By: David Schmidt  | 

Leading RIETS Roshei Yeshiva Receive Moderna Coronavirus Vaccine

Rabbis Hershel Schachter and Mordechai Willig, roshei yeshiva of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), received Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 24 and urged others to do the same. Their vaccination was recorded and posted online, garnering nearly 10,000 views on YouTube. 

“I highly recommend everyone should take the vaccine,” Rabbi Schachter said in the video after being vaccinated. “[Hashem] gave us such chochmah (wisdom) to develop the vaccine — we should use it. It can protect us and protect the whole community.” Rabbi Schachter added that he believes everyone who receives the vaccine should make the blessing “hatov v’hameitiv,” the blessing one makes on good things happening for the general public, just as he did. Rabbi Schachter is 79, and Rabbi Willig is 73, and are both in a higher-risk category for severe illness if COVID-19 is contracted. 

Rabbi Schachter and Rabbi Willig took the vaccine at ParCare Community Health Network’s office. On Dec. 26, New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker announced in a press release that ParCare would be investigated due to reports that the company “may have fraudulently obtained COVID-19 vaccine, transferred it to facilities in other parts of the state in violation of state guidelines and diverted it to members of the public.” The company is now under criminal investigation.

On a TorahWeb Zoom shiur, Rabbi Schachter reassured the audience that he and Rabbi Willig had no knowledge of any illegalities. “We were led to believe that it was [legal],” Rabbi Schachter said. “If either of us would have been told that this was inappropriate, that it wasn’t legitimate, we would not have done that,” he added.

About a week earlier, on Dec. 19, Rabbi Willig gave a shiur on Zoom with Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, currently the chief of infectious diseases and hospital epidemiologist at Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital, about the vaccine. The program was moderated by Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, dean of YU’s Center for the Jewish Future, and had 868 views on the YUTorah website.

During the talk, when asked about the halakhic (legal) nature of taking the vaccine, Rabbi Willig said, “Any clarity you receive from me is a result of my training from my rebbi, Rav Soloveitchik, who told us as rabbonim that there are fields we don’t know too much about and we are duty-bound to listen to those who are experts in that field.”

On Dec. 11, the Food and Drug Administration gave emergency approval to the first COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer. One week later, Moderna’s vaccine was also approved. According to New York’s vaccination guidelines, high-risk healthcare workers, nursing home residents and staff are prioritized first to receive the vaccine, followed by other long-term and congregate care staff and residents, EMS and other health care workers. Essential workers and the general population, starting with those who are at the highest risk, will be vaccinated after the initial priority groups.  

According to the NYS COVID-19 Tracker for Beren and Wilf campuses, there have been 20 reported positive cases since Dec. 19 with four students quarantined and six isolated. 

“Information regarding the University’s vaccine policies will be announced once they have been finalized,” Vice Provost for Student Affairs Dr. Chaim Nissel told The Commentator. “Additionally, it is important to note that in accordance with applicable health guidance, we still expect everyone — even people who may have been vaccinated — to continue to comply with our mask-wearing, social distancing, and other protocols, as well as participate in our COVID-19 monitoring program.”

Photo Caption: Rabbis Schachter and Willig received a vaccine for COVID-19. 
Photo Credit: gifterphotos