SOAS University of London

Centre for Jewish Studies

’If a Rabbi Said We Should Be Vaccinated, We Wouldn’t’: Navigating Autonomy, Authority, and Religious Authenticity

Dr. Ben Kasstan. University of Bristol and the Hebrew University Jerusalem

Date: 28 April 2021Time: 6:00 PM

Finishes: 28 April 2021Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Virtual Event

Type of Event: Virtual Webinar

With much public health hope pinned on vaccination as a possible exit strategy from the coronavirus pandemic, questions are being asked about how to promote vaccines in ethnic and religious minorities – including Haredi Jews. While public health services consider religious authorities to be key players in vaccination programmes, this paper draws on anthropological research conducted with Haredi Jews in Britain and Jerusalem to argue that religious law and leaders form a contingent influence in vaccine decisions. Recent issues around measles vaccination signals how non-vaccination messaging circulates and is made relevant to self-protective religious minorities, revealing how biomedical technologies enmesh notions of the ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ to reconfigure meanings around religious authenticity.

Ben Kasstan is a medical anthropologist at the University of Bristol and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His research sits at the intersection of health, religion and state, and his recent work explores vaccine decision-making among religiously Orthodox parents in Britain and Jerusalem. Amongst his publications are: "’A Free People, Controlled Only by God’: Circulating and Converting Criticism of Vaccination in Jerusalem”, Cult Med Psychiatry 4:1 (2021) 1-20; “Positioning Oneself and Being Positioned in the 'Community': An Essay on Jewish Ethnography as a 'Jewish' Ethnographer”, Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis 27 (2016) 264-83.

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