I am a Jewish, somewhat unaffiliated woman living near Manhattan, and I’m shocked to read in the papers about the measles outbreak in New York, mostly in the ultra-Orthodox communities. I’ve heard people at work blaming the Jews for spreading disease; it feels medieval to me.
What do you three ladies think about this?
– Scandalized by scourgePam Peled:
In medieval times, when the plague was ravishing communities across Europe, Jews were relatively untouched. Jews, isolated in ghettos, washed their hands before eating and bathed in the mikveh. Christians, terrified by the disease decimating them, and uncomprehending of Jews’ seeming immunity, had only one explanation: Jews were responsible for the plague. The 14th century saw hundreds of Jewish communities destroyed; Jews were murdered and burned alive.
And this was because they weren’t getting sick.
How bizarre that we are again being accused of spreading a plague – but this time it’s partly true. The Jerusalem Post reported that outbreaks of measles have been mainly in American ultra-Orthodox communities (Borough Park and Brooklyn), as well as here in Israel. According to Ynet, an American shopper grabbed her toddler and fled a supermarket after an Orthodox Jew coughed, saying “Jews don’t get vaccinated.”
While many rabbis endorse vaccinating, some, like Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, rosh yeshiva of the Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia, sees “vaccinations as the problem.” Kamenetsky, a member of the rabbinical board of Agudath Israel of America, adds, “It’s a hoax. Even the Salk vaccine [against polio] is a hoax. It’s just big business.” His wife, Temi, compared manufacturers of the MMR vaccine to Amalek, Jews’ ancient foe.
I don’t want to be excoriated (again), so I’ll frame this diplomatically. I venerated my late parents: my wonderful architect dad, my outstanding social worker mom. But I’d never have consulted them on immunization. What did they know about infectious diseases?
Respectfully, I suggest: Consult rabbis on religious matters; leave health to professionals. Stop endangering our children and the Jewish people’s good name. Tzippi Sha-ked:
“Love your neighbor as yourself” and “Your brother shall live with you” are but two of the Torah directives to protect others. They include saving peers from medical danger.
Unfortunately, a headstrong group of anti-vaxxers is infiltrating haredi circles. These vocal opponents of vaccinations have no authority and no medical background, yet they’re even converting a few rabbinic heavy-hitters to their way of thinking. These rabbis fail to internalize the religious precept of piku’ah nefesh by ignoring the commandment of not standing idly by your brother’s blood. What a hilul Hashem!
It’s a medieval nightmare that we are now facing the ire of Americans and fellow Israelis who point fingers at haredim for failing to protect their own, and others, against a deadly disease. How un-Jewish of the anti-vaxxer haredim.
So now what? Continue with the demonization? When I read this question, I envisioned Pam once again taking a jab at haredim. I was not disappointed. She belittles the relevance of Halacha and rabbis – pronouncing the latter fit only to clarify Shabbat rules. But while she belittles, others actually verbally attack Jews, blaming all of us for spreading disease.
Thankfully, there are constructive haredi voices to counter anti-vaxxers. One is my rabbinic haredi brother, Yair Hoffman, who penned six articles in haredi presses urging communities to receive all recommended vaccines. My brother, a father of 12 (bli ayin hara), paid thousands out of his pocket on a campaign involving 500 doctors who called on the haredi world to vaccinate. He did this utilizing Torah precepts.
Apart from vilifying, what are other Jews doing? Danit Shemesh:
Haredim choose internal leaders we call rabbis and heed their advice. Many rabbis cite the halacha urging not to detach oneself from the public as an ordinance to vaccinate. As Charedim we are not apologetic for our communal decision making system. Thus, the vast majority of haredim vaccinate. The anti-immunization camp is sorely marginalized by the haredi community.
However, vaccines are problematic. As a layperson, I don’t know what they contain. Autoimmune problems have risen since MMRs.
When I had kids, I also faced the terrifying vaccination decision. What was being injected into my baby’s tiny body? I was paralyzed; I felt either choice was risky. My community is split on this; some vaccinate, some don’t. While I did ultimately immunize my children, I understand those who don’t.
We live in a world where leadership is weak; fear and greed override rational educated thought and decision-making. Demagogy is mistaken for confidence. One-size-fits-all politics, rather than clean science, determines action. The victim is social synergy.
The haredi community isn’t immune to political fear and rhetoric. Political bullies are reducing our haredi society to one of social pariahs. Yet the jury is still out on whether vaccinations are more helpful or harmful to public health.
Therefore, I understand the small but vocal community of anti-vaxxers who refuse to be silenced. They are united, with a leader and a belief.
Parents have a right to choose the medical path they believe in, after doing their own risk assessment, consulting doctors and considering individual genetic and other weaknesses. Can we enjoy transparency instead of hatred, and not blindly accept that Big Brother knows best? Comments and questions: email@example.com
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