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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Michael Barclay

Interfaith: The Golden Rule and vaccinations

It’s a great thing for people to be passionate about their beliefs, and as Jews we are taught repeatedly of the importance of expressing our passions through words and actions.

But more importantly, we are given multiple examples of respecting the ones we disagree with to avoid societal and personal destruction. We may feel they are wrong, but they are not evil. This seems to be a teaching that has recently been lost, but must be regained if we are to again have a functional society.

The last seven months have been some of the most challenging for many people. Friends and families are being torn apart over issues of politics, immigration, economics and especially mandatory vaccinations.

Disagreements about how or what to do, and how and what others need to do are destroying long-term relationships as people stop viewing someone they disagree with as “wrong”, and now view them as “evil”.

If this doesn’t change, then the politics and vaccinations will no longer matter as there will be no diverse society, no real sense of community and ultimately, no unified nation, God forbid.

Nearly all cultures and faiths teach a version of “The Golden Rule.” Given that no one wants to be segregated and ostracized for their beliefs, it is imperative that we truly respect and honor each other’s beliefs and practices…as we would all want others to respect our own beliefs. To hate another and/or to segregate them for their beliefs leads to authoritarianism and a destruction of society.

There are passionate arguments on both sides of the mandatory vaccination issue. Both sides can show their “scientific studies," their statistics, the potential dangers involved in vaccinating or not.

There are legitimate arguments for each individual to determine their own choice in their own life. But like all things, this pandemic will eventually pass; and we need to make sure that when it does, we have not destroyed relationships beyond repair.

I was recently asked for counsel by a man who will not vaccinate his children after evaluating the risks versus rewards for his children’s health. He is vaccinated and his wife is not, and they feel the risks for vaccinating children are too high given the low risk of the virus for children. But they have been ostracized not only from their circle of friends, but from their family.

They have been castigated, abused and even hated by other family members for their difficult choice. When the pandemic concern is over, how will these relationships ever be repaired?

How will he ever again be able to have a good relationship with his in-laws who have decried him as “stupid," “evil," and even “a murderer?" How will his children ever be able to play with their cousins after those kinds of hate and degradation have been used?

Our Talmud teaches us repeatedly of how we should not inject personal vitriol into an argument. “Love your neighbor as yourself; this is the great principle of Torah,” Kedoshim. Matthew states ,“Whatever you wish others to do to you, do also to them”.

The great Rabbi Hillel taught, “That which is hateful to you, do not to your fellow. That is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary."

Should we argue passionately for our beliefs? Absolutely. But if we hold hate in our hearts or attack the individual choices of others; if we segregate in any way those whom we disagree with; or if we forget the importance of long lasting relationships in favor of the short term issue, we will end up with a society of authoritarianism and divisiveness rather one of peace and joy.

May we all have the courage to stand for our beliefs, and the strength to remember the value of relationships over issues. And in these challenging times, may we all respect each other’s choices regarding politics, economics and especially vaccinations – never ostracizing another because they make a different choice than our own.

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