Largest rabbinical college in the nation takes a stand on religious freedom

Dr. Shannon Kroner
Dec 3, 2019 · 4 min read

In a bold effort to fight current New Jersey legislation, several prominent rabbinic leaders who direct Beth Medrash Govoha, the largest rabbinical college in the United States, have written a letter voicing their concerns regarding government policies that infringe upon religious freedom. All rabbis agree on the Torah principle that one must “guard their life exceedingly,” yet debate abounds surrounding the topic of vaccinations. From within this heated debate on vaccines, Beth Medrash Govoha has bravely stepped forward and taken a side in an attempt to halt New Jersey bill S-2173, which aims at removing religious vaccine exemptions.

Just this past year, 26,000 students were kicked out of New York schools following the passing of one of the strictest vaccine mandates in the country, removing the religious exemption, and making it near impossible to receive a medical exemption. New York has now joined the ranks of California and Maine in their loss of religious freedom. While many rabbis concur that “guarding one’s life exceedingly” includes receiving vaccines to protect from specific illnesses, there is a growing body of rabbis concerned with the skyrocketing numbers of childhood disabilities and cancers, who are researching the potential risks surrounding vaccines. This informed group of rabbis interpret the Torah principle of “guarding one’s life exceedingly” as forgoing further vaccination to avoid risks to a child who may have already been injured by vaccines or have a predisposition to potential adverse reactions. We must not ignore the potential risks with vaccination. The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) has already paid out over $225 million in legally and medically proven injuries in 2019 alone, and over $4.2 billion since 1986 when Congress passed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA). This was the creation of a no-fault compensation program to stabilize a vaccine market adversely affected by an increase in vaccine-related lawsuits.

While the role of a rabbi has often been one of guidance and comfort, especially when making important medical decisions that could impact one’s life, the U.S. government is finding ways to come between man and religion. For centuries, rabbis have often collaborated with medical doctors and their patients to help individuals evaluate risks and make important medical decisions together. For instance, one New Jersey rabbi and father of seven children, shared his personal story of his first three children who were severely injured by vaccines. Due to fear of injuring his youngest four children, he diligently sought the guidance of both doctor and rabbi regarding further vaccine decisions. Both doctor and rabbi, suggested he forgo any further vaccinations for his children. Today, his three, fully vaccinated, older children currently suffer from ADHD, neurodevelopment disorders, speech delays, and asthma, while his youngest four, unvaccinated children are healthy and meeting all their milestones. If this family resided in New York, California, Maine, Mississippi, or West Virginia, where religious and philosophical exemptions to immunization do not exist, they would have been forced to fully vaccinate all seven children, potentially risking their health, despite a family history and obvious predisposition to vaccine adverse effects. This slippery slope in which government is coercing individuals to go against their rabbi’s guidance, has compelled brave, religious leaders to take a stand in fighting to protect religious freedom. Many New Jersey rabbis have been encouraged to share their concerns regarding this type of government overreach and are planning to attend the S-2173 Senate Health Committee hearing on Thursday, December 12.

The letter from Beth Medrash Govoha does not stand alone in speaking out to protect religious freedom. Immediately after the passing of California’s, Senate Bill 276, which highly scrutinizes pediatricians’ medical opinions and greatly limits medical freedom to opt out of vaccinating, a non-profit organization was created in an effort to protect religious liberty. Freedom Of Religion — United Solutions (FOR-US) www.forunitedsolutions.org has begun building a coalition of religious leaders of different faiths to stand united in protecting religious freedom and religious vaccine exemptions being threatened throughout the nation. The most recent Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) meeting held at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced goals to encourage the implementation of new legislation removing religious exemptions.

In less than two months, FOR-US has already built a coalition of twenty religious leaders, including those of Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, and Zoroastrian faith. The organization has also received numerous letters from rabbis, priests, pastors, and doctors of different faiths, which can be downloaded from the website. Included among those letters is the one from Beth Medrash Govoha, signed by seven prominent rabbis, all of whom agree that man has a right to consider their religious beliefs and consult with their rabbi before making an important decision on one’s own health, specifically in regard to vaccinating. It’s not often we see Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Zoroastrians joining forces; yet as the FOR-US slogan suggests, these religious leaders are uniting through religious freedom and finding solutions to protect it. We must remind ourselves that once we allow government to come between man and religion, we might as well ignore our First Amendment rights and rip up the Constitution on which this great nation was built upon.

(see Beth Medrash Govoha letter below)

Written by

Doctorate in Psychology and a Masters Degree in Special Education. She has worked with special needs kids since 2001. Executive director of non-profit FOR-US

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