At the Ramaz School, a modern Orthodox day school in Manhattan, principal Rabbi Haskel Lookstein issued a ruling that vaccinations are considered “p’kuach nefesh,” a Jewish legal standard under which religious requirements are suspended to protect human life. “It’s a condition of attending Ramaz,” Paul Shaviv, its head of school, said of vaccinations. “It’s absolutely required for the protection of the health of the students.” But haredi gadol Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetzky ruled that vaccines are a "hoax."
There's currently an outbreak of measles in California that started in Disneyland, likely by a visitor from a foreign country who had not been vaccinated and had been exposed to the disease. Measles is extremely contagious. It is transmitted in the air, so you don't need direct contact with the carriers to catch it. A person can even catch measles by being in a room a measles carrier was in an hour before.
Measles was essentially eradicated in the US a decade ago. But parents who refuse to have their kids vaccinated ruined that, and among those advocating against vaccinations are haredi gadol Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetzky and his wife. (Please see here and here.) And that has helped ensure that measles periodically pops up in haredi communities.
The problem is, pretty soon we will all lose the benefit of herd immunity, and when that happenes, the nuttiness of the Kamenetzkys and the other anti-vaccine fanatics (most of whom, to be clear, are not Jewish), will truly endanger all of our families and neighbors.
So? How are Jewish schools handling this problem? The answer, the JTA reports, is varied:
…According to a compilation of state data by the San Francisco-based radio station KQED, 26 percent of kindergarten students last year at the Chabad Academy of San Diego and Beth Hillel Day School in Los Angeles opted out of vaccines last year. In 2012, 14 percent of kindergarten students at the Seattle Hebrew Academy in Washington state opted out, according to the radio station KUOW in Seattle.
The statistics are not a perfect guide to immunizations rates. For example, Beth Hillel principal Seth Pozzi explained to JTA that the seemingly high rate of non-vaccination was due to several of the children in transitional kindergarten being too young to complete their vaccines. Pozzi said all have since been vaccinated.
The Chabad Academy of San Diego and Seattle Hebrew Academy did not return multiple calls requesting comment.…
To be effective, vaccines rely upon what is called herd immunity. In the case of the most contagious diseases, like measles and whooping cough, roughly 95 percent of the population must be immunized to ensure that if an infected person should appear, the disease does not spread. This is particularly important to protect the less than 1 percent of the population with an adverse physical reaction to vaccines, such as anaphylaxis, and thus cannot be vaccinated.
“We eliminated measles transmission in the U.S. in 2000,” said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a strong advocate for universal vaccination. But, he added, “When you have an erosion of herd immunity, the most contagious diseases come back first.”
In New York, private schools have much greater freedom to decide whether to accept parental objections to vaccinations on religious grounds. At the Ramaz School, a modern Orthodox day school in Manhattan, principal Rabbi Haskel Lookstein issued a ruling that vaccinations are considered “p’kuach nefesh,” a Jewish legal standard under which religious requirements are suspended to protect human life.
“It’s a condition of attending Ramaz,” Paul Shaviv, its head of school, said of vaccinations. “It’s absolutely required for the protection of the health of the students.”
In 2005, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative movement ruled likewise, unanimously, that vaccination was required under Jewish law, save for medical exceptions. But elsewhere in the country, the rules are not so strict or the community is not so supportive of immunization.
Last August, Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetzky, an influential haredi Orthodox rabbi in Philadelphia, told the Baltimore Jewish Times, “I see vaccinations as the problem. It’s a hoax. Even the Salk vaccine [against polio] is a hoax. It is just big business.”…
Read it all here.