Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt has been holding public online briefings on the latest developments concerning the virus. This past Sunday, he had a much larger audience in a presentation sponsored by Yeshiva University, where he made a solid case for vaccination alongside Rabbi Mordechai Willig, a rosh yeshivah at its rabbinical seminary. “We have to understand that it’s an incredible chesed from HaKadosh Baruch Hu that within one year we’ve been able to come up with two vaccines,” Rabbi Glatt said. “The Ebola vaccine took five years and most vaccines take 11 to develop.”
The success of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are the result of government policy, Operation Warp Speed, in which pharmaceutical companies are reimbursed to the tune of billions of dollars regardless of whether or not the vaccines succeed. “The government guaranteed that they would not suffer financial impact,” he said. “It was all coordinated. Although this was done in an absolutely rapid fashion, not one step was skipped.” The two approved vaccines went through two phases of trials, with a third underway. “I was zocheh to get my first dose of the vaccine.”
Rabbi Glatt was an early recipient on account of his status as an essential health worker. He is the chief of infectious diseases and hospital epidemiologist at Mount Sinai South Nassau on Long Island. He dispelled some of the rumors regarding the vaccine, that it alters a patient’s DNA, controls the mind, or causes infertility. To hear such conspiracies being addressed by a respected physician may seem unworthy of his time, but in a time when so many people put their trust in comment sections, memes, and social media, the voice of an expert is vital to ensure public confidence.
“It is used to manufacture proteins. It builds the spike protein. It is then released and the body develops antibodies to it. The vaccine did not cause one death,” he said. “The studies followed up with the patients for two months. These vaccines are extremely safe.”
Rabbi Glatt concluded his presentation noting that all recognized g’dolei haTorah have spoken positively about the vaccine, recommending that the public speak to doctors before receiving it. “We are people who care about people. Help create herd immunity, which is 70 percent of the population. This is the mitzvah of g’milus chasadim.”
The moderator, Rabbi Yaakov Glaser, the David Mitzner Dean of the Center for the Jewish Future and University Life at YU, then introduced Rabbi Mordechai Willig, a rosh yeshivah at the YU rabbinical seminary who is Rabbi Glatt’s rebbe. The two speakers have known each other for 45 years, since Rabbi Glatt was a student in Rabbi Willig’s shiur. “He is my rosh yeshivah shlita. I do not pasken in front of my rebbe,” Rabbi Glatt said. In turn, Rabbi Willig noted, “Don’t yell at me. I follow what he says. Every rebbe has his own doctor. Don’t listen to the conspiracy theorists.”
Rabbi Willig took listeners on a trip seven months back, when Jews worldwide were celebrating Purim and positive cases in New Rochelle foreshadowed a much larger outbreak. “Five days before Purim, I was at a family simchah in Israel. I was with Rabbi Glatt on a call. A week later we were asking should we, or should we not, close the shuls,” he said.
He described the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County in New Jersey as heroes, for following the instructions of their local hospitals to immediately suspend public gatherings on the eve of Purim. Three days after the holiday, Rabbi Willig advised other shuls and schools in the New York metropolitan area to do the same as a matter of saving lives. “The greatest credit goes to the communities that listened,” he said.
“It is a chiyuv d’Oraisa (Torah-based requirement) to take this vaccine. It is a fence around your roof so that people do not fall,” he said.
As Rabbi Glatt addressed rumors discrediting the vaccine, Rabbi Willig spoke of the anonymous pashkevilim, or posters, that invoked living g’dolim to discourage vaccination. Having spoken to some of them, Rabbi Willig said that the posters are the “opposite of daas Torah.” He cited Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Rav Gershon Edelstein, and Rav Shalom Cohen – unparalleled authorities of Torah law – in agreement that whoever can vaccinate should do so. “Will I vaccinate when my turn comes? Absolutely,” said Rabbi Willig. “Is it permissible to skip ahead of the line? No. It’s a chilul Hashem.”
Rabbi Willig said that it is too premature to make a ruling on whether unvaccinated individuals would be permitted in shuls once the majority is vaccinated, but noted that there is a precedent with schools that do not accept students who refused their flu shots.
By Sergey Kadinsky