Friday, September 12, 2014

Frum Ways To Die

Following the previous discussion of how some people deny the potentially fatal risks involved in metzizah b'peh, I was sad to see a new report about another way in which certain frum people endanger the wellbeing and lives of their (and our) children. The Baltimore Jewish Times reports (p. 1, 2) on the phenomenon of people who refuse to vaccinate their children. It was depressing to see that no less a figure than Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky, the most moderate and least anti-rationalist Gadol B'Torah in the charedi world, is supporting these people:
According to Dr. Linda Grossman, bureau director for clinical services at the Baltimore County Department of Health, independent schools that operate under Maryland laws have the same policy. She says that some Jewish day school parents claim religious exemptions to avoid vaccinating their children.
“I’m not aware though of any religious reasons not to vaccinate in Judaism,” she said. Beginning this fall, two additional vaccines are being phased in statewide. Kindergarteners will now be required to receive an additional dose of the chicken pox vaccine, and seventh-grade students must receive the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis as well as one dose of a vaccine against meningitis.
“There are far worse consequences to not vaccinating as compared with vaccinating,” said Grossman, reiterating her hope that parents do not claim religious exemptions to avoid vaccinating their children.
R.B. encountered significant difficulties when she claimed a religious exemption at a local boys’ day school. Before her son began school, she contacted someone at the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, as well as the state attorney general’s office, to inquire about Maryland’s laws regarding religious exemptions.
“They said that the school could not refuse to accept a religious exemption,” she related. “But then school started and the nurse called. She said the school didn’t accept religious exemptions. I told her they had to accept them so she said I would have to speak with the principal.”
R.B. reached out to Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetzky, founder and dean of the Talmudical Academy of Philadelphia, whose wife, Temi, speaks out against vaccinating children. The rabbi wrote a letter on R.B.’s behalf, leading to her son’s principal relenting and apologizing.
When reached by phone, both Kamenetzkys confirmed their belief that vaccinations, not the diseases they prevent, are harmful.
“There is a doctor in Chicago who doesn’t vaccinate any of his patients and they have no problem at all,” said the rabbi. “I see vaccinations as the problem. It’s a hoax. Even the Salk vaccine [against polio] is a hoax. It is just big business.”
Kamenetzky says he follows the lead of Israeli Rabbi Shmaryahu Yosef Chaim Kanievsky, who rules that schools “have no right to prevent unvaccinated kids from coming to school.”
Normally, I don't mind if people have views that run counter to modern science. It doesn't really affect or bother me that Rav Chaim Kanievsky says that Jews and non-Jews have a different number of teeth. But in this case, it's everyone else's children who are put at risk.

*   *   *
On a more upbeat note, here is a video of a bizarre hovercraft-type vehicle smoothing the concrete floor of the building that is being constructed to (temporarily) house the Biblical Natural History Experience:

I'll be posting updates about the Biblical Natural History Experience on my other blog, www.zootorah.blogspot.com.

101 comments:

  1. Rav Chaim Kanievsky says that Jews and non-Jews have a different number of teeth.

    Contradiction to modern science? No, the non-Jew's 33rd tooth is clearly a "spiritual" tooth. ;-)

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    1. I was actually born with 33 real teeth!

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    2. Most people are born with over 50. :-)

      Where is your 33rd?

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    3. Here's an easy solution: Point out to the charedi velt that not vaccinating can affect fertility. And...done.

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  2. This is one of the more bizarre trends of the frum world. Somehow the connection of both emunah in Hashem for healing and the asking of Rebbe's or Gadol Torah's for brachot has moved into an explosion of every natural remedy and folk healing technique being sold to the community.

    So suddenly we have, within the frum community, large amounts of yoga and reflexology, herbology and unlimited kosher vitamin supplements, etc.

    Maybe this is a natural corollary from "Internet is bad" and "smartphones are evil" to modern technology is evil and modern science is bad.

    No problem, my wife can mix up a mustard plaster and save up some goose fat for when the kids have the flu. And the zeidi was an expert in bankas. But where will we find a good blooodletter?

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    1. I'm not so sure. In secular cultuer it's the Internet that has been responsible for spreading this kind of (mostly) nonsense and I think that's the origin of its entry into the frum community too.

      I put chareidi anti-vaccination views into the same bucket as anti-life insurance.

      RM

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    2. I would dispute that: I think people had a suspicion of things they did not understand (science) prior to the internet. The internet has just provided them with a means of validating their prejudice.

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  3. Also the yeshiva way of sitting , ie 2 students sitting opposite each other and learning, is a way to transmit viruses, hence the higher rate of mumps etc amongst haredi kids

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    1. That was indeed what the CDC found:

      http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1202865

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  4. Can Tema or Rav Shmuel explain why people stopped getting polio?

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    1. From the article:

      R.B., a 32-year-old mother of four who, like others interviewed for this article, would not allow her name to be published for fear of being exposed as a non-vaccinator, is not convinced by the overwhelming scientific and governmental consensus that says vaccinating children is necessary for public health.
      She maintains that most people who contract polio today have no symptoms at all, while M.D., a local 29-year-old non-practicing nurse and mother of three, says that epidemics of yesteryear — the American Academy of Pediatrics points out that polio killed 6,000 people in 1916 and left another 27,000 paralyzed — had more to do with lack of hygiene.
      “The world today is completely different than it was during the polio epidemic,” said M.D. “It was dirty. An average healthy person couldn’t get a disease like polio today. Polio in a healthy person today is usually asymptomatic or it has minor symptoms and comes and goes. Then the person develops immunity forever.”

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    2. Oh really so the precipitous drop in deaths and cases of polio infection happened because people became instantaneously clean, coinciding exactly with the introductionn of the vaccine. That seems plausible!

      It's funny she says someone who contracts the disease will develop immunity for life after reovering from it. Well, the vaccine causes one to develop immunity for life but without getting sick. And it is. Not harmful nor does anyone have a good reason why it would be, much less demonstrated it to be so.

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    3. Ridiculous. Children in middle and upper class homes in the 40s and into the 50s got polio. Their hygiene standards were not "completely different" than today, and probably superior to those in some poorer jewish enclaves.
      RM

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    4. Dr. Hall might be able to correct me on this, but to the best of my knowledge and study of the literature on polio, it was always a symptomatic in 95% of victims. Those wards full of iron lung patients and all the children who grew up with leg braces and wheelchairs were just the few unlucky ones. This shows the extent of the infection rate. The thousands of cases every year were only the tip of the iceberg.

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    5. In case it wasn't obvious, I was merely quoting the silliness the from the article, and not endorsing it.

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    6. Yes. Because the vaccine worked. I don't think they dispute that the vaccine eradicates polio. Rather, because of its success, they see no benefit for an individual to comply now.

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  5. One of the recent issues of The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society has a piece by Rav Aharon Glatt et al which clearly shows that giving vaccines is a halachic requirement for various reasons.
    Is Rav Kaminetzky is a source of "Daas Torah" for that community?

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  6. What's worse is that the not vaccinating raises the risks for others because it encourages the spread of the disease. Just curious - does R'SK speak against all vaccinations (e.g. tetanus, flu, shingles....)
    KVCT
    Joel RIch

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  7. You are confusing very different issues.

    Metzizah b'Peh is an established minhag b'yisrael. That alone is enough to justify it, with nothing further needing to be said. Moreover, the amount of children actually harmed by it, in proportion to the numbers upon whom it is performed, are so miniscule so as to be statistically non-existent. Perhaps, possibly, a devotee of the nanny-state mindset might argue that even ONE injury resulting from it is too many, and sufficient to justify regulatory intrusion. I don't accept that nonsense for a moment, but one might argue that. However, one then runs into the fact that its an established minhag yisrael. Moreover, the long institutional Jewish memory is well aware the bris milah itself, not just MBP, has also been accused many times of being a health hazard. So, no one is getting rid of MBP anytime soon.

