Measles mal­ady

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Iam 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 scourge

Pam 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. We be­lieve in look­ing af­ter one an­other. 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?

How un-Jewish of the anti-vaxxer haredim

Com­ments and ques­tions: 3ladies3la­t­[email protected] www.face­book.com/3ladies3la­t­tes

(Il­lus­tra­tive; Dave Hay­garth/Flickr)

A CHILD with measles.

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