April 26, 2021
As public awareness and understanding of the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak has evolved, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) has repeatedly prioritized the Jewish value of pikuach nefesh, the preservation of life. With our partner organization, the Union for Reform Judaism, we released “Guidelines on Values-Based Decision-Making in Returning to In-Person Gatherings during the COVID-19 Pandemic,”[i] highlighting the importance of balancing key values, including pikuach nefesh.
As we stated at the beginning of this pandemic, we “urge every individual to join in lifesaving efforts to reduce any possible risk of infection through increased hygiene and social distancing.”[ii] 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]
A 1999 CCAR responsum (Jewish legal analysis) on the topic of “Compulsory Immunization” emphasizes, “Immunization … is a matter of social ethics and responsibility as well. 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.”[iv] We are reminded that immunization is not just for the sake of the individual, but for the sake of the community, including those who cannot get vaccinated.
That same responsum bolstered a Jewish communal institution’s right to “make legislative enactments … for the maintenance of its vital institutions and the governance of its public affairs,” including requiring record of immunization prior to participation in certain programs and events.[v]
As a religious body, we also call upon governments to ensure accessibility to vaccines for all. As we taught in our 2017 Resolution on Health Care, “medieval rabbinic authority, Rabbi Nissim of Gerona (Barcelona, 1320-1380), noted that health care funds are specifically designated for the ‘poor of the world,’ not only the ‘poor of the city.’ Thus, when it comes to providing health care, a community must offer help to all who are in need, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, or nationality.”[vi] According to recent studies conducted by the CDC, “there is a consistent pattern across states of Black and Hispanic people receiving smaller shares of vaccinations compared to their shares of cases and deaths and compared to their shares of the total population.”
WHEREAS 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 vaccines against COVID-19 in preventing the spread and curbing the morbidity and mortality of the disease in some (though not all) individuals;[viii]
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 ineligible or medically disqualified; and
- calls upon all Reform rabbis, leaders, congregations, camps, schools, and institutions to be role models by following their state and local guidelines on obtaining the vaccine against COVID-19 for all eligible individuals as they become available, prioritizing those most at risk; and
- deems it the responsibility and the right of our Reform Jewish institutions to continue to evaluate and implement meaningful safety precautions, that may include social distancing, proper mask-wearing, and other appropriate protocols for in-person communal activities until deemed safe; and
- encourages Reform institutions to follow the CDC guidelines in reopening and gathering; and
- calls upon governments to ensure that vaccinations and vaccination education are available to the whole population, with special attention to at-risk populations and historically underserved communities.
[i] 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).
[ii] Central Conference of American Rabbis Responds to the Covid-19 Pandemic, March 12, 2020, https://www.ccarnet.org/the-central-conference-of-american-rabbis-covid19-pandemic-statement/.
[iii] “The effects of virus variants on COVID-19 vaccines,” World Health Organization, March 1, 2021, htts://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/the-effects-of-virus-variants-on-covid-19-vaccines.
[iv] CCAR Responsa 5759.10, “Compulsory Vaccination,” NYP no. 5759.10 – Central Conference of American Rabbis (ccarnet.org).
[vi] CCAR Resolution on Health Care, March 23, 2017, Resolution on Health Care – Central Conference of American Rabbis (ccarnet.org).
[vii] CCAR/URJ Guidelines on Values-Based Decision Making.
[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.