    Not getting vaccinated, by contrast, is rather different. I'm not unsympathetic to R. Kaminetzky's point that it might be a hoax. (Poor choice of words, if the quote is accurate, but his point is understood.) There is no shortage - whatsoever - of men making millions on the basis of alleged environmental or health scares. R. Kaminetzsky seems rightfully wary of such claims. Where he loses me is applying that caution to vaccinations. That seems an odd choice to make a stand over. Not a doctor, but I'm not aware of any sizeable groundswell of opposition to vaccinations.

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    1. As someone who is apparently so concerned about people being defrauded by "experts" selling fake "cures", I would think the anti-vaccination movement would be your first target. There is plenty of money being made telling ignorant or desperate parents that vaccination causes autism, etc., and are in fact completely unnecessary -- instead, make sure your child takes my special supplements(TM), or follows the diet described in my book (just $19.95 to keep your children safe -- how can you NOT get it?) Millions of dollars are raised by celebrity spokespeople to support the pseudoscience of the anti-vaccination crowd. These guys are the hucksters, not the medical establishment, or even Big Pharma. In this case, they're the good guys! The result is anything but pareve -- unvaccinated children getting diseases that had been effectively wiped out by vaccination, or those children infecting people who are too young or too sick to be vaccinated. Polio is actually making a comeback, instead of the expected eradication. All because people who don't understand science or medicine or how peer-reviewed studies work or how herd immunity protects us all from horrendously dangerous diseases, FEEL like the medical community must be lying. This crazy paranoia has become a valid perspective in some areas -- often the same areas where it's widely known that President Obama isn't actually an American citizen. Not that I expect R. Kaminetzsky to be aware of all this. WHICH IS WHY HE SHOULDN'T BE TAKING A POSITION ON THE ISSUE. Torah Jews who are FAR more medically knowledgeable have stressed over and over how critical it is for every healthy child to be vaccinated (to protect themselves and those not well enough to be vaccinated). Only people who have no memory of pre-vaccination days could take these diseases lightly. To fail to protect oneself from possible harm, and to put others at risk, is inexplicable from a Torah perspective. Likewise the idea that it is necessary to put a baby's life in danger (statistically-speaking, the risk is small, but the other option is risk-free) for a minhag.

      I'm not a big believer in government interference -- I don't think governments should be involved in whom we marry, how many children we choose to have, etc. But public health issues are one of the areas in which governments are necessary, to protect others from being endangered by the foolish and risky behavior of others.

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    2. According to tuvia Weiss in a teshuva on the subject the infection rate of a mohel with oral herpes was 0.1% or 1 in 1,000. That mohel infected 4 children out of an estimated 4,000 circumcised. Oral herpes affects a majority of adults (60 to 95% - wikipedia). While not directly comparable 2,354 people contracted mumps (gov.uk) in the UK in 2012 out of a population of 64m. The risk profile for metitza seems higher.

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    3. DF, I once again must remind you that looking at everything through a political lens is something the Left does. Just because you don't think babies being crippled by herpes or measles is such a big deal doesn't mean those who care are part of some left-wing conspiracy.

      Johanna, your last line is kind of disingenuous. Be honest that you're talking about gays and abortion, and that you're cool with pretty much all government activity.

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    4. "Moreover, the amount of children actually harmed by it, in proportion to the numbers upon whom it is performed, are so miniscule so as to be statistically non-existent. "

      That has NOT been established, as we do not have good statistics either for the number of baby boys for which MBP is performed, or the number and type of infections that have resulted, or the sources of such infections. Furthermore the frum community has NOT been cooperative in allowing such data to be collected.

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    5. Johanna, your last line is kind of disingenuous. Be honest that you're talking about gays and abortion, and that you're cool with pretty much all government activity.

      I don't know Johanna, but there are some of us out there that like to think of ourselves as, say, Milton Friedman libertarians, for whom government intervention is to be minimized, but not where huge externalities exist.

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    6. Nachum, I respectfully disagree with you. In fact, I find it difficult to understand your opinion here. Everything can be viewed from a political lens, because politics simply refers to one's opinion on life. In this case, we don't even disagree - as I said, I don't see why one would oppose vaccinations.

      Charlie Hall - your argument is nonsense. In Lakewood alone there is usually something in the neighborhood of 50-75 bris milahs performed on a weekly basis. And that is just one large population center of young people, nearly all of whom are performing the bris in the traditional way, with metzizah b'peh. Are you some sort of conspiracy theorist, believing there are actually hundreds of kids with infections that are all being hushed up?

      Johanna (and David Ohsie maybe, though I'm not sure what you were getting at) - which of the following government agencies do you oppose? EEOC, SEC, DOL, DOE, DOJ, Homeland Security, FDA, FTC, OSHA, MSHA, FAA .........gimme a break "libertarian."

      Charlie Hall -

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  8. The "Jewish" reason not to vaccinate is if you looked through existing evidence and decided that the potential annoying side effects of measles are less scary than the potential harms of adjuvants present in the vaccine.

    You may think I'm wrong, but I don't care. I'm responsible for my kid's health, and there should be no final authority but me (within reason).

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    1. If you decided that annoying side effects like giant cell pneumonia, permanent blindness, and the condemnation to a horrible death from subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, as well as making the child more vulnerable, R"L, to other life threatening infections even 6 months and a year after the measles, are worse than the occasional severe fever or seizure from the adjuvants or attenuated virus, I can only assume you underestimate the risk of measles or were given bad advice on what adjuvants actually are and do.

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    2. And are you also responsible for everyone your kid comes into contact with? Or is that someone else's problem..........

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    3. Except that there is no scientific evidence that vaccines do any harm and theonesource out of thousands which suggested so turned out to be a massive orchestrated fraud by the author. A proven fraud. Which sparked a movement.

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    4. I think you're wrong, and that happens to affect me. Because you, or someone like you, lives in my community and shops, unvaccinated kids in tow, in the same stores, goes to the same restaurants and parks. So when my new baby, who is too young to be fully vaccinated, gets sick to the point of life endangerment or life-long harm, your decision stops being just about you. Personally, I think it's questionable whether you should even have the right to inflict the consequences of your medical ignorance on your own children, but you certainly don't have the right to hurt mine.

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    5. the reason the chances of Mumps are so low today is because of innoculations. And it is making a comeback largely because of people who dont get innoculated or faulty batches of innoculations.

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    6. Joe F.September 12, 2014 at 5:21 PM
      And are you also responsible for everyone your kid comes into contact with? Or is that someone else's problem..........


      In general, of course you are, and everyone agrees to this. If your child is sick with something contagious, you have to keep the child away from other people.

      With vaccinations, at least in the US, the "coercion" is at an even lower level. You are not forced to vaccinate, but if you want your child to be allowed admittance to various schools and camps where others want to be protected from the possibility of your child spreading disease, then you have to vaccinate. So it is "someone else's problem" and the "someone elses" have instituted policies to on this. If you are willing to go it alone, no one comes to your house to force you...

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    7. 1) Death and encephalitis are indeed "annoying side effects".
      2) There are no adjuvants in MMR vaccine.

      I think you need to research the existing evidence better.

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    8. If it gets serious enough, people like you and your family should be forced to live on reservations with other like-minded, terminally stupid people.

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    9. Generally people who hold these opinions don't need to research the existing evidence "better", they need to research it in the first place. Because any intelligent person who has researched the issue would not be anti-vaccine.

      It's kinda like me saying that I researched the existing evidence and came to the conclusion that the Earth does not orbit the sun. I am clearly, obviously, wrong, and I have clearly, obviously, not researched any actual evidence.

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    10. Menachem,

      ".... live... terminally..."

      While I agree with the sentiment, by definition "terminally stupid people" are destined to die, as are all other terminally ill people.

      Sorry I couldn't resist.

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    11. As Keynes observed, in the long run, we are all dead...

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  9. Sad. I have talked to a few rabbis and rebetzins who are against alternative medicine- But few will say anything against the minority who actively promote quackery within our community.

