What about measles and vaccination? Ask the rabbi

April 29, 2019 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Rabbi Raymond Apple was for many years Australia’s highest-profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Jewish religious issues. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years…he answers the question and other.

Rabbi Raymond Apple


Q. There have been outbreaks of measles worldwide, including in some charedi communities in the USA and elsewhere where childhood vaccination has sometimes not been practised. Is there a Jewish view about vaccination?

A. There seems to be a fear in some circles that vaccination can have problematical side effects. Medical opinion assures the public that such fears are unfounded with all the constant refinement of medical procedures.

There is a string of rabbinic statements advising parents not to withhold vaccination: the 19th century authority Rav Yisrael Lifschitz, for example, said that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks, and vaccination is permitted in halachah.

Leading recent authorities strongly advise parents to have their children vaccinated. An example is Rav Moshe Feinstein (Ig’rot Moshe, Orach Chayyim vol. 2, chapter 100).

Relevant halachic principles are: one must avoid danger (Ket. 41b, Yoreh Deah 167, Choshen Mishpat 427); the accredited doctor has God’s licence to heal (Ex. 21:19 and commentaries); one must not simply say, “The Lord protects the simple” (Psalm 116:6).

One of the detailed studies of the issue is Asher Bush, “Vaccination in Theory and Practice”, in “Hakirah: The Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought”, vol. 13 (2012).


Q. Since the Bible forbids taking interest, how does this apply to commercial lending?

A. The rule in the Torah is more concerned with individuals borrowing from one another.

The Talmudic sages said that “all payment for waiting for one’s money is prohibited” (Bava Metzi’a 63b). In this sense “payment” includes social deference, e.g. greeting your lender especially politely when you see him in the street.

Commercial transactions, which are much more complex, were already known in Talmudic times and to avoid problems various devices were worked out which, for example, gave the borrower and lender the status of business partners with the active partner paid for his efforts.

This does not contravene the Torah but promotes the spirit of “that your brother may live with you” (Lev. 25:36).


Q. Is there any issue with Jews listening to the compositions of antisemites like Wagner?

A. In Israel, music lovers often debate whether to ban Wagner’s music from public performance.

Was Wagner worse than other antisemitic composers?

My answer is yes. His ideology was crucial to the German nationalist movement. Hitler saw Wagner as his predecessor as leader of the Nazi revolution.

Wagner argued that Jews were the enemies of humanity. Previously they had been branded Christ-killers; now they were so hungry for world domination that they would crucify mankind as a whole.

Despite the fact that Wagner died in 1883, 50 years before Hitler came to power, there is a violence in Wagner’s music that is almost Nazi in its intensity.

It is because of what Wagner symbolises that many in Israel want his work to be banned. Outside Israel it is a matter of personal judgment. No-one is forced to attend a Wagner concert.

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