Opinion | My Fellow Hasidic Jews Are Making a Terrible …

Posted By on April 25, 2019

Whether out of shortsightedness or strategic malice, some of our religious leaders have directly fostered an atmosphere where thorough research is sneered at, the scientific method is doubted and the motivations of professionals are assumed to be nefarious and steeped in anti-religious animus.

In more recent years, when the Department of Education pushed for an increase in secular studies in the citys yeshivas, some of our leaders once again instigated their community to oppose these much-needed reforms. Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, the grand rabbi of Satmar, the largest Hasidic sect in the United States, whose stronghold is in Williamsburg, went as far as to say that the government was persecuting Jewish religious schools and essentially declared war against the department. These rabbis and community leaders used their platform to tell the ultra-Orthodox world that math, science, history and social studies are unnecessary and have little value reinforcing the idea that government officials are out to get us and wish to destroy our religious values.

We see this same approach now among some of our leaders toward vaccines. Some rabbis are contributing to the spread of disinformation, repeating unfounded claims about the health risks of the M.M.R. vaccine.

Such anti-science has no place in our communitys beliefs; Judaism is not behind the refusal to vaccinate. Most in the ultra-Orthodox community are vaccinated, and a vast majority of prominent rabbis support the vaccination requirements. Seven rabbis recently banded together and released an edict, advising that the vaccinations are a matter of life and death. A majority of our charitable organizations, like Hatzalah and the Orthodox Jewish Nurses Association Vaccine Task Force, have joined the battle against measles.

Doctors and health officials are begging the community to heed their warnings about the dangers of non-vaccination. Mayor de Blasio is now requiring unvaccinated individuals in our neighborhoods to receive the vaccine or face a fine, and city officials are closing yeshivas and day-care centers that defy the order.

But a powerful subgroup is continuing to ignore these calls and to misrepresent the motives of doctors, health officials and activists. They were behind a lawsuit against the citys vaccination order, which argues that the current outbreak in Brooklyn is not a clear and present danger to the public health (it was dismissed last week).

Evidently, the strategic deployment of a siege mentality by some of our religious leaders has worked all too well. Their words are received by an impressionable community, and many people have bought into these claims. Having sowed deep suspicion of government health officials, and having planted doubts as to the veracity of scientific knowledge and government health statistics, community leaders are now unable to persuade these families to accept what we all know to be true.

Our leadership has effectively turned around the famous words of King David in Psalms and we can now say: Those who sow with joy will reap with tears.

Moshe Friedman is a Hasidic yeshiva graduate and a father of three.

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Opinion | My Fellow Hasidic Jews Are Making a Terrible ...

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