the catastrophe that was going on in Europe at the time and their fear was that not only the Jews might be annihilated but the whole Torah might be lost because at that time Europe was the center of Torah.”
The idea was had to “collect everything that we know on every halakhic topic in an encyclopedic format in a concise and abridged format.”
There were originally 2,500 names of halakhic issues that became entries, which they are still using. The current volume, number 48, was released last week.
“Last Thursday, President Herzog hosted in his residence a 75th anniversary of the Talmud encyclopedia since the first volume came out,” Rabbi Steinberg says. “It was a very impressive and exciting event and important people came to bless the Talmud Encyclopedia and the workers, including the Chief Rabbis of Israel, and the Chief Rabbi of the IDF. We had a very important group of people celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Talmud Encyclopedia with the hope that we are going finally to complete it within just a few years.”
They also plan to go online, with select entries already available on their website.
“We hope after we finish writing everything to put the whole Talmud Encyclopedia into a digital format so that it will be available to everyone and we will be able to update it constantly which you cannot do with the printed book.”