Actress Mayim Bialik, the guru of Jewish attachment parenting, took to social media late Tuesday to speak out about her stance on vaccinating children. This hot-button topic has seen a growing anti-immunization movement, which in turn has alarmed most health-care professionals and parents who do vaccinate their kids.
“i would like to dispel the rumors about my stance on vaccines. i am not anti-vaccine. my children are vaccinated. there has been so much hysteria and anger about this issue and i hope this clears things up as far as my part.”
This was followed by a post with a more impatient, defiant tone, which echoed statements she made in past interviews, and indicated that the issue was not quite cleared up: “honestly, people. do your research. do what’s right for you. let me live my life and you live yours. no one gets to know the timeline of my kids’ medical appointments because they are not celebrities and they are not your property. put me on the altar if you have nothing better to do today, but just be happy with your decisions and leave my kids alone. my job is not in jeopardy. everything is fine, except in the clearly supportive and loving world of social media and gossip. have a fantastic day everyone.”
We are in an era when up to 26 percent of some Jewish day school kindergarten students haven’t been vaccinated. Measles, once thought to have been eradicated in North America, is proliferating. And, as leading rubella vaccine expert Dr. Louis Z. Cooper told The Times of Israel last year, “This outbreak is a reminder that there are under-immunized pockets, and that we are only an airplane ride away from countries where measles hasn’t been wiped out.”
Cooper’s words take on even more resonance when coupled with the current multi-state measles outbreak in the US. The patient zero? An infected visitor to “Disneyland theme parks in California,” according to the Center for Disease Control. By January 2015, there were as many measles cases in the US as it usually sees in an entire year.
‘This is not a problem with the measles vaccine not working. This is a problem of the measles vaccine not being used’
“This is not a problem with the measles vaccine not working. This is a problem of the measles vaccine not being used,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
It may be time for even more clarity from Bialik, a role model to many liberal Jewish parents.
Bialik, who in addition to acting and parenting also holds a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA, said in a 2009 interview with People magazine’s Celebrity Babies feature, “We are a non-vaccinating family, but I make no claims about people’s individual decisions. We based ours on research and discussions with our pediatrician, and we’ve been happy with that decision, but obviously there’s a lot of controversy about it.”
Still, a lot can change in six years. Bialik has reignited her acting career with popular television sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” has gone through a divorce, and has become a leading voice for thoughtful alternative Jewish parenting through her well-shared blog on Kveller.
It is in this last role, however — in her discussions of mommy wars and baby formula, life as a newly observant Jew, debunking myths about Orthodoxy, and how to parent Jews in a “goyische” world — that Bialik may be making the most lasting impact. And also hitting red-hot-button issues such as vaccinations.
On Kveller in 2012, Bialik wrote, “Children today get about four times as many vaccines as the average 35-year-old did when we were kids. Besides visiting the CDC website and finding out who gets diseases the medical establishment vaccinates for (and why and where and when), here are the books [with links to two books widely read in the anti-vaxxer movement] we used to research each vaccine and discuss each with several doctors before deciding what was right for our family.”
Elsewhere in 2012, Bialik said on an NPR radio program, “My feeling is that everyone gets to decide and do research based on their family and their needs as to what they want to do.”
The key word here was obviously “decide.”
‘My feeling is that everyone gets to decide and do research based on their family and their needs as to what they want to do’
There is little indication that post-2012 Bialik is not vaccinating her two sons at all. In fact, there’s every indication she is weighing each immunization carefully and choosing what she (and presumably her ex-husband) feel is appropriate for them — the right of any parent, no?
Not so, said Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin in a recent Religious News Service piece.
“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’
Salkin, the spiritual leader of the Reform congregation Temple Beth Am in Bayonne, N.J., wrote, “Judaism does not believe in radical individualism. Rather, it believes in communal responsibility. We are responsible for one another.”
From a Conservative perspective, we have New Jersey Rabbi Dan Dorsch, who wrote this week in Haaretz, “As a rabbi, I argue that a parent’s decision not to vaccinate signals a belief that the needs of his or her child supersede the community’s welfare. Such a decision goes against the Jewish values that dictate promoting peace and building a better world.”
Finally, the Orthodox Union, the umbrella organization for North American Modern Orthodoxy, also formally supported vaccination in a statement released this week.
‘Prayers must go hand-in-hand with availing oneself of medical science, including vaccination’
“Judaism places the highest value on preserving human life… Prayers for good health and for the complete and perfect healing of the ill are an ages-old aspect of Jewish tradition. But prayers must go hand-in-hand with availing oneself of medical science, including vaccination,” the OU wrote.
“The consensus of major poskim (halachic decisors) supports the vaccination of children to protect them from disease, to eradicate illness from the larger community through so-called herd immunity, and thus to protect others who may be vulnerable. The vaccination of children who can medically be vaccinated is absolutely the only responsible course of action,” the OU concludes.