Can I Use Vaccines Made From Fetal Tissue or Non-Kosher Animals? By Yehuda Shurpin and Rabbi Beryl Wine takes the shot and Joseph budgeting for waste, do you? and Where is the most uninhabitable place on Earth? and How Concerning Are the Allergic Reactions to Pfizer's and Moderna's Vaccines and What blessing should you say when you get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher, and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money, and spiritual engagement.
What blessing should you say when you get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Different rabbis from different denominations give their opinions on which blessing to say.
Jewish liturgy offers blessings for seemingly every occasion, from ritual moments (such as lighting Shabbat candles) to sublime experiences (seeing a rainbow) to mundane acts (going to the bathroom).
But what is the right blessing ("bracha" in Hebrew) to say upon receiving the COVID-19 vaccine? Is it even appropriate to say a blessing at all? This moment felt far off at the beginning of the pandemic, but is arriving at record speed. Both Moderna and Pfizer have produced COVID-19 vaccines that are more than 90% effective at preventing infection, and the U.S. government is set to receive enough vaccines to immunize 100 million people in the first quarter of 2021.So we reached out to rabbis from different denominations to get their opinions. All said the occasion merits a Jewish response, even as Orthodox rabbis noted that formal blessings with God's name are reserved for certain situations. But beyond that, they turned to different ideas from within Jewish texts and tradition. Here's what they told us.
Rabbi David Wolpe, Sinai Temple in Los Angeles would say three, actually: the shehecheyanu blessing, thanking God who brought us to this day; "She'asah li nes bamakomhazeh," who has done a miracles or me in this place; and "Shenatan michochmato l'basar v'adam," who has given of His wisdom to flesh and blood. In a recent "daily connection" video, I cited the biblical Joseph saying the second of these blessings when he returns to the pit he was thrown into, and I suggest we should say the same.
Rabbi Emily Cohen, West End Synagogue in New York City What do you say upon receiving a vaccine that may, one day, lead to communal life again? First, I'll invite each person, upon receiving the vaccine, to take a breath of awe and thanks, even if — like me — they hate needles.I'll be inviting each member of my synagogue to bench gomel on the Shabbat after they receive the vaccine. Gomel is a prayer said by Jews who've come through a harrowing threat to life, like giving birth, a major illness or a car crash. It's received by the congregation and responded to by the full community, each person asking for more good to come to the one who has survived.One day, when we are able to gather as a complete community in our sanctuary, I will lead us all in the most profound of shechecheyanus, offering full-throated gratitude for being brought to the moment of collective, in-person religious expression for the first time in well over a year.
Rabbi Ben Greenfield, The Greenpoint Shul in BrooklynOne must offer words of praise and blessing to Hashem upon the amazing event of receiving this vaccine! That is clear. The question is if one should do so using one of the official, canonical brachot of our tradition, which would entail uttering God's sacred name.Here, too, the short answer is yes, complicated only by the fact that there are so many brachot which apply that it is hard to know which one is correct! Shehechyanu, recited upon occasional events that spark gratitude (e.g. buying new furniture, eating new fruit, important rain falling on one's field) seems, at first glance, to easily qualify. On the other hand, ha-Tov v'ha-Meitiv (who is good and causes good) should be recited if the event is shared by multiple people (e.g. rain falling on a shared field, a couple buying furniture, new wine brought out to the dinner table), and receiving a vaccine is of both personal and public health benefit. Finally, ha-Gomel (who rewards the undeserving with goodness, and who has rewarded me with goodness) is recited upon rescue from an illness. A strong argument can be made for this blessing, too .My master and teacher, Rabbi Dov Linzer, addresses all these possibilities and advises reciting HaTov, and to do so before receiving the first shot.COVID has been a dark reminder of an eternally true fact: Our lives and our health are connected with those of strangers we will never meet. To have the opportunity to protect ourselves and, in doing so, grant protection to others is a gift from God worthy of a most heartful "HaTov v'ha-meitiv."
