November 11, 2021
More than two decades ago, in its Responsum on Compulsory Immunization, the CCAR Responsa Committee wrote:
“Any discussion of our she’elah (question) must begin with this fundamental fact: Jewish tradition regards the practice of medicine as a mitzvah, a religious obligation. It is an aspect of pikuach nefesh, the preservation of human life, a mitzvah that takes precedence over virtually every other requirement of the Torah…[W]e are…required to follow the law of nature and to call the physician when we fall ill. Whoever refuses medical treatment in favor of the other, non-natural responses, is guilty of the sin of arrogance, of assuming that one deserves to be healed by way of a miracle. It follows from all this that we are obliged to accept appropriate medical treatment and to provide it to our children, for their health and well-being is our responsibility.”[i]
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CCAR stated that we “urge every individual to join in lifesaving efforts to reduce any possible risk of infection through increased hygiene and social distancing.”[ii] Many months later, when COVID-19 vaccines became available, we further resolved: “We learn from the best available guidelines of the World Health Organization that widespread, equitable vaccination is key to drastically slowing the spread of COVID-19 and preventing many deaths.”[iii]
Now, after nearly a year with vaccines available, we have learned of the great efficacy of the available vaccines. Persons not fully vaccinated face a tenfold higher risk of COVID-19 mortality.[iv]
The vaccines are saving lives.
In addition, we have seen the power of vaccination mandates. In government agencies that have required vaccination, the rate of vaccination greatly increases. For example, the New York City Teachers Union reports that, because of the vaccine mandate, as of the October 2021 deadline, there was a 96 percent compliance rate; whereas, in July 2021, when the vaccine was readily available but not mandated, the city’s education department estimated that around 60 percent of its employees were vaccinated. Henry Ford Health System in Detroit increased its vaccination rate to 98 percent (from around 60 percent) after implementing a mandate, according to senior leaders at the organization.[v]
Mandates work to encourage individuals to get vaccinated. As we stated in our aforementioned resolution on COVID-19 vaccination, “Scientists recognize that protection of individuals from serious diseases depends not only on their own immunization, but on the immunization of others in the community.”[vi] Vaccination is important not only for the health of the individual, but for the health of the entire community.
WHEREAS the CCAR has repeatedly affirmed that pikuach nefesh takes precedence over other Jewish ethical obligations; and
WHEREAS the CCAR has previously determined that the value of minyan, worship in community, must also “ensure the safety and well-being of our respective communities and citizens,”[vii] especially the most vulnerable among them, including the disabled, the elderly, and others for whom infection would bring additional risk; and
WHEREAS the World Health Organization and other medical institutions, based on emerging data, have shown the efficacy of several available COVID-19 vaccines in preventing the spread and curbing the morbidity and mortality of the disease;[viii] and
WHEREAS vaccine mandates have proved to be effective in increasing vaccination rates, lowering infection rates, and preventing severe sickness and death;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THE CENTRAL CONFERENCE OF AMERICAN RABBIS
- Urges its members, and members of the communities we serve, to be vaccinated unless medically disqualified; and
- Encourages our Jewish institutions to mandate vaccination for all employees to whom the vaccine is available, unless medically contraindicated; and
- Supports Jewish institutions that choose to restrict participation in programs and services to those who are vaccinated; and
- Urges all employers and labor unions to require workers to be vaccinated except when medically contraindicated, with paid time off to secure vaccination and recover from any side effects; and
- Supports federal, state, provincial, and local legislation and executive orders mandating vaccination; and
- Demands that federal, state, provincial, and local governments ensure that vaccinations and vaccination education are available to the whole population, with special attention to at-risk and historically underserved communities.
[i] “Compulsory Immunization,” NYP No. 5759.10, CCAR Responsa, NYP no. 5759.10 – Central Conference of American Rabbis (ccarnet.org).
[ii] CCAR/URJ Guidelines on Values-Based Decision Making: Returning to In-Person Gatherings during the Covid-19 Pandemic, May 12, 2020, CCAR/URJ Guidelines on Values-Based Decision Making: Returning to In-Person Gatherings During The COVID-19 Pandemic – Central Conference of American Rabbis (ccarnet.org).
[iii] CCAR Resolution on the Covid-19 Vaccination, April 26, 2021, Central Conference of American Rabbis Resolution on the COVID-19 Vaccination – Central Conference of American Rabbis (ccarnet.org).
[iv] Monitoring Incidence of COVID-19 Cases, Hospitalizations, and Deaths, by Vaccination Status — 13 U.S. Jurisdictions, April 4–July 17, 2021, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, September 17, 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7037e1.htm?s_cid=mm7037e1_w.
[v] Steven Otterman and Joseph Goldstein, “Thousands of N.Y. Healthcare Workers Get Vaccinated Ahead of Deadline,” September 28, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/28/nyregion/vaccine-health-care-workers-mandate.html.
[vi] CCAR Resolution on the Covid-19 Vaccine.
[vii] CCAR/URJ Guidelines on Values-Based Decision Making: Returning to In-Person Gatherings during the Covid-19 Pandemic, May 12, 2020, CCAR/URJ Guidelines on Values-Based Decision Making: Returning to In-Person Gatherings During The COVID-19 Pandemic – Central Conference of American Rabbis (ccarnet.org).
[viii] COVID-19 advice for the public: Getting vaccinated, World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/emergencies/disesases/novel-coronavirus-2019/covid-19-vaccines/advice.