Three Opinions From Ashkenazic Authorities
Many are asking if we should recite a bracha upon receiving the Corona vaccine. Not surprisingly, a difference of opinion has emerged. Rav Hershel Schachter and Rav Mordechai Willig recited the bracha of HaTov V’HaMetiv. One says HaTov V’HaMetiv upon receiving a wonderful gift that benefits him and others (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 222:1), such as rain.
Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon, though, rules that the proper bracha is Shehecheyanu. The recipient of a personal bracha, such as one who has obtained a new car, suit or fruit, recites Shehecheyanu. Rav Rimon argues that the vaccine is of benefit to every individual and thus is worthy of this more personalized bracha. Rav Rimon notes that Shehecheyahu is a safer alternative than HaTov V’HaMeitiv since Shehecheyanu suffices for a situation that requires HaTov V’HaMeitiv but not vice versa (Bi’ur Halacha 223:5 s.v. SheHi Tova Lo).
Rav Shlomo Aviner writes that we should not recite either bracha. He argues that Shehecheyanu is recited upon receiving a positive benefit, not merely avoiding a challenging situation. He also notes that in the past, poskim did not recommend saying a bracha upon vaccination for other dangerous diseases such as polio or smallpox. Rav Asher Weiss also concludes that one should not recite a bracha upon receiving the COVID vaccine.
Report From Rav Elazar Meyer Teitz
Rav Elazar Meyer Teitz reports that when the polio vaccine was released when he was a youngster, there was no discussion amongst rabbanim and yeshiva students about whether a bracha should be recited. Rav Teitz was learning in those years in three premier yeshivot—Ner Yisrael (U.S.), Telz (U.S.), and Ponevezh (Israel). His father is the legendary Rav Pinchas Teitz, zt”l. If there was rabbinic discussion of a bracha on the polio vaccine, Rav Elazar Meyer Teitz was well-positioned to have been well aware of it.
A Sephardic Position
What is the Sephardic position on this issue? During the shiur that Chacham Yitzchak delivered a Motzei Shabbat on the COVID vaccine, he did not make mention of a bracha upon being inoculated. A recurring theme in Rav Ovadia’s rulings, following Maran HaChida, is a concern for the Geonim, Rambam and Shulchan Aruch’s opinion that it is a Torah-level prohibition to recite an unnecessary bracha (though Teshuvot Yabia Omer 8 Yoreh Deah 32 is a shocking exception). Rav Ovadia’s approach contrasts sharply with the Mishna Berura (215:20), who writes that the consensus view that an unnecessary bracha constitutes a rabbinic prohibition.
Sephardic poskim, therefore, stress the principle of safek brachot l’hakel; one should omit a bracha in case of doubt. Sephardic poskim frequently use the acronym “sabal” to express this point.
Rav Yonatan Nacson, an emerging young authority on Sephardic Halacha, asked Chacham David Yosef about his view on saying a bracha on the COVID vaccine. Chacham David told Rav Nacson that one should not make a bracha and that he should tell others not to recite a bracha, even if they are very excited to receive the vaccine.
Rav Nacson informed Chacham David that Rav Schachter recited the bracha. Chacham David responded that he does not think that one who is very happy upon receiving the vaccine has recited a bracha levatala. Still, Chacham David concluded, l’chatchilah it is better not to say the bracha.
A Sephardic Jew should not recite a bracha upon vaccination. If one wishes to utter a bracha, he may wear a new outfit/suit or take a new fruit and say a Shehecheyanu on the suit or fruit and bear in mind the vaccine as well. Alternatively, one may think of the bracha before receiving the vaccine. Rav Ovadia presents this alternative in several cases of safek bracha.
Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.