    Sara Bezelay might still have her legs if the H1N1 vaccine had been available when she contracted the flu.

    Even in 2014, influenza kills.

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  10. Anarchist Chossid: By your logic, the "Jewish" reason not to drive drunk is if you looked through existing evidence and decided that the potential annoying side effects of driving drunk are less scary than the potential harms of not driving at all.

    By failing to vaccinate a child, a parent is placing both his child and the public in danger. I'm curious if you believe a parent should also be allowed to starve his child? After all, the parent is the final authority.

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    1. Interestingly, Freakanomics proved it IS more dangerous to drunk walk home than to drunk drive. More dangerous for the DRUNK. As you note, not vaccinating is equally as dangerous for the community as for the person - since vaccines are NOT 100% effective (I think the mumps one is only 80%), they rely on eliminating the host population potential to prevent spreading.

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    2. The analogy is not quite correct.

      As a whole, assuming constant population density and lifestyle, vaccination needs to be above a certain level to prevent an epidemic outburst in case it get reimported from some other country. So if the percentage of vaccinated is high enough, the marginal benefit to the community from each new vaccination is zero.

      A single drunk driver already poses a danger to society; a single irrationally behaving anti-inoculation charedi does not. It is only when there is a certain critical mass of them.

      Moreover, unlike the drunk driver who can run over a bystander, these people will be mostly dangerous to themselves; mema nafshoch, other citizens are inoculated.

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    3. The marginal benefit tends towards zero. It is not zero. In any case, since we sometimes have measles and mumps outbreaks, we aren't there yet. And the marginal benefit to the child his/herself for whom the parent is responsible is much higher.

      Moreover, unlike the drunk driver who can run over a bystander, these people will be mostly dangerous to themselves; mema nafshoch, other citizens are inoculated.

      Not everyone can be innoculated. And many vaccines are effective are not nearly 100% effective; they only work well because others are vaccinated as well.

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    4. I would separate polio from vaccines for less threatening diseases like measles and mumps. While standard practice in US, they are seem to be at least legitimately debatable. The risks are not comparable, and unless they become globally accepted, they will never be eradicated.

      In general, there are three levels of benefit that we can separate: individual, local population and global eradication.

      For individual benefit, there must be significant risk of infection to the individual. If the chance is, say, less than 1:1000000, one can rationally argue that wasting a day of one's productive life and possibly not feeling well is not worth it.

      But for a hypothetical island population of 1,000,000 the cost of not doing it is much more because it dramatically raises the chance of infection for everyone.

      Consistent worldwide effort can eradicate a disease altogether, removing the need to vaccinate future vaccination. For example, it is accepted that there is no longer a need to vaccinate for smallpox. Then tradeoff looks more attractive if the benefit potentially includes our grandchildren never having to deal with the disease. Apparently, we are not yet there with polio.

      In any case, although there might be legitimate medical opinions against individual vaccines, even for the rabbonim who primarily look at the individual aspect, I would think it should be at least a matter of derekh eretz to cooperate with the global health effort.

      Finally, "there is a doctor in Chicago" is just not a level of evidence brought in an argument you would expect from a renowned rosh yeshiva.

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    5. Measles is very threatening, as up to ten percent of sufferers have serious complications. In in industrialized countries, they die. But even in the US with the best medical care 1 in 1000 die. And 1 in 200 suffer permanent side effects like blindness of brain damage.

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    6. Measles is also one of the most contagious diseases. Even the most casual contact with someone in the prod tonal phase is enough to get infected. And now that there are again cases in the US, the chance of exposure to someone with it is actually higher than we might think. Before, we were vaccinating children to maintain herd immunity and prevent the import of cases. Now, we are protecting them directly.

