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Miscellaneous

Health and Immunization

Question: Recently our daughter was told she should probably get a Hepatitus B immunization. We have no problem with the immunization theory, and in certain instances would certainly have our children and ourselves immunized. But over the years, we have concluded that shooting a bunch of microbes into a person might not be such a good idea, and may have something to do with the auto-immune diseases we see so much of today.[…]

Answer: I am, as they say, neither a doctor nor the son of a doctor (though my father, before he retired, was a pharmacist) so my opinions of things medical shouldn’t be taken that seriously. Therefore, I can’t really give you an authoritative opinion on the pros and cons of immunization. However, I can say that you would be very hard pressed to find credible sources in Torah literature discouraging it.

Here’s one possible explanation why that might be: our lives and our health, we believe, are in Hashem’s hands. Of course, we’re commanded to take steps to protect those precious gifts, but our fate, ultimately, lies beyond our control.

The complex world in which we live offers us nearly an infinite variety of possible health choices: should we eat baked or fried potatoes or not…take a healthy walk in the bright sunshine or perhaps it’s too bright…visit a doctor or a chiropractor or an acupuncturist for that back pain and so on…forever. We can’t possibly act on every warning and risk (for one thing, we’d never eat again: over the past year there have probably been studies conducted that cast shadows over just about every kind of food imaginable). And to try to properly research every option for its relative merits would leave us without a minute free for the performance of the other 612 Mitzvos (commandments)!

So how are we to make our decisions? How are we to properly observe the mitzvah to guard our health? The Torah (Psalms 116; 5) teaches us a general rule: “Hashem is the protector of fools.” Believe it or not, this verse (and the idea that underlies it) is employed by the Shulchan Aruch in at least one place. There is some doubt about the healthiness of eating fish with milk products. Rather than forbid it “just in case,” Jewish Law (at least for the Ashkenazic tradition) explicitly permits it (how else could we eat lox and cream cheese??). The logic is that, since there really isn’t any hard evidence suggesting a risk, we have a right (and sometimes an obligation) to rely on Hashem to protect us.

Thus the general rule: since we must live full Torah, familial and professional lives and can’t possibly take every imaginable precaution, we must rely on Hashem to silently guide us along the path He deems best for us (of course, this logic doesn’t apply to known and acute risks, like smoking or driving without seatbelts).

It’s quite possible, then, that any potential risks associated with universal inoculation programs are distant enough to fall into the category of “Hashem is the protector of fools.”

I would also add that, in choosing not to inoculate yourself or your children you are making a decision not only for yourself, but for the rest of society as well. For every person unprotected from polio or whooping cough or whatever is one more potential source for the spread of that disease. While you may well be correct in taking that risk for yourself, you are also, in a sense, arbitrarily imposing your beliefs on the members of your community.

I do fully agree with you that there is a profound interaction between the physical and spiritual in our lives. That’s not to say that any given mitzvah can be confidently said to effect any given physical state. Our physical environment does indeed change our spirit…but we can’t always know exactly how.

You are the product of your past experiences as much as of the specific soul with which you were blessed. I can say with confidence that the Torah world you’ve chosen to join will only be enhanced by the new person your struggles and continued growth will create!

With my best wishes for continued success and growth,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton

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