Actress Mayim Bialik poses at the 4th annual Critics' Choice Television Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif., on June 19, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Danny Moloshok *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-SALKIN-COLUMN, originally transmitted on February 10, 2015.*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-SALKIN-COLUMN, originally transmitted on February 10, 2015.

Jewish anti-vaxxers take note: Parental responsibility trumps parental rights

(RNS) At the Waldorf Early Childhood Center in Santa Monica, Calif., 68 percent of the children had not been vaccinated because of “personal belief exemptions.”

Yes, the anti-vaccination stance is about belief, about faith -- in the utterly unreasonable.

Look at who has jumped on the anti-vaccination bandwagon. Sen. Rand Paul -- a doctor! -- delayed his children’s immunizations because of “many tragic cases of normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.” He believes that parents should have the right to decide for themselves whether to vaccinate their children.

So, apparently, does New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Actress Mayim Bialik poses at the 4th annual Critics' Choice Television Awards in Beverly Hills, California on June 19, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Danny Moloshok *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-SALKIN-COLUMN, originally transmitted on February 10, 2015.

Actress Mayim Bialik poses at the 4th annual Critics' Choice Television Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif., on June 19, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Danny Moloshok *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-SALKIN-COLUMN, originally transmitted on February 10, 2015.

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

What about the Jews? Take the most publicly Jewish actress in Hollywood, Mayim Bialik, the title character of the NBC sitcom "Blossom." She observes Shabbat, keeps kosher and is devoted to Israel. She is also a neuroscientist, with a Ph.D. from UCLA.

But even this prominent actress and woman of science has refused to vaccinate her two sons. (Irony: She donated money to the Israel Defense Forces for armored vests. What about medical armor for her own kids?)

Does vaccination pose some medical risks? If it does, then the numbers are infinitesimally small. Are those risks worth taking? Yes -- because the more people who are vaccinated, the less likely that measles will spread.

Here’s the Jewish take on all this:

  • To heal someone -- or yourself -- is a mitzvah (a religious obligation). Yes, some religious people believe that you should put all of your faith in God as the Ultimate Healer. But Jews believe that we should imitate God in the act of healing. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote: "Medicine is prayer in the form of a deed. The act of healing is the highest form of the imitation of God."
  • You’re not allowed to endanger yourself needlessly. The Shulchan Arukh, the classic code of Jewish law, says: “Wherever there is a potentially life-endangering pitfall or obstacle, it is a positive commandment to remove it, to be on guard against it and to take very good care in the matter, as the Torah says: "Guard yourself and guard your soul." (Deuteronomy 4:9-10).
  • The availability of medical care is a public good. The Talmud says that you cannot live in a city where there is no physician.

How about all those people who believe that the refusal to vaccinate their children falls into the general category of parental rights?

Judaism does not believe in parental rights. It believes in parental responsibility. The Talmud says Jewish parents are obligated to teach their children three things: Torah, a trade, and how to swim. “Swimming” is a metaphor. Parents need to teach their children how to avoid dangerous situations.

Like, for example, infectious diseases.

Judaism does not believe in radical individualism. Rather, it believes in communal responsibility. We are responsible for one another. There is a story in the Talmud about two men in a rowboat. One starts drilling under his seat. The other protests loudly. But the “driller” responds: “I am only drilling underneath my seat.” In society, when we drill under our own seat, everyone drowns.

That is why the “it’s my kid and I will do what I want to” argument is bogus. As a society, we are all in this together. As Ben Boychuk, an associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, writes: “Your right to refuse to vaccinate your children ends where my children’s right to avoid needless exposure to infection begins.”

If you don’t care about your own child -- please, at the very least, care about mine.

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Am of Bayonne, N.J., and the editor of "Text Messages: A Torah Commentary for Teens.") Religion News Service photo by Steve Remich

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Am of Bayonne, N.J., and the editor of "Text Messages: A Torah Commentary for Teens.") Religion News Service photo by Steve Remich

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

In 1913, the Hebrew-Yiddish poet Zalman Shneur wrote these prophetic words: “The Middle Ages are approaching.” He was writing about Europe’s coming descent into savagery. There are days when I, too, sense that the Middle Ages are approaching: the rise of anti-Semitism, the rise of violent Muslim fanaticism.

