Anti-vaxer Hasidic Jews, lying about vaccination, intensify measles outbreak in New York

April 11, 2019 • 2:00 pm

On the plane from Brussels back to the U.S., a young Orthodox Jewish couple boarded, the man decked out in his black clothes and tallit, the woman wearing a wig. They had a young child, and when I saw it I thought, “That kid doesn’t have a chance.” It will likely grow up either an uneducated but hyper-religious man, or a subservient and perpetually pregnant woman. It will be brainwashed, its options in life severely limited by religion. At that time I didn’t know it might also have had its health endangered by its parents’ faith.

The latest measles outbreak in the U.S., and it’s a serious one, is in Brooklyn, New York, and is largely spread by unvaccinated ultra-Orthodox Jews—Hasidic ones. According to the NYT article below, the virus was carried by American Jews who visited Israel, where there was an outbreak last fall, back to the U.S. Since then most of the 300 cases in New York City have been among the Hasidim.

The main reason for the lack of vaccination among the Haredim is misinformation, spread by those who may know they’re lying. Here are some bogus excuses for not getting kids vaccinated:

a. The vaccinations may not be kosher:

“The Vaccine Safety Handbook” appears innocuous, a slick magazine for parents who want to raise healthy children. But tucked inside its 40 pages are false warnings that vaccines cause autism and contain cells from aborted human fetuses.

“It is our belief that there is no greater threat to public health than vaccines,” the publication concludes, contradicting the scientific consensus that vaccines are generally safe and highly effective.

The handbook, created by a group called Parents Educating and Advocating for Children’s Health, or Peach, is targeted at ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose expanding and insular communities are at the epicenter of one of the largest measles outbreaks in the United States in decades.

On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency in parts of Brooklyn in an effort to contain the spread of measles in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods there. He said unvaccinated individuals would be required to receive the measles vaccine — or be subjected to a fine — as the city escalated its campaign to stem the outbreak.

Peach’s handbook — with letters signed by rabbis and sections like “Halachic Points of Interest” — has become one of the main vehicles for misinformation among ultra-Orthodox groups, including Hasidim. Its message is being shared on hotlines and in group text messages.

“Vaccines contain monkey, rat and pig DNA as well as cow-serum blood, all of which are forbidden for consumption according to kosher dietary law,” Moishe Kahan, a contributing editor for Peach magazine, said in an email.

Vaccines are often grown in a broth of animal cells, but the final product is highly purified. Most prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis agree that vaccines are kosher, and urge observant Jews to be immunized.

b. The vaccinations may be dangerous:

A Hasidic mother who lives in Rockland County and participated in the call told The New York Times that none of her three children were vaccinated, and all of them recently had measles. The woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said that she did not report the cases to doctors and that the children recovered in a matter of days.

“The body is not a machine,” she said. “The body is something that reacts to toxins in certain ways. I’ve heard firsthand of cases of SIDS after children getting a vaccine,” she added, referring to sudden infant death syndrome. Many studies have concluded that vaccines do not cause SIDS.

b. Seeking answers in religious scripture:

Yosef Rapaport, a Hasidic journalist in Borough Park who has written about the importance of vaccination, said parents who do not want to immunize their children will seek rabbinical counsel that aligns with their views.

“You make up your mind and then try to find the interpretation in the Talmud,” he said. “You can always find some rabbi who will express doubt.”

c. Fear of the authorities.

Some Hasidim have said that longstanding tension between members of the ultra-Orthodox community and the government have made them wary of officials’ efforts to contain the outbreak.

The past persecution of the Jewish people is still a factor, they said. And more recently, quarrels with secular leaders over a circumcision ritual that has transmitted fatal herpes infections to infants and the government’s oversight of ultra-Orthodox Jewish private schools known as yeshivas have only soured relations.

d. Lack of proper science education. Many Hasidim get almost no formal education, and what they get is largely religious in nature. Many of them don’t accept either evolution or vaccination:

“The lack of a comprehensive secular education has raised a generation of some parents who do not appreciate modern science and do not have trust in the health system,” said Dov Bleich, a Hasidic father of two who lives in Monsey and emphasized that most rabbis are supportive of vaccines.

“It’s leaving them vulnerable to the anti-vaccine crusade.”

e. The claim that measles is not dangerous. 

. . .  opponents of vaccination ardently maintain that diseases like measles are not dangerous.

“The adverse events from getting measles, they’re very, very, very low,” Dr. Lawrence Palevsky, a pediatrician in New York, said on the recent conference call. There have been no reported deaths in New York State linked to the recent outbreak. But measles killed 110,000 people globally in 2017, according to the World Health Organization.