Rabbi Salem Pearce, Executive Director of Carolina Jews for Justice Rabbi Karen Reiss Medwed and Rabbi Ruth Adar have both written original and moving brachot about vaccines. The other possibility I'm thinking about is asher yatzar, a prayer that is traditionally said after using the bathroom. The ambiguity of "b'chochmah" (with wisdom) could be understood as God creating us with the wisdom to recognize the divine image within ourselves and the importance of our partnership with God in creation and stewardship of human beings.
Rabbi Yosie Levine, The Jewish Center in New York CityThe impulse to recite a blessing upon receiving the COVID-19 vaccine is a laudable one. As a general matter, brachot insist that we pause and reflect on how we can endow otherwise mundane moments in our lives with a sense of sanctity. But not everything warrants a bracha.There is an argument to be made that the distribution of the COVID vaccine calls for the recitation of birkat shehecheyanu, the blessing that acknowledges how indebted we are to our Maker for permitting us to reach a given milestone. In the midst of the untold suffering brought about by this pandemic, the almost miraculous production of a vaccine represents a dose of unusually good news. As the Talmud teaches, hearing exceptionally good tidings is reason enough to recite this blessing.At the same time, however, we typically adopt a minimalist approach to brachot. We tend to follow precedent. We might say that the list of occasions that call for birkat shehecheyanu is fixed. As such, from the perspective of Jewish law, the best practice would be to recite the bracha while omitting the name of God. Many people are in the habit of doing this — perhaps unwittingly — upon hearing another kind of news.At a funeral, mourners say the bracha of dayan ha-emet, expressing that God's ways are just even if they are inscrutable. But others recite this blessing without God's name by saying simply "baruch dayan ha-emet." It's an elegant compromise that allows one to express the intent of the blessing without running afoul of potentially reciting a bracha in vain.In the case of the COVID vaccine, there may be yet another reason to say shehecheyanu. Though the practice has largely fallen out of vogue, Jewish law mandates this bracha in a case where a person sees his/her friend for the first time in 30 days. Considering that this vaccine will allow people in isolation to soon reintegrate with their friends and family, there will be much to celebrate. To put in differently, how could we not acknowledge the extent to which we are grateful for having reached this moment? What a blessing.
The Three Musketeers at the Kotel
How Concerning Are the Allergic Reactions to Pfizer's and Moderna's Vaccines
There have been several reports of individuals receiving the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and BioNTech (NASDAQ:BNTX) and experiencing serious allergic reactions. The advisory panel to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that reviewed Moderna's (NASDAQ:MRNA) coronavirus vaccine focused on the potential for similar reactions. In this Motley Fool Live video recorded on Dec. 18, 2020, healthcare and cannabis bureau chief Corinne Cardina and Fool.com writer Keith Speights discuss how big of a concern these allergic reactions should be.
Corinne Cardina: Another thing that came up in the panel, a lot of people have questions about it because, of course, these kinds of things make headlines: allergic reactions. I know that we talked about some allergic reactions in the U.K., but those were people who had a history of allergic reactions.
The big headline in the couple past days has been, someone in Alaska who did not have a history of allergic reactions, having an anaphylactic reaction. The FDA wants to make sure the doctors have the right treatments for anaphylaxis on hand. You have to sit and be observed for several minutes after getting the vaccine, just to make sure that you don't have a reaction. What did the FDA Advisory Committee say about these reactions?
Keith Speights: Well, they did discuss it and just -- a similar story that happened last week with the Pfizer vaccine. This kind of thing can occur, and it's obviously concerning.
But the main thing is they just want to make sure that there is an observation period, like you mentioned, Corinne, that people don't just get the vaccine and immediately leave. They want them to stay around for 15, 20 minutes or so, just to make sure they don't have a reaction. They want to have oxygen on hand, they want to have epinephrine on hand to address any anaphylactic reactions.