But those are not the only forms a new Middle Ages might take. When people reject science, when they rely on fear rather than facts, we are inching toward a medieval past.

That is the duty of all modern religious people: to name the coming tide of medievalism, and to fight against it.

(Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Am of Bayonne, N.J., and the editor of "Text Messages: A Torah Commentary for Teens.")



  1. Rabbi Salkin is on the correct side of the vaccination argument, and may he succeed, but he needs to stick to the science and the common-sense risk management principles favoring vaccination. When he gets into philosophy instead, he stumbles at times.

    For example, he says, “Judaism does not believe in parental rights. It believes in parental responsibility.”

    That can’t possibly be right.

    Is he saying that such a family-oriented religion like Judaism doesn’t believe parents have any rights vis a vis the state?

    I think not.

    He can’t possibly mean what his words say, so I will chalk that up to his being in a rush and not self-editing.

    What I think (and hope) he meant to say is something like this:

    “While Judaism believes parents have rights, those rights are never absolute. Judaism also believes parents have responsibilities to the community.”

    That would be a better summary, and would enable him to make the same point he went on to make.

    But even beyond that, does he really think that the observant Jewish opponent of vaccination whom he is citing doesn’t believe in communal responsibilities?

    Of course she does……Her problem isn’t her downplaying of responsibilities. Her problem is she isn’t convinced of the arguments for vaccination.

    And the answer is thus not to lecture her about communal responsibilities, but to make the scientific and especially the risk-management case for vaccinations.

  2. Stephen Lewis, Judaism is one of the world’s great religions and has plenty of wisdom to impart, as evidenced by the outsized contributions of Jews in every field.

  3. Waldorf schools are magnets for kooky parents. I’m actually surprised the non-vaccination rate isn’t hovering around 100%.

    Judaism may not believe in radical individualism, but Dr. Bialik apparently does. Aside from not vaccinating her kids, she has also said that she doesn’t believe in teaching them basic manners like saying “please” and “thank you.” If you’re ever in a Los Angeles-area Whole Foods and see a couple of kids with measles running into people and pulling things off the shelves, you have probably met Dr. Mayim Bialik’s children. Ask for their autographs!

  4. Ummmm…. Mayim Bialik’s kids are vaccinated. Did you ever, in all of your research for this column, think to maybe ask her?? I’d encourage you to do so at this time.

  5. 6 comments, 4 posted and not mine. Where is the Stephen Lewis comment you are referring to, Jack? I don’t see it yet it was obviously posted. It was telling the truth about Judaism from a Jewish Christian’s point of view. The religion is based on blanket racial prejudice against 98% of humanity. It is no different in kind than white supremacy blanket racism and one can now easily tell Judaism’s racist core by how fundamentalist Jews in Israel carry out their racial war to remove Arab Palestinians from their Palestinian homeland.

    No one should tolerate any religion that promotes racism and hate speech. The Talmud contains the world’s most racist ideology with extreme prejudice directed against Gentiles, especially Christian ones. Why otherwise ethical people allow Judaism to go unchallenged is one of the major reasons we are having religious warfare with Muslims. Wake up! We cannot afford to let bad ancient religions go their merry way any more without critical scrutiny of their tenets that repeatedly cause wars and social unrest.

    My challenge which always goes unmet by rabbis as they protect their lies by slandering critics, is this: Tell us the historical origin of the word “Torah”. As a Jew and a Christian I know rabbis haven’t a clue anymore where their major religious concept was derived from and are taught to believe in its Hebrew makeover etymology because knowing the real origin wipes out Judaism’s spiritual authority. Actually, the archeologists, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman historian have debunked the spiritual basis for believing Judaism tenets before I came along and polished the earthly torah’s spiritual authority off with recovery of the Celestial Torah. The Celestial Torah predicted the Messiah must like Jesus Christ and not like another David which right there shows why we who believe in God Most High and the Spirit of Christ must dump the Abrahamic false religions as spiritual authority and begin the real spiritual journey of following the Celestial Torah’s earthly development through the Son of Man theology.