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    7. Considering MMR is given to toddlers, who are not particularly busy at any rate, a few hours of illness and the loss of a workday have no cost

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    8. Elon -
      Your comments are mostly dead on. Numbers are off some though. 1:1000 have encephalitis, 1:500 mortality based on CDC numbers. Those numbers are for reported cases. The percentages based on actual cases are less (majority of cases went unreported), though they still translate into significant morbidity and mortality. But like I said, your comments are otherwise dead on. Highly contagious disease with occasional catastrophic complications and with essentially universal infection (in the pre-vaccine era) equals a very bad disease.
      Have a great Shabbat.
      Aryeh

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  11. There was an article on this in Hakirah 13: "Vaccination in Halakhah and in Practice
    in the Orthodox Jewish Community"
    Free at http://www.hakirah.org/Vol13Bush.pdf

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  12. Dear Rabbi Slifkin,

    Claims that vaccination is hoax have some basis indeed, and are not unique for anti-rationalist Judaism.

    Below are some references:


    http://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/health-care/item/1649-swine-flu-the-risks-and-efficacy-of-vaccines

    http://www.thenewamerican.com/world-news/europe/item/8887-uk-girl-in-waking-coma-after-cervical-cancer-vaccine

    http://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/health-care/item/1799-peddling-flu-vaccines-despite-criticism

    http://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/health-care/item/1650-swine-flu-seizures

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    1. You know that The New American is published by the John Birch Society, right? Do you know who they are? They probably think Jews are behind the whole thing.

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    2. Yes they also oppose flouridation of water, which was the big junk science issue when I was growing up in the 1960s. Unfortunately, one country that has just bought into the junk science is Israel:

      http://www.newsweek.com/israel-has-officially-banned-fluoridation-its-drinking-water-267411

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    3. "References"??? LOL!!!

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  13. My wife is the school nurse at a Charedi style elementary school (cheder). The former Dean, a shtreimel-beketshe yid, insisted on all required vaccinations. The State might not be permitted to disallow a claimed religious exemption, but a private religious school certainly may. His logic was "We teach the religion. We tell you what the religion requires, not the other way around."

    This was just a few years ago.

    In the current climate, and with that Rabbi no longer associated with the school, I wonder what the Administration's reaction would be to such a letter from a Gadol of the stature of R' Kaminetzky.

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    1. While he is to be commended for insisting on vaccinations, his "logic" is awful. It is not the schools place to teach the parents of their students religion.

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    2. It is certainly appropriate to tell the ignoramus parents that claiming a religious exemption from vaccinations is junk Torah.

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  14. For over two hundred years, Jews of virtually all persuasions have understood that vaccines are not only safe and effective for the general population, but kosher too, both literally and figuratively. See http://www.judaismandscience.com/a-nice-jewish-shot-why-vaccinations-are-kosher-and-required/
    How unfortunate that some would endanger small children, their communities and the Jewish People.

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  15. Polio Cases Jump in Pakistan Amid Taliban Vaccination Ban

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-09-08/polio-cases-jump-in-pakistan-amid-taliban-vaccination-ban.html

    RM

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    1. So Rabbi Kamenetzky is following the Taliban. Why would this not be prohibited as chukat hagoyim?

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    2. Adam from ManchesterSeptember 14, 2014 at 2:27 PM

      Charlie Hall;

      :-)

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    3. Interestingly, ISIS takes vaccination very seriously, at least for Sunni. They are working hard with the WHO to stop the polio outbreak in Iraq. I am somewhat conflicted about this. Obviously, the children should not suffer. But we are giving the thugs legitimacy.

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    4. Charlie,
      Indeed, much (all?) of alternative medicine (which is neither an alternative, nor medicine) falls under the prohibition of דרכי האמורי, which is a sub-category of חוקת הגוים. See the רמ"א on יו"ד קעח.

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    5. notElon, this happens all over the world. We want to give them as little legitimacy as possible, but wiping out disease always comes first. We're actually pretty close to wiping out polio worldwide and a little nonsense in some Islamic countries is threatening that. The recent scare in Israel probably came about because of illegal immigrants from Eritrea, which is near Somalia, which seems to have cross-traffic with Pakistan and Nigeria, etc. You don't ask questions when people want to help you wipe it out.

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    6. "We're actually pretty close to wiping out polio worldwide and a little nonsense in some Islamic countries is threatening that."

