By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com
The phone call came late at night. It was from a former student who is now a physician. “Rabbi Hoffman, are you aware that there are shadchanim advising young ladies that if they get the vaccine – they will not get a shidduch because the vaccine causes infertility?”
The question hit right away: Are these shadchanim in violation of the “Bad Advice Form” of Lifnei Iver? Lifnei Iver, of course, is the prohibition of placing a stumbling block in front of the blind. There are actually three aspects of this concept that are discussed in the Poskim:
- Causing someone to stumble in Jewish law.
- Causing someone to stumble by giving them bad or faulty advice (aitza she’aina hogenes lo in Hebrew)
- Actually placing a physical stumbling block or something similar in front of them.
The source for these three aspects of the verse is found in the Sifri – at the end of chapter 3 of Parshas Kedoshim.
Why would it be bad advice? Well, firstly, the vaccine DOES NOT cause infertility. It is true that there is a placental protein that shares a short amino acid sequence with a spike protein found in the SARS CoV-2 virus. But it is false that the vaccine that teaches the body to attack the virus will also teach the body to attack the placental protein.
The concern is somewhat akin to misdialing two phone numbers with each other simply because they share two digits next to each other. Here is an example:
- The phone number of the main office switchboard for BMG in Lakewood is (732)367-1060.
- The phone number for Yale University’s main office is (203) 432-4771.
They both share the digits 32 right next to each other, but no one will confuse the two. As Pfizer spokeswoman Jerica Pitts told the Associated Press in an email, “It has been incorrectly suggested that COVID-19 vaccines will cause infertility because of a shared amino acid sequence in the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 and a placental protein. The sequence, however, is too short to plausibly give rise to autoimmunity.”
Giving this faulty advice to others not only places them in harm’s way in that they will not get the vaccine, but it also places numerous others in harm’s way too.
HOW DID THE FALSE RUMOR GET STARTED?
There were actually two elements that contributed to the false rumor.
- The first element was a petition filed by a British former Pfizer employee named Dr. Michael Yeadon and by a German physician named Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg to the European Medicines Agency. Yeadon left Pfizer nine years ago, and Dr. Wodarg first became famous for accidentally hiring a mailman who was posing as a medical doctor. The petition demanded that clinical trials of the Pfizer vaccine be stopped in the European Union until more safety and efficacy data can be provided. In their petition, both doctors admitted that there is no indication “whether antibodies against spike proteins of SARS viruses would also act like anti-Syncytin-1 antibodies.” But they do say, “if this were to be the case this would then also prevent the formation of a placenta which would result in vaccinated women essentially becoming infertile.” Yeadon also said that COVID is effectively over in the United Kingdom. Dr. Yeadon never stated that there is a guaranteed association between the vaccine and fertility, but asked if the vaccine makers would be sure there would not be a problem.
- The second element was a blog called, “Health and Money News,” which contained some false information. The article states, “the vaccine contains a spike protein called syncytin-1, vital for the formation of human placenta in women.” That part is true for the Pfizer vaccine. It is not true for the Moderna vaccine. It goes on to say, “the vaccine works so that we form an immune response AGAINST the spike protein, we are also training the female body to attack Syncytin-1, which could lead to infertility in women of an unspecified duration.” That part was false.
BACK TO THE QUESTION
Now let’s get back to our question: Are shadchanim who tell people not to get the vaccine in violation of the Torah prohibition of Lifnei Iver? The answer is actually not all that simple. There is a difference between the first form of Lifnei Iver in regard to Halacha and the second form of Lifnei Iver in regard to bad advice. The difference is discussed in the footnotes to the Mossad HaRav Kook Ritvah on Yevamos 342 column 1 written by Rabbi Refoel Aharon Yoffen zt”l.
In the first form, the person is in violation of the prohibition even if he or she was completely unaware that there was a Halachic violation involved. In the second form – that of bad advice, the violation only occurs if the person offering the advice was aware that it was bad advice.
Why then is it not so simple? The answer is that numerous Poskim have ruled that one is halachically obligated to takes vaccines that help prevent the spread of deadly disease (See Zera Emes Vol. II #36, Nishmas Avrohom Choshen Mishpat 427 and also Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach’s Minchas Shlomo 2:29:4). This is particularly true with the CoVid 19 vaccine where many contemporary Poskim have ruled that there is an obligation to take it. If this is the case that there is such a halachic obligation, then the would-be Shadchan is also violating halacha not just bad advice. Rav Asher Weiss ruled in a shiur that there is not a full-fledged obligation to receive the vaccine since one can opt to socially distance and wear masks at all times. He added, however, that it is very very advisable to take the vaccine. On the other hand, according to those Poskim who hold that it is good advice to take the vaccine, but not an obligation – then those who erroneously advise not to get the vaccine are not in violation of Lifnei Iver.
SHOULD PREGNANT WOMEN GET THE VACCINE?
Dr. Sara Becker, a doctor originally from Lawrence, told the Five Towns Jewish Times, “The CDC reports that pregnant women are at increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness when compared to non-pregnant women of the same age and health.” The risks include a need for intensive care treatment, intubation and mechanical ventilation, as well as increased risk of death. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends the following: “based on the mechanism of action of these vaccines and the demonstrated safety and efficacy in clinical trials, it is expected that the safety and efficacy profile of the vaccine for pregnant individuals would be similar to what is observed in non-pregnant individuals.” ACOG, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM), and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) all agree that eligible pregnant women should not be denied the option to receive the vaccine. ACOG recommends that pregnant women should engage in “shared decision making” with their health care provider.