  6. Nobody calls Jews on racism but when Jews parade their Cohen gene’s deep embedding in Palestinian Jewish descendants it really is a sign of how racist Judaism is to be able to prevent natural human social intercourse from happening to isolate a single Jewish family strain. And again, when Jews point to their smarts, and we are statistically smart people, it is another blatant sign of racism in action, in this case racism to keep smart Jews marrying smart Jews. Education was always highly valued in Jewish society and rabbis were particularly highly desired mates for smarter women. So gradually through the years with racial selection at work to promote smarter babies becoming smarter adults until we get a whole ethnic group with higher intelligence. The Egyptians probably started this inbreeding program that does produce genetic smarts AT the Price of genetic weakness other ways, e.g. the diseases specific to us Ashkenazim Jews due to too much inbreeding. Another way to look at Jewish success at achieving smarter people is to compare the program to Hitler’s ideal youth produced by good intelligent German Aryans..such ironic silliness in historical roots of “Iranians”..Most any other race that decides smart people marrying smart people works well can achieve higher intelligence as the Asian and Indians have shown. In Scotland when education was universalized there was a huge upswing in general intelligence and that period produced amazing results in new patents, writings, etc. so the Jewish phenomena is not due to Jewish specialness but is the natural result of selective breeding, i.e. racial selection..

  7. I do hope not a one of you is thinking of trying to smear me with Judaism’s Orwellian Double-Speak “anti-Semite” libel. I am of Ashkenazim and Sephardic Jewish descent and if I can’t criticize Judaism who can? Plus I am an ardent defender of Palestinian right to self-determination and so who are the real anti-Semites but Zionist Jews attacking Semitic Palestinian peoples. Sorry, but it’s in my job description to tell like it is regardless of who’s religious feelings get offended when there are human lives at stake. Making Palestinians scape-goats for European treatment of European Jews is a crime against humanity and if Judaism produced this it needs to go into the museum of history.

  8. “Where is the Stephen Lewis comment you are referring to, Jack? I don’t see it yet it was obviously posted.”

    In the last week or so I’ve had at least one post that was there for a while, then disappeared and then showed up again about a day later.

  9. If her kids have actually been vaccinated then she should probably publicly renounce the comments she has already made about not vaccinating them and about the questionable safety of vaccines.

    Given that she earns money not just as a sitcom actress but as a writer/blogger on parenting, and given that she and her PhD have become mascots for the anti-vax crowd, that would seem to be the ethical thing to do.

  10. I would like to quote from the Talmud:

    “The Bible relates that God created Adam as a single human being, as the forefather of all mankind. This teaches us that to destroy a single life is to destroy a whole world, even as to save a single life is to save the whole world. That all people have a common ancestor that should make for peace, since no one can say to anyone else: “My father was greater than your father.””

    Stephen whatever your descent, you are now a Christian and you have nothing but contempt for Judaism.

  11. Susan, in terms of religion, Stephen Lewis is neither a Christian nor a Jew. I’ve posted on several occasions that he is a Gnostic and I’ve explained several times what that means. That is not Christianity of any kind, but manages to be both anti-Christian and anti-Semitic at the same time.

    Saying that Gnostics practice Christianity is like saying that idol worshippers are practicing Judaism.

  12. Stephen you take over every post with your tirades that have nothing to do with the topic. I will say this one last thing to you. What you want is spiritual genocide of Judaism and the Jewish people and you say you’re not antisemitic. Well, you are.

  13. I’m sorry but none of you has any spiritual authority to judge me. You are followers of ancient men’s Scripts that were based on religious fabrications put out by ancient priesthoods to rule their societies with fear of God. I follow God and the Spirit of Christ direct through Gnosis of God which gives me my spiritual authority none of you can ever take away. I have proven my spiritual authority now in the Holy Land and in Native America where God has sent me to deliver and put into spiritual motion two great new Visions of Christ, one the Sword of Christ revealed and honored by over 500 Nazarean Christians at Easter in Nazareth, Israel twelve years ago, myself invited to have tea with the Melkite Catholic Archbishop of the Holy Land Dioceses in honor of my bringing God’s Gift to the Holy Land. Now when Dec, 17th, 2014 passed, the great Vision of Josephine passed review and is now accepted into one of the strongest Native American spiritual tradition there is, the White Buffalo Calf Woman prophesy. This has never happened in history before where an Old World Holy Land Christian vision brought by a European-American prophesy bearer has been accepted into a New World Native American spiritual tradition. Before its was always Holy Land Scriptures dominating the intermixing such as we see with Mormonism. Now there is a true spiritual meeting of Old and New World Savior traditions. So, say what you will about my this or that “Christian” credentials. You aren’t qualified to pass judgment on a Jewish Christian prophesy bearer. Look at your Scriptures to see what happens when the populace judges us prophets and people don’t listen or get mad and try to kill the messenger. Can’t be done when the Message is truly from God. I bring Signs of spiritual authority as it was always Signs that proved it and not volumes of words, although I ain’t a slouch in that department either. Got my own Book, The Aquariana Key that contains all my religious visionary news but this time things are different and nobody is going to burn in hell if they don’t read my stuff although they might be reincarnated as pigs in the old Egyptian tradition, one never knows for sure about these things..rumors persist.. It’s my birthday and I’m happy to be alive at 71! Another reason I am posting so much these days..

