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823,101 - My Covid Prayer for 2022 (and why vaccination is a Jewish thing to do)

12/30/2021 07:03:45 PM


(Sung to “Seasons of Love” from Rent, Click HERE to hear this sung and the article read aloud.)

Eight hundred twenty-three thousand,
one hundred people
Eight hundred twenty-three thousand,
empty chairs
Eight hundred twenty-three thousand,
one hundred people
Two years and countless heartache,
and what of those spared?
In memories
In sorrow
In midnights
In words of prayer
In sunsets, in road trips,
in sorrow and pain
Eight hundred twenty-three thousand,
one hundred people
How do we live so their
deaths aren’t in vain?
How about trust?
How about love?
How about kindness?
So they’re not in vain
Inspired lives
Inspired lives


I am no lyricist, nor Broadway singer, and I am stealing from the great musical, Rent, to try to express both my hope and impatience as I look towards the new year.  This article is inspired by a friend who recently asked me for resources to back up her understanding that Jewish law does indeed condone, and even requires, the acceptance of vaccinations for Jewish people.  Because there is without a doubt a correlation between vaccination hesitation or outright condemnation and the ever-increasing numbers of Covid deaths in our country.  As of today, the United States has sustained eight hundred, twenty-three thousand, one hundred and one deaths from Covid.  And if vaccination had never been systematically doubted in the public sphere– the only purpose of which has been the consolidation of power through paranoia-bating, fear-mongering, and hate-targeting– that number could have been far smaller. 

I write this to those of you who have still not been vaccinated or are close to people who have still not been vaccinated: Please share this with them or with those who are still struggling to get others to vaccinate.  I want to put to rest any claim that Jewish law would teach that a vaccination isn’t at least a recognized “ought,” if not an outright “obligation.” 

In Jewish tradition, there are different levels of “thou shalts,” mostly identified by the terms d’oraita (Torah based) or d’rabbanan (rabbinically determined).  For example, Jewish law teaches that one cannot kindle a flame on Shabbat; this is d’oraita, as the Torah literally forbids this.  But the rule that one cannot drive a car on Shabbat is d’rabbanan, rabbinically interpreted.  I refer to this distinction because there is an overriding Torah-based principle in Jewish law, Pikuach Nefesh, “Saving a life,” which for all but a very small minority of Jewish legal experts is absolute.  This is based upon Leviticus, 18:5: “You shall keep My statutes and My laws, which a person shall do and shall live by them. I am the LORD.”  The idea here being that one “shall LIVE by them, and not DIE by them.” 

This is the source that allows someone ill to eat on Yom Kippur; or someone seriously injured to drive or be driven for treatment on Shabbat; or even, as the Talmud offers, if the cravings of a pregnant woman can only be satiated by consuming treif (non-kosher meat), there are ways to abide by this.  The point is that Jewish tradition has always made room for life saving actions at the expense of following Jewish law. It therefore stands to reason that the overriding principle of Pikuach Nefesh applies to vaccination against a deadly disease:

·  Despite its “newness,” one can/should receive the vaccine.

·  Whether or not it is developed, manufactured, or administered by someone who isn’t Jewish, one can/should receive the vaccine.

·  Each person isn’t responsible only for oneself, but for everyone we might encounter and to whom we could potentially spread the virus.  In other words, Jewish law is clear that “it ain’t just about you,” that all who are able can/should receive the vaccine.

·  From uber-Liberal to uber-Orthodox, leading Jewish experts, in medicine, halacha (Jewish law), and the nexus between the two, state that it is morally obligatory and halachically mandated that people accept the vaccine.[1]

823,101 people and counting have lost their lives to Covid.  Some ridiculously claim “natural selection;” others absurdly argue that the deaths are due to pre-existing conditions and not to Covid itself; some to this day are still claiming their right to go wherever they wish, mask- and vaccine-free.  But to date 823,101 people have died in the United States, in no small part due to this attitude.  Have we not had enough?  We have a moral responsibility to not hurt each other.  It is the central rationale for what makes human beings truly unique in the natural world. We are endowed with a divine capacity to recognize, share, and abide by higher truths and deeper wells of wisdom.  Why are we so hellbent on proving God wrong? 

Ribono Shel Olam, Master of all Creation, guide us and keep us mindful and heartful of our prime directive:  “First, do no harm.”  May we, our families, our neighbors, friends, and strangers in our midst find not only protective healing in 2022, but a return to kinder, gentler, more patient souls committed to a vision of peace and  wholeness for all. Selah, may it be so!


Rabbi Scott

Mon, November 28 2022 4 Kislev 5783