Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
Fast Forward

Petition Calls On Ultra-Orthodox Group To Condemn Anti-Vaxxers Ahead Of Conference

An Orthodox girl getting a vaccine against polio in Israel in 2013. Image by Getty Images

A petition is calling for a major ultra-Orthodox umbrella group to condemn anti-vaccination on the eve of the group’s national convention.

An anonymous person calling themselves Dovid Fields started a Change.org peitition to get Agudath Israel of America to state that vaccines are not harmful. Anti-vaccine conspiracy theories are popular in some segments of the ultra-Orthodox community. The petition has nearly 240 signatures as Tuesday midday, out of a hoped-for 500.

The petition notes that three members of Agudath Israel’s highest council on Jewish law, the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, have supported anti-vaccine positions. The men include Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, who called vaccines “a hoax” in 2014, and Rabbi Malkiel Kotler, the head of one of the largest yeshivas in the country.

“This is an emergency and the most immediately pressing issue of the day,” Fields wrote in an email to the Forward. “[Agudath Israel’s] leaders have a hand in spreading actual risk of death and they should not be allowed to stand silently.”

Avi Shafran, the director of public affairs for Agudath Israel, wrote in an email that “the Agudah doesn’t routinely address medical matters, leaving them to constituents’ consultation with their doctors.”

The comments in the petition showcase many Orthodox Jews frustration with the men who have given support to anti-vaccine myths.

“The fact that we even have to do this is a disgrace,” wrote one commenter.

The petition comes after a major measles outbreak sickened over 1,400 in Israel and dozens in the U.S., almost exclusively in ultra-Orthodox communities. The outbreak hit Orthodox Brooklyn in late September.

Earlier this year, a group of people in the heavily Orthodox town of Lakewood, New Jersey, tried to form a “coalition” to force local yeshivas to admit students who had not been vaccinated. The coalition claimed they had the support of Kotler, the yeshiva leader. In New Jersey and 46 other states, families can claim religious exemptions for vaccines. American yeshivas have generally not admitted unvaccinated students.

Agudath Israel’s national convention, which happens annually over the Thanksgiving weekend, will be at a hotel in Stamford, Conn. The convention features talks and panels on addressing mental health issues and confronting technology.

Update, 11/20/18, 1:35 p.m. — This post has been updated with comments from a representative for Agudath Israel.

Ari Feldman is a staff writer at the Forward. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @aefeldman

Engage

  • Events

    Haart to Haart

    Virtual

    Dec 7, 2022

    7 pm ET · 

    A conversation with Julia Haart and her son Shlomo, stars of Netflix's 'My Unorthodox Life,' about the new season and much more.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.