Again, this is not unusual with vaccines at all. People do have allergic reactions. You mentioned the Alaska person. It's also not really all that unusual for someone to have not had a history of having allergic reactions and then to develop an allergic reaction. I personally know people who spent their entire life loving to eat shrimp and lobster, and in their 40s develop shellfish allergies, just nearly seemingly overnight. You can have a history of none of these allergic reactions and develop it unknowingly.
It is important that people are observed for a few minutes after receiving the vaccine. But ultimately, this wasn't a showstopper by any means. Again, this is a normal thing with any vaccine, and so the FDA advisory committee certainly discussed it, but the main thing they want to do is just take some standard precautions there.
Corinne Cardina: Absolutely. It's important to just remember that these reactions that new stories are written about, they're still quite rare, and so you don't want to blow it out of proportion and not get the vaccine because of them. Even the woman in Alaska who was hospitalized as a result told everyone, "I'm still so glad I got the vaccine. You should get it." That was good to hear.
One of the most inhospitable places on the planet is this place...
It's so inhospitable that there is no life here. There are no plants of any kind, let alone trees, because plants simply can't survive here, even though it does rain here at least once a month.
There are no insects or animals of any kind either. Even scorpions and cockroaches can't survive here.
This place is literally devoid of life and it has nothing to do with the influence of man, it's because this place is naturally devoid of life. Nothing can survive here.
If you were to suddenly find yourself in the middle of this place without any water you would not be able to walk out alive.
If the constant unrelenting sun doesn't kill you from exposure then the extreme temperatures most likely would, because in the summer it's exceptionally hot and in the winter it's well below freezing.
No matter the season - after 48 of hours of walking around here dehydration would do you in. Without help, you're a dead duck.
Even if you're lucky enough to get rain, the instant it's pooled on the ground it would be so toxic to you that if you drank it you'd only accelerate your demise.
Do you recognize it now?
No? All right, here's a clue, it's not snow that you've been looking at!
Miles and miles of salt for as far as you can see. There's 30 thousand acres of it here, a full 46 square miles of the stuff up to five feet deep, and it's 90% pure.
It's so pure that you could literally pick it up off the ground and put it on your french fries, although that's strictly forbidden.
Why? Because it's also the flattest place on the planet. Being a little more specific, it's the largest flattest place on the planet, so removing salt from here is a big no no.
Do you know where it is now?
No? All right, all right! I'll tell you!
A little west of Salt Lake City, Utah is this place, it's called the Bonneville Salt Flats.
On the map it's shown in dark grey and as you can see it's a really really big place, much bigger than the city is.
Have you heard of it now?
Many people have, but not because of its impossibility to support life, but because Bonneville is on the National Register of Historic Landmarks for its contribution to land speed racing.
People have been racing cars on the Bonneville Salt Flats since 1914.
Wait a second… Since 1914? But Chrysler, GM, BMW, and many other car companies that exist today didn't even exist in 1914!
Yes! That's correct! Cars were very different back then.
But hold on… why did people race there 105 years ago?
Because it's flat, and big, and totally deserted, and there's absolutely no speed limit!
Racing takes place on a part of the Bonneville Salt Flats known as the Bonneville Speedway where people try to break world speed records.
There are five major land speed events that take place at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Bonneville Speed Week takes place in August, followed by World of Speed in September and The World Finals take place in early October.
People race motorcycles, cars, trucks, jet cars and about everything else on wheels.
If you ever get a chance to go there it's well worth the visit, because there's absolutely no other place on earth like it.
Especially if you get to watch the world land speed records where cars hit speeds of up to 759 miles per hour (1160 km per hour).
Just remember to bring 20 liters of water for yourself and another 20 liters for your car, just in case it overheats, you don't want to be stuck on the salt flats without water because there is no cellular service!
Hope you enjoyed reading about this inhospitable place!
