Last week there was an interesting article in the Washington Post on a new survey from the Public Religions Research Institute regarding Americans’ attitude towards religious exemptions to the coronavirus vaccine.
One of the interesting things that emerges from the survey is that 51 percent of Americans feel that people ought to be allowed to opt out of vaccines for religious reasons but that 60 percent of Americans feel that there is no valid religious reason for a vaccine exemption. This strikes me as contradictory but I would have to see the wording of the questions and the full survey to know for sure, but even if it is contradictory, such results in surveys are not uncommon. A survey of American Jews some years ago showed that the percentage of Jews who believe that God gave Israel to the Jewish people is significantly higher than the percentage of Jews who believe in God.
Another significant piece of data is that 59 percent of Americans feel that religious exemptions are overused.
I am fortunate that I have not (yet?) been asked to write a note for someone to claim a religious exemption, but I know a lot of rabbis who have. Most rabbis will not write such a note, and I will not either, because there is no valid Jewish religious reason to claim an exemption. Halacha requires Jews to be vaccinated unless there is a legitimate medical reason not to be. But if there is indeed a medical reason not to be vaccinated, that certification needs to come from your physician and not from your rabbi.
While there is no Jewish religious reason for an exemption, there may be valid reasons for adherents of certain other religions. But it seems to me that a little consistency is called for in establishing that someone’s objection is valid. I don’t see any basis for rejecting the COVID vaccine if someone has gotten other vaccines. Similarly, some people may object to the COVID vaccine because it was tested on cell lines derived from fetuses which were aborted decades ago. Fair enough -- provided the person claiming the exemption also refrains from using over the counter medications tested on the same cell lines -- including Tylenol, Tums, and Preparation H.
Eleven months ago I discussed Jewish perspectives on the COVID vaccine in my “Contemporary Jewish Controversies” class. If you would like to view the class it is available at:
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. Although I am working primarily from home, I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian