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A Chabad campus rabbi is discouraging student vaccinations — against Chabad guidance

Update, August 19: The Amherst Chabad House website no longer displays the message questioning the safety of COVID-19 vaccines and offering to assist people with exemption’s to UMass Amhert’s vaccine mandate.

The rabbi in charge of a Chabad House serving the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s 2,000 Jewish students is raising unfounded concerns about COVID-19 vaccines and offering to facilitate exemptions to the school’s vaccine mandate.

“The Torah instructs us to guard our health and forbids us to put ourselves unnecessarily at risk, thus preserving the G-d given life that has been granted to us,” reads a statement signed by Rabbi Chaim Adelman on the UMass Chabad House’s website. “I am prepared to do what I can to assist anyone interested in obtaining an exemption.”

Adelman’s brief statement refers to the vaccines as “experimental injections” and falsely claims that “many medical experts” believe it is not necessary for people under the age of 45 to receive the vaccine.

Chabad, an international Hasidic movement that operates religious centers on more than 200 college and university campuses, has encouraged people to take the vaccine and even published an article explaining what prayer to say after receiving it: “May it be Your will that this [medicine] shall bring healing.”

Adelman said in an interview Wednesday that he was unaware that Chabad policy was in favor of the vaccine.

“If it is I’m going to rethink what I did,” Adelman said. He said he had not heard from any UMass students regarding a vaccine exemption but felt compelled to offer it after doing “some research” on the risks to young adults from COVID-19.

“I don’t see the danger,” Adelman said.

COVID-19 cases have been rising among young adults over the summer, and those in younger age groups remain at high risk from the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

A Chabad representative called the statement on Adelman’s website “outrageous on many levels” and said did not represent the organization’s views.

“It contradicts Torah law, which places responsibility for personal medical decisions with competent medical professionals and public health decisions with duly appointed authorities,” Rabbi Yisrael Deren, a Chabad regional director, said in an email. Deren said he had only learned of the statement Wednesday afternoon and had reached out to Adelman, but had not heard back.

Another Chabad envoy in Massachusetts, Rabbi Michoel Green, was fired in February after railing against the coronavirus vaccines on his social media accounts.

Rabbi Mendel Fogelman, director of the Central Massachusetts Chabad, told Haaretz at the time that Green’s statements were “contrary to the organization’s mission and a direct conflict with the sacred task for which he was appointed.”

Adelman said he was recently rejected as a volunteer for Chabad’s National Jewish Retreat, which ended Sunday, because he had not been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Adelman, who runs the Amherst house with his wife Yocheved, has shared and written skeptically about the COVID-19 pandemic since March 2020, including comparing it to the seasonal flu and questioning the utility of lockdown measures.

In the statement posted on the Chabad House website, Adelman cited the risk of myocarditis, or heart damage, among young men who have received the vaccine and “sterility” among men and women as reasons not to receive the vaccine. While there have been a small number of heart damage cases tied to the vaccines, public health experts say the risk of myocarditis is extremely low and pales in comparison to the risks incurred by contracting COVID-19. There is no evidence that any of the COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility, although that myth has circulated widely among those opposed to the vaccine.

UMass Amherst has a requirement that students be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before coming to campus this fall. It allows a religious exemption, although it does not appear that a religious authority, like Adelman, is required to attest to a student or staff member’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” to receive such a waiver.

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