There is no doubt that in certain matters and issues the state of Israel is really on the cutting edge of progress and achievement. Our health system here in Israel is burdened by a great deal of bureaucracy, but when the health system and the government agree that it should work quickly and efficiently on behalf of those who are in need, it does so.
When the government announced that the anti-Corona vaccine was available for immunization for my age group, I immediately attempted to make an appointment with my health provider to receive the injection. Now, naturally, at the beginning of the process the telephone answering service of the health provider was overwhelmed. One had to wait for well over an hour before being able to speak to a human being and endeavor to obtain an appointment. I had good friends of mine who acted as my agents online and with the telephone answering service, freeing me up for other tasks and helping to lower my blood pressure and stress level. They were able to secure an appointment for me for 8:40 in the morning this past Thursday. I arranged for a taxi to take me there and to wait to return home. Now none of this should be a big deal but many times what looks to be a simple thing to accomplish or achieve turns complicated because of unforeseen factors and circumstances. So, it was with some degree of nervousness and trepidation that I waited for that Thursday morning appointment at the health provider.
I need not have had any concerns for everything transpired quickly, efficiently and with pleasant words of cheer. The health provider organized the matter so that there really was no long wait before being admitted to the booth area where the shot would be administered. I had a very pleasant religious woman as my nurse and she administered the shot quickly and expertly, all the while reciting with me a short prayer that the vaccination be successful in achieving the immunization desired and that it should be a healing procedure countenanced by the great Healer who resides in Heaven. I noticed that almost all the nurses were religious women, all products of Israeli nursing school programs.
This is part of the slow but steady change in portions of religious Israeli society, allowing for work and professional opportunities that previously were completely frowned upon.
I was most impressed by the professionalism of the staff administering the anti-Corona immunizations. Despite the potential overload of people clamoring for the vaccine, the staff was calm and orderly, and no unwarranted delays or unpleasant conversations took place. One would have thought this was taking place in Switzerland and not in our beloved but sometimes rambunctious and raucous homeland.
The nurse told me I should expect my arm to feel tender for a few days but that otherwise I would suffer no ill effects from the injection. Her prediction was completely accurate but even the tenderness in my arm was not so severe, which was especially comforting. So, from the beginning, the process of becoming vaccinated against the coronavirus was a most pleasant and necessary one. I never understood nor do I understand today the position of those who oppose such vaccinations.
The Torah bids us follow medical advice regarding matters of disease and health, with the goal of prolonging human life. There is near unanimity in the medical profession worldwide as to the efficacy and safety of vaccinations generally and of the anti-Corona vaccine particularly. I do not understand the basis for a position against this vaccination in certain groups of individuals in the Jewish religious world.
Though everyone has a right to their own opinion, since this disease of Corona is so contagious and widespread, and can, God forbid, lead to serious and even terminal illness, I think that one has to consider the general good involved in taking the vaccine and not only one 's own predilections on the matter. I hope that everyone will avail themselves as soon as possible of taking this shot and, God willing, this terrible pandemic that has caused so much suffering to the entire human race, will end.
Okay, I confess: I've emitted that exasperated cry at least once or twice. Maybe even once a week.
Like the time my two-year-old dumped all her toys in the toilet and flushed. (The neighbors were none too pleased.)
Or the time my very tech-savvy 10-year-old figured out the password to my laptop and somehow deleted my entire hard drive.
Or all the times they've emptied my drawers, my refrigerator, my closets, my shelves, and created glorious messes.
Need I go on?
But in the midst of the chaos and aggravation, there is a little phrase I hold on to that helps me keep my sanity.
"Bread according to the young."
In this week's Torah portion, Vayigash, we read of Joseph generously supporting his brothers and their families during a famine, after they settled in Egypt: "And Joseph sustained his father and his brothers and his father's entire household [with] bread according to the young children."1
Rashi interprets the words "bread according to the young" to mean that Joseph provided enough to meet the needs of every family member.2
The Midrash explains that Joseph actually provided more than their needs, because children naturally "crumble up more than they eat."3
In other words, it's part of the package. Children will crumble up their food. They will make messes. They will waste half of whatever you give them. They will get into your things and wreck them. That wastage has to be factored into the family budget.
