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The consequences of depressed childhood vaccination rates in some American communities, in the form of a building measles outbreak, have been in the news lately.

All public schools and most private schools in the United States require children who will attend (and who are medically able to receive vaccinations) to have had standard childhood vaccinations. In most states, however, parents are allowed to get around this requirement by claiming a "religious or philosophical exemption."

I am wondering whether there are any grounds for a "religious exemption" based on traditional Judaism. Such grounds would consist of a Jewish authority that prohibits childhood vaccination. A source that merely says, for example, that it's not halachically required would have no bearing on whether parents can legally claim exemption from state law based on their adherence to Judaism, since adherence to such a source wouldn't contradict compliance with the law.

Are there any authoritative1 halachic sources that prohibit standard childhood vaccinations, such as MMR?

I am not asking for any of the following:

  • Sources that permit, encourage, or require vaccination
  • Sources that permit non-vaccination
  • Reasoning without basis in explicitly on-point sources

Of course, consult your rabbi before doing anything based on what you read here, and consult your doctor before making any medical decisions.


1. Define this word however you see fit, but the more authoritative the source in my eyes, the more likely I am to up-vote the answer.

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    I heard recently that Rabbi Yitzhok Charner, shlita, principal of the Torah School in Silver Spring, Maryland, was confronted by parents who didn't want to vaccinate their child. He asked them which of the legal exemptions would they be using. They said the "religious exemption." "What religion would that be? Judaism does not forbid vaccinations." – Bruce James Feb 3 '15 at 22:09
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    Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/48637/5323 – MTL Feb 4 '15 at 5:31
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    Possibly useful links about metziyus (reality): 1, 2. – MTL Feb 5 '15 at 1:58
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According to R' Dr. David Shabtai, in a 2013 Times of Israel blog post, there is no such source:

The religious exemption exists to protect people whose religion forbids vaccination, to allow religious practice without governmental intervention. The basis for this exemption is to protect people whose religion prohibits vaccinations.

This is not true for Judaism.

Simply put, there is no stream of Judaism nor any rabbinic or halakhic authority that prohibits vaccination. In fact, the opposite is usually the case. Using Judaism as a means to obtain a religious exemption from a school vaccination mandate is simply that – using Judaism to further your own agenda.

  • לא ראיתי אינו ראיה? – Scimonster Feb 4 '15 at 8:10
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    @IsaacMoses You can not prove the non-existence of anything. – James Jenkins Feb 4 '15 at 15:46
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    @JamesJenkins absolute proof is not at all necessary. What is necessary is framing the discussion - which is exactly what Isaac is doing here. That is, our basic assumption should be that anyone who wants to claim "religious exemption" based on Jewish restrictions should automatically be required to back his claim - i.e. show some proof that such a Jewish restriction exists. (Which is exactly what he asked :-)). This instead of automatically assuming that such a restriction exists. – AviD Feb 4 '15 at 16:34
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    @JamesJenkins The problem is that Scimonster commented in Hebrew. What he wrote was an aphorism that means, essentially, "You can not prove the non-existence of anything." :) – Isaac Moses Feb 4 '15 at 16:45
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    @IsaacMoses I think it better translates to "absence of evidence is not evidence [of absence]" – Double AA Feb 5 '15 at 5:15
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In Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 3, 90 Rabbi Moshe Feinstien rules that it is prohibited to do invasive preventive medicine, and definitely not on a child, because of the inherent risks involved. R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach in Nishmas Avrohom Volumw 4, 243:1, rules that a doctor may not force a patient to receive a vaccine. Rav Shmuel Kaminetsky has ruled that for those parents who did research and found vaccines to be potentially harmful, are not allowed to vaccinate their child! Mrs.Barbara Rose

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    Here is the link to Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 3:90 where there is no such thing being said by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein Zatzal. I leave it to the community to decide if this is accurate. – Gershon Gold Apr 24 '15 at 13:57
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    Regarding Nishmas Avraham 4,243:1 please put in the link, as I am unable to find it in the Nismas Avraham. I went through the directory in the back and there is no mention of vaccines. – Gershon Gold Apr 24 '15 at 14:03
  • Also, where is the ruling you cite by R' Kamenetsky recorded? If you're referring to this news story, it a) doesn't clearly refer to a halachic ruling, and b) doesn't say anything about a prohibition. – Isaac Moses Apr 24 '15 at 14:44
  • ditto, i don't see how you stretched that teshuva from igros moshe into a ban on vaccines. if you are second-hand quoting, consider telling us who gave you these sources... – heshy Apr 22 at 4:53
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These articles quote Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky (and sort of Rabbi Shmaryahu Yosef Chaim Kanievsky) as saying that vaccines are ineffective and a hoax. Their position seems to be not just permitting non-vaccination but advocating it. I acknowledge it may or may not be read as a true prohibition. If they believe vaccines to have no positive effect, getting one may be prohibited because of chovel (self-injury), or for another reason. If it is really a hoax, it is onaah to buy it. Spending your insurance company's money on a hoax strikes me as theft.

@LN6595 quotes halachic journals to say that R' Chaim Kanievsky encourages vaccination. However, it seems that followers of Rav Kamenetsky do attempt to refuse vaccines and attend Jewish day school, as the above linked article says. He is considered an halakhic source by his community, as is Rav Kanievsky.

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    Rav Chaim Kanievsky is quoted as explicitly encouraging vaccinations by Halachic journals. Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky does not hold it to be actually forbidden. – LN6595 Feb 3 '15 at 21:07
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    @LN6595 which ones? – Shmuel Brin Feb 3 '15 at 22:13
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    Just to clarify, the way I understand the opinions in the article are not that there's any prohibition against vaccinating. It's just that certain people have reached a conclusion that vaccinations are ineffective/harmful, and it's a valid enough opinion that can allow one to not take the 'medicine'. They do NOT hold that vaccinations are inherently forbidden; they agree to the ruling of "Ve'Rapoh Yerapeh" - God gave permission to doctors to cure illnesses. – Salmononius2 Feb 3 '15 at 23:11
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    I still maintain that this post does not answer the question. The linked articles quote a prominent rabbi making some statements of public policy and spurious fact, not a Halachic ruling, and without Halachic reasoning. Furthermore, said statements do not say that the MMR vaccine is forbidden, and I explicitly asked not for the "reasoning without basis in explicitly on-point sources" that tries to make them into such a ruling. Because of all of that and the fact that the content of these articles is a chilul Hashem, I request that you delete this answer. – Isaac Moses Feb 4 '15 at 5:03
  • @IsaacMoses The articles cite R. Kamenetzky as saying vaccination is nonsense and the answer argues reasonably that he may therefore hold it's forbidden. This is not an answer that says "source X says it's forbidden" but it is IMO reasoning with basis in explicitly on-point sources, viz the articles and the alluded-to prohibitions of chovel et al. This seems to be an answer (albeit a weak one). – msh210 Feb 4 '15 at 6:45

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