What Does Jewish Law Say About Vaccination?
By Yehuda Shurpin
Recently there’s been is a lot of debate and discussion on the issue of vaccinations. As a parent, I’m curious what Jewish law has to say on the topic.
Dear Informed Citizen,
Thank you for your question! Or perhaps I should say questions, because the topic of vaccinations has many sub-topics and issues that need to be addressed. What makes your question even more complex is the fact that the term vaccination is very broad—there are some vaccinations that are for life-threatening diseases, and others for non-life-threatening ailments. Also, different segments of the population might have different risks based on their age and location, and so on.
However, before we address the question of vaccination specifically, we first need to understand the Torah’s take on the importance of guarding your health in general.
The Halachic Mandate to Take Precautions
Guarding your own health doesn’t only make sense, it’s actually a mitzvah. That means that even if you don’t want to do it, for whatever reason, you are still obligated to do so. The Torah is teaching us that our body is a gift from G‑d, and we are therefore not the owners of it and we can’t cause it any damage.1
It is not enough to deal with health issues as they arise; we must take precautions to avoid danger. The final chapter of the Code of Jewish Law emphasizes that “just as there is a positive commandment to build a guardrail around the perimeter of a rooftop lest someone fall, so too are we obligated to guard ourselves from anything that would endanger our lives, as the verse states,2 ‘Only guard yourself and greatly guard your soul . . .’”