By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
Last week, I had a verbal ‘tantrum’ about one of the major Torah publications giving irresponsible exposure to an uneducated opinion that can have grave consequences to its thousands of readers. This week, I would like to study the flip side, the applause that these publishers have coming to them when they print important opinions of well-educated Roshei Yeshiva, rabboinim or lay-leaders. The example I have chosen amongst the many that there are is a letter written by Dr. Indich, a well-known pediatrician in Lakewood for over three decades. The letter was prompted by the measles outbreak in California. Dr. Indich wrote to decry the parents who choose not to vaccinate their children because of the fear of a discredited linkage to autism. Dr. Indich gives testimony in his passionate letter that during the thirty years of his practice with thousands of children and thousands of vaccinations, he has never seen any such linkage.
Now, this is journalism at its best. A young mother, perhaps seeing an autistic child, and fearing for the safety of her children, might be swayed by the hysteria. So, the magazine reaches out to the masses and teaches them with one who has impeccable credentials to do so – that they should not be concerned.
As a Rav, this issue has crossed my desk more than once and I know one great Rosh Yeshiva who told one of his talmidim who was dating a girl from a family that did not vaccinate their children that the chosson should stipulate before getting married that they will vaccinate their children because in medical Halacha we go after the rov, the majority, and the overwhelming majority of medical opinion and the overwhelming majority of vaccinations save lives and do no harm.
I have strong personal feelings about this issue since I personally contracted the measles and the mumps having had the mumps three times; once on one side, once on the other side, and once on both sides. I still remember, more than half a century later, the delirium I suffered from the measles. To think that a parent would voluntarily risk her child getting this dreaded disease by opting not to vaccinate because of ignorance is frightening. (When I was a young boy, they didn’t have these vaccinations.) Even worse, I have people in my community who have had polio and have the telltale marks which remain with them throughout their lives. How scary that a mother would opt not to safeguard her child from such a horrid disease.
But, before writing this, we are taught to consult with two mumchim, two experts. So, to get another opinion, I called my dear talmid and friend Dr. Robert Adler, who has one of the largest pediatric practices in Boro Park, seeing tens of thousands of children and has also been practicing for over thirty years. I asked him whether he thinks there is any linkage between vaccinations and autism and whether there is any validity to the concern about not vaccinating one’s child. He vehemently informed me that there is no truth to those concerns and the ‘studies’ that supported this theory have been completely disproven and discredited. He even educated me that some parents with autistic children are distressed that so much funding has been wasted on the “Scandinavian”, and other studies in this area when the money could have been used for much better purposes. He did tell me that in the area of autism, there are credible studies that exposure to certain pollutants have been linked to a heightened risk of autism.
Being also a Talmud chochom, he concluded that vaccination is one of the examples of how Hashem created the refuah before the makeh, the cure before the disease – and that everyone should make sure to avail themselves of these gifts from Hashem.
As a postscript to this essay, let me share with you the following. I mentioned this view about vaccinations at my flagship lecture at Rabbi Landau’s (Tuesday night at 9:50 PM on Avenue l and East 9th). After the lecture someone accosted me saying that there are two sides to this story about vaccinations. This prompted me to make yet another call to yet another expert. I called my ydid nefesh-very close friend, Rabbi Dr. Yitzchok Kurtzer who is a noted Internist for three decades and runs three busy offices in Scranton. I asked him for his opinion about vaccinations. He told me emphatically that it is criminal not to vaccinate our children. He went on to inform me that Scranton had a Mumps outbreak, and the probable cause was traced to a Mother who was afraid to give her child the Mumps vaccination!
This is but one example of journalism at its best. And there are many examples: Magazines and articles that educate people on how to safeguard their elderly parents’ homes, giving people resources to deal with severe allergies, educating people on mental health issues and the list goes on.
I’ll close with a final word of caution to all readers of print material: just like the Gemora cautions us to choose our rabbi carefully, “Im yihyeh Rabbo domeh l’malach Elokim, yevakshu Torah mi’pihu – If your Rabbi has angelic qualities, then learn from him wisdom.” So too, check the credentials of the writer whose piece you are reading before you rely upon it as if it is gospel. May it be the will of Hashem that we always safeguard our children and in that merit may we be blessed with long life, good health and Yiddishe nachas.
Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’ articles.
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