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Author(s): Kasstan, Ben
Date: 2021
Abstract: Maintaining ‘faith’ in vaccination has emerged as a public health challenge amidst outbreaks of preventable disease among religious minorities and rising claims to ‘exemption’ from vaccine mandates. Outbreaks of measles and coronavirus have been particularly acute among Orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods in North America, Europe and Israel, yet no comparative studies have been conducted to discern the shared and situated influences on vaccine decision-making. This paper synthesises qualitative research into vaccine decision-making among Orthodox Jews in the United Kingdom and Israel during the 2014–15 and 2018-19 measles epidemics, and 2020–21 coronavirus pandemic. The methods integrate 66 semi-structured informal interviews conducted with parents, formal and informal healthcare practitioners, and religious leaders, as well as analysis of tailored non-vaccination advocacy events and literature. The paper argues that the discourse of ‘religious’ exemption and opposition to vaccination obscures the diverse practices and philosophies that inform vaccine decisions, and how religious law and leaders form a contingent influence. Rather than viewing religion as the primary framework through which vaccine decisions are made, Orthodox Jewish parents were more concerned with safety, trust and choice in similar ways to ‘secular’ logics of non-vaccination. Yet, religious frameworks were mobilised, and at times politicised, to suit medico-legal discourse of ‘exemption’ from coercive or mandatory vaccine policies. By conceptualising tensions around protection as ‘political immunities,’ the paper offers a model to inform social science understandings of how health, law and religion intersect in contemporary vaccine opposition.
Date: 2009
Abstract: This paper examines how Rabbinic and communal authorities participated in treatment decisions made by a group of strictly orthodox haredi Jews with breast cancer living in London. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with five haredi breast cancer patients. The transcripts were analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis. Demographic and personal data were collected using structured questionnaires. All participants sought Rabbinic involvement, with four seeking rulings concerning religious rituals and treatment options. Participants' motivations were to ensure their actions accorded with Jewish law and hence God's will. By delegating treatment decisions, decision-making became easier and participants could avoid guilt and blame. They could actively participate in the process by choosing which Rabbi to approach, by providing personal information and by stating their preferences. Attitudes towards Rabbinic involvement were occasionally conflicted. This was related to the understanding that Rabbinic rulings were binding, and occasional doubts that their situation would be correctly interpreted. Three participants consulted the community's ‘culture broker’ for medical referrals and non-binding advice concerning treatment. Those who consulted the culture broker had to transcend social norms restricting unnecessary contact between men and women. Hence, some participants described talking to him as uncomfortable. Other concerns related to confidentiality.

By consulting Rabbinic authorities, haredi cancer patients participated in a socially sanctioned method of decision-making continuous with their religious values. Imposing meaning on their illness in this way may be associated with positive psychological adjustment. Rabbinic and communal figures may endorse therapeutic recommendations and make religious and cultural issues comprehensible to clinicians, and as such healthcare practitioners may benefit from this involvement.