But these Jews put a much larger (and non-Jewish) population at risk, though the risk is attenuated because Hasidic children don’t mingle much with kids from outside the faith. But it doesn’t take much to spread the virus, and there are now fines mandated for parents who won’t vaccinate their kids. In this case, as in Quebec, the interests of the country as a whole supersede adherence to dogma. And an unvaccinated Hasidic child doesn’t have a choice.

To be fair, most Hasids do accept science and do get their kids vaccinated. But it’s clear that what is causing this outbreak is fear bred by religion.

h/r: József

49 thoughts on “Anti-vaxer Hasidic Jews, lying about vaccination, intensify measles outbreak in New York

  1. Are you sure it was a tallit which is only donned while praying?

    Or was is tzitzit, the tassels of which hang out of the shirt and are tucked into the pants pockets.

    1. It says you can exercise your religion all you want until you affect the health, safety, or rights of others.

        1. Yes, it’s why JW’s find their children receiving blood transfusions against their (the parents’) wishes.

    2. Goops, I meant to ad an addendum to this but I replied to myself down below…..

      …and of course, “health and safety” as one concept is often considered a right in western democracies. I know that Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes, “life, liberty, and security of the person”.

      1. I think freedom of expression of religion is allowed as long as said exercise does not violate other laws. And that limit hoes further than just health and safety.

        1. First amendment is going to justify ‘reasonable accommodation’ to said laws. However I don’t see how it is reasonable to accommodate religious beliefs that have the predictable result of spreading a potentially fatal childhood disease to others. A reasonable accommodation of religous practice involving the measles would be more like: “we were going to make free vaccines available on Saturdays, but because you observe Shabbat, we’ll make them available on Fridays too. Oh and we’ll make a special batch without the use of egg yolk for you, if that’s against your religion.”

    3. If they won’t get vaccinated, I’d suggest building a wall around their neighborhood. Only allow ones with certificates of vaccination to pass through. It would cost a lot less than Mr tRump’s border wall and be a lot more effective.

      You could call it ‘quarantine’, and they can exercise their religion perfectly freely inside the wall.


      Might be politically unacceptable, though. But seriously, what do you do with anyone whose ignorant beliefs endanger others?


      1. “… I’d suggest building a wall around their neighborhood. ”

        This was done in the middle ages. The most ancient of those “walled neighborhoods” was the one in Venice; its name: Ghetto.

    4. You also are not allowed to behead infidels, at least in this country.
      Even if doing so is required by your religious beliefs.
      Or burn witches.

    5. There was another video here a few days ago about another religion with instruction on how to beat your wife.
      I am sure there are other religions with some quite nasty aspects.
      Sacrifice of some kind maybe.

      Kowtowing to religious sentiment should end where harm to others begins.

      It should extend to children, including giving them a decent education.

  2. Bad ideas, like the veneration of a deity and all the peri-deity resulting dogma, are going to be the death of us all.

    1. …and of course, “health and safety” as one concept is often considered a right in western democracies. I know that Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes, “life, liberty, and security of the person”.

      1. I wonder if any parents whose kids have been seriously injured or died from the outbreak, would be able to sue the Peach organisation or any of the persons named in the booklet for a few millions of dollars?

        (Isn’t that the usual method of USAnian environmental law enforcement? Don’t regulate ahead of time but sue the fritz out of somebody after the event?)


  3. Yes, they should all have to go through these childhood diseases like we did in the old days. Ignorance is always good. By the way, I am still trying to get the new shingles shots. You have to get on a long waiting list for some reason. I got the shot a few years ago but now they have new ones if you can find the stuff.

    1. I got both shots for the new Shingles vaccine. There is some sort of shortage but I somehow got my shots before all that started. Watch me get shingles anyway; but it will be less horrid if I do, or so the hypothesis goes.

      1. Maybe I need to go to Canada. My doctor, Dr. Useless, told to go to my pharmacy and that is where the line begins. Said I was 80th on the list.

        1. I’m not sure what the shortage situation is here. I know there was one but I got ahead of it. I think there is a shortage here too. Something to do with supply and demand I guess.

          Dr Useless – ugh, you should have known there would be trouble with a moniker like that! 😉

      2. Diana, did you have any sort of reaction with the 2 new shots? My pharmacist painted a rather bleak picture of the reactions compared to the first (old) shot.