Joseph provided for his siblings in such an exemplary fashion that we ask G‑d Himself to take note: "O Shepherd of Israel, hearken, He Who leads Joseph like a flock of sheep."4 On this verse, Rashi comments, "All Israel are called by the name Joseph because he sustained and supported them in time of famine."
The Midrash interprets the verse as a plea to G‑d, to "lead us as Joseph led his sheep":
Joseph saved during the years of plenty for the years of hunger; so, too, save for us from this world for the world to come. Joseph provided for his brothers according to their deeds, as it says, "bread according to the young"; so, too, provide for us according to our deeds. Rabbi Menachem said in the name of Rabbi Avin: "Joseph's brothers dealt him evil and he repaid them with good; we, too, have dealt You evil but [ask that You] repay us with good."5
By providing for his brothers in Egypt, Joseph granted them more than their survival during the years of hunger. He bequeathed to his brothers and all their descendants the strength to show forbearance, to repay evil with good, to overlook flaws and forgive mistakes.
And just as Joseph dealt with his brothers, so do we want G‑d to deal with us.
We are G‑d's children and He generously provides us with all our needs, material and spiritual. But we are children and we don't appreciate half of what we are given. We squander G‑d's gifts; we mess up. Even when we do mitzvahs, we don't fully grasp their value. We do them when our mind is elsewhere, we do them with ulterior motives. Of the Torah that we do study, we only remember and internalize a small fraction.6 Yet G‑d graciously gives us again, and yet again, "bread according to the young." As Joseph did for his brothers.
And from Joseph we learn how to reach out to those whose grasp of spiritual concepts is on the level of a child. We provide for them "bread according to the young"; we break down the concepts again and again, until they are mere "crumbs" of the original thought, until we've presented it in a format and style that they can appreciate and absorb.7
Even when we do mitzvahs, we don't fully grasp their value
On Shabbat Parshat Vayigash, 1988, the Lubavitcher Rebbe introduced a Jewish book campaign. He encouraged parents to buy seforim (sacred books) for their children, such as a siddur, Chumash, Tehillim and Tanya. The books should be kept in the child's bedroom, to transform it into a miniature Holy Temple. The Rebbe noted: "Surely, [the parents] will explain to the children that they should not be afraid to use the seforim frequently, lest they be ruined or torn, since they promise to buy new and nicer books than these when they get worn out."8
Although there are a great many Jewish laws regarding how to treat sacred books with respect, we still do not refrain from providing children with their own copies. In His great love for Jewish children, G‑d views their play as a sign of love and "overlooks" any inadvertent desecration of His sacred writings.9
G‑d knows that our essential desire is to be close to Him and to fulfill His will. Although in our spiritual immaturity our actions may not always reflect this inner will, we ask G‑d to "provide for us according to our deeds"—to take into account the true spiritual value of our mitzvahs, even when our thoughts and intentions are less than perfect. We ask Him to overlook our imperfections, forgive our messes, and focus on our inner worth—just as Joseph did for his brothers.
(Based on an address of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Likutei Sichot, vol. 5, pp. 239-250.)
There are a number of different, albeit related, questions intertwined here, so I'll attempt to address them one by one. However, I'll preface by saying that I'll stick to these issues only, and not wander into the wider issue of Judaism and vaccination, which has already been addressed here: What Does Jewish Law Say About Vaccination?
It is also important to note that there are many different vaccines, and the methods and ingredients to manufacture them varies even between two vaccines created to combat a single disease.
We will start off with the question of non-kosher ingredients and work our way to the slightly more controversial issue of using a vaccine made with fetal tissue (often obtained from aborted fetuses).
