Rabbi Michael Barclay
The Yellow Badge of Vaccines
History always has a sad way of repeating itself, and it is frightening that the “yellow badge” of persecution is once again finding its way into our society. This time, it’s in the form of vaccine passports.
For close to 1,500 years, a yellow star or badge was forced onto the Jewish people so that they could be identified. From the caliphates of the 8th century through the Middle Ages, and ultimately ordered by the Nazis, Jews were forced, upon pain of imprisonment or death, to wear a public mark that identified them as Jewish. Usually a yellow hat, armband, or patch, it marked the Jew for persecution by the rest of society. It was a public sign that the wearer could be persecuted by the general populace with impunity. A symbol of a “lesser class” of human beings, it gave permission for others first to degrade, then to restrict business, and ultimately to injure and even kill the wearer.
Having grown up in the late twentieth century, the idea of any individual needing “papers” is abhorrent to me, a symbol of the evils of the Nazis. Yet here we are in 2021 and the process is happening again—this time not just for Jews, but for anyone who makes the choice not to vaccinate against COVID-19.
From a religious perspective, this is a direct violation of the individual right to determine our own personal health standards. It is also ridiculous given that thousands of unvaccinated illegal aliens are pouring into this country, while American citizens are losing Constitutional rights if they do not have proof of vaccination.
Required public markings of shame have always led to persecution, yet more and more local and state authorities and businesses are requiring these “yellow badges” (as an example, it is impossible for the non-vaccinated to go on any number of vacations including cruises from California), and these requirements, God forbid, may become federal law.
What concerns me most are the parallels to the authoritarian regimes of history. Almost every time, for two millennia, these markings for one group of people have led to institutionalized persecution. But what can we do as individuals in the face of this terrible practice?
Besides compelling our political leaders to reject this practice of requiring papers proving vaccination (which history tells us will lead to an entire industry of forged papers), we need to emulate the courageous actions of Christian X, the king of Denmark from 1912-1947. True or myth, the popular story is that King Christian would wear a yellow badge on his daily morning horseback ride through Copenhagen. Emulated by his non-Jewish Dane citizens, this prevented the Nazis from identifying anyone as a Jew.
Whether vaccinated or not, we need to support all American citizens by not doing business with companies that are requiring vaccination papers from anyone. Like King Christian, we need to support every American’s personal health choice as a God-given right. No person, organization, company, or government has the right to mark people with a yellow badge, and we must all reject this proposed practice at every opportunity.
Two thousand years ago, the great Rabbi Hillel stated, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” The time is now for all people of faith, those dedicated to personal freedoms, and students of history to reject the application of demanding vaccine passports as business and governmental policy. May we all return to a time of individual choice over group demands, and may we all stay free, safe, and healthy in our own choices.
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