        1. The only thing that I had was a sore arm. When the person injecting me told me I’d have a sore arm I thought, “pfffft, I’ve had lots of shots” but it hurt like someone hauled off and punched with right with their pointy knuckle. The second shot wasn’t all that bad at all….the pain seemed worse with the first one. Other than that, I hand no reaction.

        2. I had a sore arm and felt a little tired for two or three days but nothing bad. My wife had moderate to severe pain in her arm or several days, but she did not gave any tiredness or flu like fatigue the way I did.
          Neither of us had any symptoms to be of any concern.

  4. What they’re doing is tantamount to opting out of the responsibilities of modern society. I have no objection to that as long as it’s a two way street. Let them opt out of all the benefits along with the responsibilities.

      1. Those are at least as much social obligations as they are benefits. How about they stay off the roads our society builds, stay out of our hospitals, wear only fabric made on hand powered looms, not use plumbing, go without electricity and gas, live in houses not built to any modern code, and not expect to get the protection given by police, fire and the armed forces? As I said, I’m fine with them opting out of the responsibilities as long as they also forego the benefits.

  5. Funny, back in ancient times when I was in school, there was no vaccine and lots of kids got measles. It was expected. Along with chicken pox, mumps and whooping cough. They were considered “kiddy diseases” and not particularly dangerous. Except Rubella. For us kids, it meant time off school—yay. Innocent times, and perhaps ignorant.

    1. They were dangerous. And people died or were disabled by the diseases. But that was perhaps lost in the shuffle of people dieing in droves from smoking and driving without seat belts.

      1. Yep. It’s a form of sampling bias – the only people to tell you about their childhood measles/mumps experience are the ones for which it wasn’t lethal.

  6. I don’t know of any way to force them to be vaccinated. They can be fined for not doing it or maybe have other benefits such as attending public schools withheld. I believe there is a right to refuse/decline medical treatment. One exception would be if withholding treatment from children constitutes child neglect or abuse, etc.

    1. Forcible vaccination has been done more than once in the US, most recently in Philadelphia in 1991. From the NYT:

      Vaccination by force was used in 1991 in Philadelphia, said Dr. Paul A. Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

      A measles outbreak that year infected over 1,400 people and killed several children. It had begun in two fundamentalist churches that rejected modern medicine and practiced faith healing.

      A court ordered that the children in those churches be vaccinated. Their families did not resist.

      The current NY order is written in such a way that it could be simply fines ($1000) for refusal to vaccinate, or forcible vaccinations (the health commissioner said anyone who has not been vaccinated and cannot prove they are immune to measles or produce a medical exemption “shall be vaccinated.”) Forcible vaccinations are politically sensitive, as one might imagine.

      1. “A court ordered that the children in those churches be vaccinated. Their families did not resist.”

        I have a sneaking suspicion that some of those families may have been quite relieved to have the decision taken away from them in a way that did not call their devotion to the faith into question. 😎


  7. ‘“You make up your mind and then try to find the interpretation in the Talmud,” he said. “You can always find some rabbi who will express doubt.”’

    In that at least, they’re just like everybody else.


  8. In Pakistan, the Taliban and similar groups have revealed that polio vaccination is part of a plot against Islam, and have therefore executed many of the enemies of God who were administering polio vaccine. According to a 2016 report in the Guardian: “At least 89 people – including vaccination workers and police officers – have been killed in such attacks since July 2012, according to a Reuters tally based on United Nations figures and media reports.” The ultra-orthodox of Jewish communities at least don’t go as far as their counterparts in what is sometimes billed as “the religion of Peace”.

    1. D’you suppose that might have something to do with the CIA using vaccinations as a cover for an attempt to hunt down bin Laden?

      Nobody comes out of this very well.


      1. Not necessarily.

        I heard a story on BBC Radio 4 a year or two back about a film crew that was making a story about the ebola epidemic. They found that their reception from the locals was somewhat hostile because white people only ever came to visit when there were epidemics going on like the ebola outbreaks and although correlation is not causation, the association led to inevitable hasty conclusions.

        Anyway, one member of the film crew fell ill. They only just escaped with their lives. When they got back to a city with modern medical facilities, the ill fit crew member was found to “only” have malaria.

  9. Predictably, vaccine skeptics are planning to file a lawsuit against NYC over the order. The same lawyer who filed a lawsuit in Rockland County, NY, (just north of NYC) over a ban on unvaccinated children in schools and public spaces, will file papers this week. A state judge placed a 30 day stay on the Rockland ban, saying the measles outbreak didn’t rise to the level of a public health emergency.

  10. It almost sounds like someone is trying to kill off the Jews by circulating damaging materials among them. Do they know who is behind the publication of the materials?

Leave a Reply