Non-Kosher Ingredients in Vaccines and Medication
When it comes to non-kosher ingredients, in most instances the prohibition is limited to ingesting the substance orally. There is also no prohibition against benefiting from them. Thus, for example, although insulin contains substances derived from pigs, there is no issue for a diabetic to use it, since it is injected and not taken orally. The same is true for any vaccine or medication that is administered by suppository, enema, medicated bandage, etc. that may contain non-kosher ingredients.
Thus, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski (1863–1940), one of the leading rabbis of the last century, writes that it would technically be permitted to feed a person non-kosher food through a tube inserted directly into the stomach.1
Notable exceptions to this principle are when the ingredients contain a mixture of milk and meat or non-kosher wine. In this instance, the prohibition includes deriving any benefit from it.2
(Even this medication or vaccination would presumably be allowed in a matter of life and death, pikuach nefesh. However, for the sake of this essay, let us assume that the need for vaccination has not yet risen to this level for the average person.)
Vaccine Made With Fetal Tissue
There are really two separate questions here:
a) Is it acceptable to use fetal tissue for scientific research and production of vaccines?
b) If the fetal tissue was already obtained (for argument's sake, in an improper way) and used to create a vaccine, can I myself benefit from it?
Regarding the first question, without getting too much into the question of abortion and Jewish law, it is safe to say that there may indeed be some halachic issues with taking advantage of the tissue and other body parts of aborted fetuses.
Regarding the second question, it should be noted that for the most part, vaccines don't actually contain any fetal tissue. Rather, in some instances a weakened virus is grown in cells strains from a fetus. The virus itself is then extracted from the cells and used in the vaccine.
Indeed, to this day, scientists are still using a cell strain that was obtained more than 50 years ago from a fetus. 3 Thus, even if one were to get this vaccine, that would in no way be encouraging anyone to perform abortions to harvest their cells.
It should be noted that most vaccines are researched and produced in ways that present no halachic questions at all. However, we must still address the few that may have been developed in ways that are contrary to halachah. May we benefit from them?
The very short and simple answer is, yes, it is permitted.
To quote Rabbi Dr. J. D Bleich in Contemporary Halachic Issues, vol. 4:
Although performance of an abortion is a grievous offense, Jewish law does not posit a "Miranda principle" or an exclusionary rule that would, post factum, preclude use of illicitly procured tissue for an otherwise sanctioned purpose...
By the same token, the absence of an exclusionary principle means that there is no moral barrier preventing the research scientist or the manufacturer of pharmaceutical products from utilizing fetal tissue procured by means of induced abortion for purposes that are otherwise moral, provided that such utilization of fetal tissue does not involve collusion in, or encouragement of, the abortion itself.
If an act (in this case, abortion) is forbidden, how can benefiting from it be permitted?
There are various instances in halachah4 that demonstrate that this is not an issue. Perhaps a simple analogy (although not quite the same) would be the prohibition of kilayim, crossbreeding various animals and fruits. Although producing and crossbreeding is biblically forbidden, if it was already done, one is permitted to benefit from it or even eat it (for example, there is no problem with eating a plumcot or riding a mule).5
In light of the above, even ingredients that we only have due to an abortion that was performed in the past don't pose a halachic impediment to being vaccinated.
As in all cases of medical importance, everyone should seek and follow the advice of a trusted and qualified medical practitioner.
For example, to this day, the varicella (chickenpox), shingles, hepatitis A and rubella vaccines all use cells that originally came from tissue obtained from two fetuses in the early 1960s. The Covid vaccine developed by AstraZeneca in collaboration with Oxford University, and which in all likelihood is the one you are asking about (many of the other Covid vaccines don't use any fetal cells), uses cells that originate from a fetus that was aborted in the Netherlands in 1973. The fetus was aborted for other reasons, and not for the purposes of vaccine research.
See Contemporary Halachic Issues, vol. 4, ch. 8 and 10 for a lengthy discussion regarding the use of fetal tissue, as well as the implications regarding information gleaned from the heinous and barbaric Nazi experiments and the parameters of which research can be used.