  14. Everything that I base my comments on can be found in these online pages at: The whole deal which includes all my social and environmental activist work and artwork and inventions and missions, can be found at I am a polymath prophet-at-large, the first Jewish prophesy bearer in the old time Elijah tradition to come along in a long time..It’s time for a change. We need to cool down the planet in every respect.

  15. Stephen, I already told you most people just ignore your anti-Semitic rants. They are anti-Semitic however you want to degrade commonly understood terms. Sometimes that ignoring leads to RNS blocking comments. I also already explained to you that I and any rabbi can tell you that Torah comes from Hebrew for teaching. I’m waiting for you to give us some folk etymology on how it really means Amun-Ra backwards or something. So please, enlighten us.

  16. Have you considered meeting him halfway and calling him a “Jew-hater” instead of an “anti-Semite?”

  17. Stephen, I can say that I’m the Prince of Wales or the celestial king of the invisible Atlantis which lies under the foundation of the Capitol in Washington while simultaneously imbedded in my desk lamp, but that doesn’t make it so.

    You can’t even spell the word, “prophecy” (c, not s) correctly and you’re claiming to be a prophet?

    You strut around saying you’re a Jew and roaring against Gentiles while at the same time heaping self-hating scorn at the Jews and their state.

    What you really sound like is a run-of-the-mill, cookie-cutter far lefty who added Gnosticism to your resume later in life when personal troubles came knocking. You’ve got poor Susan thinking you’re some sort of Christian and most Christians thinking you’re a Jew, while in fact you are neither.

  18. Jack, come back when you’ve got something to say other than spewing more slanderous garbage ad hominen attack on me personally. I don’t have to prove anything to you or anyone as I’ve already proved my spiritual authority to those who witnessed it which now runs to the hundreds of people in the Holy Land and growing in America. So go ahead try to diss me while you can, I’m talking to future generations now as these times are the Aquariana Divide times where the old ways must give way to the new and this creates people on two sides of history. You’re on the wrong side of the Aquariana Divide as people on the right side here the Aquariana Call and respond. Those on the wrong side see their theologies and ideologies facing their End Times.

  19. And as Jack mistakes spelling bee rules for spiritual worth, let’s correct “here” with “hear” and remind him that “prophesy” and “prophecy” are both in the dictionary.

  20. I have used that term on occasion, not necessarily with this commenter.

  21. Now the rumor de jour is that she had the children vaccinated in order to permit them to travel to Israel.

  22. Please remove your inaccurate comments about the Jewish actress, Mayim Bialik. She is NOT anti-vaccine, and she has released public statements that she had her children vaccinated. Stop spreading lies about other Jews.

  23. Rabbi Salkin,

    Thank you for this article. I just tweeted this question to you.

    Is the JEWISH take the same for decisions surrounding cancer risk management decision making? Meaning: for those at a VERY high risk for cancer (the 1 in 40 Jews that carry a BRCA gene mutation or another hereditary cancer syndrome) does the Jewish stance include that one should have prophylactic surgeries that would drastically reducer their cancer risk?
    Is there a different posture Judaism has for women than for men? This is an important subject and I would really would love for you to address this in an article!

    FYI: Here is a recent blogpost I did on cancer risk management decision making: TO REMAIN BREATHING

    Thank you in advance!
    Warm Regards,
    Amy Byer Shainman
    Hereditary Cancer/BRCA Health Advocate
    Executive Producer Pink & Blue documentary

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