Haredi rabbis back vaccine to return to religious normality – analysis

Haredi rabbis back vaccine to return to religious normality – analysis

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed multiple challenges to the ultra-Orthodox population over the past ten months, with large sections of the community refusing to adhere to Health Ministry guidelines for managing the crisis.But in the days since the coronavirus vaccination was approved in Israel, the rabbinic leaders of almost all the sub-sectors of the ultra-Orthodox community, including extremist groupings, have said their followers can or should get vaccinated against the disease.Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, leaders of the Ashkenazi, non-hassidic ultra-Orthodox community have said people should get vaccinated, as has Rabbi Shalom Cohen, one of the most senior Sephardic ultra-Orthodox rabbis. The grand rabbi of Belz called on his hassidim to get vaccinated and the grand rabbis of Ger, Viznitz, Boyan, and Erlau have themselves been vaccinated.The radical Eda Haredi and Jerusalem Faction groupings have not issued an explicit call for their followers to get vaccinated, but have not opposed it either.Senior rabbis from the Jerusalem Faction said on Friday that the vaccine did not appear dangerous and people should consult their doctors as to whether to get vaccinated, while the Eda HaHaredit has said similarly that congregants should do what they are told by their doctors.Dr. Gilad Malach, Director of the Ultra-Orthodox in Israel program at the Israel Democracy Institute, said he was not surprised by the support given by the rabbinic leadership for the vaccine.“In general there is trust in this kind of thing, and the vaccine has been seen as something purely medical as opposed to the decision by the government to close synagogues and schools, which was seen as a religious or educational issue,” said Malach.

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Large parts of the ultra-Orthodox community refused to halt communal prayers, celebrations and other aspects of religious life involving mass gatherings, despite the pandemic, while schools in the sector opened in defiance of the law.Ultra-Orthodox leaders, and the general public, frequently pointed to inconsistent government coronavirus policies as well as the permits given for protests and the opening of different leisure activities at various stages of the crisis as justification for flouting health regulations.Malach added that, unlike government coronavirus regulations, taking the vaccine is not disruptive to an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle and therefore it is something relatively easy to permit.Eli Paley, chairman of the Haredi Institute for Public Affairs and publisher of Mishpacha Magazine, said there were two factors behind the rapid support by the rabbinic leadership for the vaccine.He said that there is “a long tradition of arbiters of Jewish law relying on decisions of doctors,” arguing that this trust is “built in” to the system of Jewish law.Although large sectors of the ultra-Orthodox community have not adhered to health regulations during the crisis, Paley says this was not because the leadership and the population belittle the opinion of medical experts but because they sought to find a balance between the health dangers posed by the virus and the “spiritual damage” caused by complying with the regulations.The rabbis have expressed specific concern that ultra-Orthodox youth in the late teens and early twenties might lose their ultra-Orthodox identity without an educational network, and indeed have complained that such a process has happened amongst some.“They saw corona as something threatening the [ultra-Orthodox] social order and that caused great spiritual damage in communities,” said Paley.If there is a way to get back to normality as fast as possible then you need to do that as much as possible.According to Avi Blumenthal, a spokesman for the ultra-Orthodox department of the Health Ministry public advocacy unit, large numbers of those in the ultra-Orthodox community who are currently eligible for the vaccine are indeed getting vaccinated.“There is heavy demand for the vaccine, the health clinics and vaccination stations are full of those getting vaccinated and are issuing the vaccine until late at night,” he said.“There has been an amazing response.”Blumenthal said that the major work of the ultra-Orthodox division was undertaken during the months ahead of the arrival of the vaccine, working with associates and assistants of senior rabbis to convince them of the necessity of supporting vaccination.He said that the division connected the rabbis and rabbinical judges with medical experts in the Health Ministry who gave them all the relevant information about the vaccine and allayed any concerns they may have had.“As soon as there was support from Rabbi Kanievsky and Rabbi Edelstein the support of the non-hassidic sector was guaranteed, while support from the hassidic grand rabbis did the same for that sector.“There is full consensus.”The Health Ministry’s ultra-Orthodox division has focused its vaccine public diplomacy campaign on the support of the leading rabbis, taking out advertisements in ultra-Orthodox newspapers pointing out that the rabbinic leadership has called for the community to get vaccinated, and has issued question-and-answer sheets on the issue.The ministry is also releasing a series of videos featuring Dr. Aryeh Waldman, an ultra-Orthodox doctor in the Meuhedet health clinic, discussing the safety of the vaccines.

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