Progressively Speaking: Now is the time to lead from the front on vaccinations
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Progressively Speaking: Now is the time to lead from the front on vaccinations

Rabbi Dr René Pfertzel takes a topical issue and applies a Liberal Jewish response

“It is a duty to care for the body, since humans have been created in the divine image and likeness.” (Leviticus Rabbah 34:3)  

The year has begun as the last one ended with lockdowns, job losses and isolation caused by the pandemic. But there is hope on the horizon in the form of a vaccine.

According to a report from the British Academy, one of the essential elements needed for the vaccine’s success is a coordinated programme to encourage confidence and combat anti-vaxx misinformation – so that the take-up target of eight in ten people in the UK can be achieved.

The report’s author, Oxford University’s Prof Melinda Mills, writes: “We need to move from the one-way provision of information and generate open dialogue that does not dismiss people’s real vaccine concerns and hesitancy.”

Obviously scientists, doctors and government ministers will take the lead in this, but rabbis and faith leaders have an important role to play.

There is a reason the bimah is at the front of our synagogues (and Zoom screens): people look forward to our rabbis for leadership. And this is an issue we can lead on from the front.

While many in Progressive Judaism will have no qualms about a jab, some will be among the 36 percent of people in the UK who say they are uncertain or unlikely to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Our job as rabbis is to show our members, and the wider community, that the vaccine is safe, effective and part of our Jewish set of values – especially that of pikuach nefesh, the concept that saving a human life is more important than anything else.

So what practical steps will we be taking? First, Liberal rabbis are going to record a video, standing side by side with frontline NHS workers in the Liberal Jewish community, declaring our support for the vaccine. 

Second, we will be talking to people – especially those who are nervous or worried about the vaccine or have family members who are. The key here is to provide reassurance.

Finally, we need to look to inclusion and practically supporting members who may be blind, deaf, sick or vulnerable in getting the vaccine.

Now is the time for us all to put pikuach nefesh into action.

  •  Rabbi Dr René Pfertzel is co-chair of the Conference of Liberal Rabbis and Cantors

 

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