Mandatory vaccination mishigas explained

By Tzvi Brivik, Chairperson, Cape SAJBD

I was considering a salutation for the commencement of the year when I came across an exhibition of Star Trek memorabilia which is currently taking place at the Skirball Jewish Cultural Centre in Los Angeles.

Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock and was an Orthodox Jew, had created the salutation ‘live long and prosper’. It was lifted from his Talmudic studies, and is a salutation which I repeat at the start of 2022 — I hope that the year is full of good health and that our community grows from one success to another.

Since the onset of COVID-19, the Board has taken a pivotal role in strategising for its various affiliates and communal organisations. This included setting up a steering committee made up of representatives of the various organisations, and attended by medical experts for whose opinion we are grateful. By the time this article will be read, the pandemic may well no longer present the risk that it has of hospitalisation and death, and although it remains dangerous to susceptible individuals, (we hope) it will be far more manageable.

The world is now slowly considering a return to normality. To do so it requires that vaccinations (which we have urged our community members to obtain) become mandatory, particularly in the workplace. Many of our affiliates are asking if this requirement of vaccination can be mandated. In other words, if an employee remains unvaccinated, should they be allowed to return to work?

The Occupational Health and Safety Act requires an employer to provide safe working conditions. The regulations provide for employers to make COVID-19 vaccines a mandatory part of business operations, but require them to identify the employees that they insist must receive a vaccine, the reason why these employees have been chosen, and to specify if these employees have any underlying comorbidities. It is against these imperatives that the employee’s constitutional rights to bodily integrity and freedom of religion, belief and opinion must be considered and balanced.

Prior to the Omicron variant, many large corporations and even NEDLAC (a body made up of government, employees and large businesses) remarked that mandatory vaccinations would be legitimate and defensible in the workplace. It is unclear at this stage if Omicron has changed this, given that although it is highly transmissible, we have seen hospitalisations and deaths at a tenth of what they were during the prior variant waves. Were this to be considered simply a manageable flu-like illness then it would no longer be acceptable to compel vaccinations.

The difficulty however, as we have seen historically, is that the pandemic is unpredictable. It has not played out to the expectation of the experts. It continues to surprise, and for this reason communal organisations must be prepared. In terms of the regulations, detailed plans must be instituted in the workplace including consultation with employees to identify whether mandatory vaccinations are reasonable, who these would affect, the nature of any objections and how these can be accommodated, if at all. Communal organisations are urged to consider this as part of their planning in the new year. This will not only protect residents, learners and lay leaders, but most importantly the employees who work within our organisations and on whom we rely to ensure organisations function and deliver. We need to act to protect as many lives as we possibly can!

Finally, on a different note, Dutch filmmaker Bianca Stigter has created Three Minutes: A Lengthening, a 70-minute feature film that helps to further define what and who was lost of Jewish life in Poland just before the Holocaust. Based on a fragmentary, ephemeral three minutes of footage discovered in a closet, this insight into Jewish life before the Holocaust in Nasielsk reveals what life was like for those Jews living in Poland, and the tragedy that followed. It was screened at various film festivals including New York, Toronto and Sundance. I anticipate that for the coming year and the future of global Jewry, this glimpse of the European past is invaluable.

Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies website:, Instagram, and Facebook page.

• Published in the PDF edition of the February 2022 issue – Click here to get it.

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