      There's nonsense in the democracies that's threatening that. That's what we're primarily discussing here. The article I referenced is additional evidence of the danger.

      RM

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  16. "It doesn't really affect or bother me that Rav Chaim Kanievsky says that Jews and non-Jews have a different number of teeth."

    Why doesn't it bother you?

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  17. Has anyone considered that Rav Kamenetzky is being misquoted or was being flip?

    His son Rav Sholom expressed a much more moderate and reasoned view not long ago over here:
    http://www.aish.com/ci/sam/48943486.html

    RM

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    1. Relation doesnt equal same views!
      Just like Rav Shmuel is not Rav Yakov!!!

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    2. True, Makk, but you didn't answer RM's question.

      Delete
    3. RM and Plimi,
      In the article on page two it says
      "R.B. reached out to Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetzky, founder and dean of the Talmudical Academy of Philadelphia, whose wife, Temi, speaks out against vaccinating children. The rabbi wrote a letter on R.B.’s behalf, leading to her son’s principal relenting and apologizing.

      When reached by phone, both Kamenetzkys confirmed their belief that vaccinations, not the diseases they prevent, are harmful."

      Delete
    4. Yes, I read the article. That's why I wrote "Has anyone considered that Rav Kamenetzky is being misquoted or was being flip?"

      Thank you also, Makk, for clarifying that two different people are two different people.

      I was referring particularly to the comment that vaccinations, including Salk, are a giant hoax. That goes far beyond merely disagreeing (however wrongly) with the cost-benefit analysis and into a realm where one might be justified in dismissing an important rabbinic personality entirely. (See, l'havdil, the on-going academic debates about Heidegger and his nazism; if someone is esteemed for his thought, but also thinks something so ridiculous and offensive, then how can you hold him in any esteem as a thinker?) That would be very disturbing to me, but it very well may be a function of the reporting, not the Rav's views.

      Perhaps someone more choshuv than my anonymous self, even RNS, could speak to the Rav to see if he really believes if vaccinations are a multi-decade worldwide hoax, rather than a multi-decade world-wide error of the entire medical and scientific community that is most qualified in the matter. It isn't either of those, but there's a difference between being wrong, probably as a result of receiving misleading information, and being a nut. I'm not about to conclude that the Rav is the latter on the basis of something in the Baltimore Jewish Times.

      RM

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  18. A religious exemption means that your religion prohibits vaccination. Even rabbi k would have to admit that it is not assur. So how is the religious exemption applicable here?

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    1. I wondered the same thing, but I think I get it: Since Da'as Torah says that *everything* a "gadol" says is halakhically binding, if this one says that it's OK not to vaccinate, it must be halakhah. Sad but true.

      It reminds me of Aryeh Kaplan writing some piece in the Vietnam era as a figleaf for Jews to claim "conscientious objection," or the way Jewish tradition is cherry -picked to support any manner of political causes.

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  19. Besides the willful ignorance or conspiracy theory addiction suggested by the reaction of that Hareidi authority figure, I would add advocacy of lying to legitimate authorities. There is no 'religious' reason to claim exemption from the vaccination requirements for school children. It is purely a matter of personal opinion and prejudice. No responsible school administrator should accept such an exemption no matter what rabbinic authority has sanctioned it. Their responsibility is to safeguard the children under their care, and not to follow the dictates of some outside figure if there appears to be a conflict.

    Y. Aharon

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    1. In fairness (Y. Aharon), not every child in the school needs to be vaccinated for effective population immunity. I think a responsible school administrator must find the balance between the pedigogical needs of the individual child with the public well being of the student population. It may very well be that a 90% immunization rate is sufficient to produce the required "herd immunity" to prevent transmission of disease to even unimmunised children.

      Y. Aharon, I write this as an advocate for compulsory immunization. At the end of the day, is it morally right to deny a child an education if the impact of their personal choices have negligible impact on the school population? Is it ethical to make the school the enforcer of public health standards?

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    2. Yossi -

      It is ethical for a school to protect its student population. How would you propose that a school decides how many unimmunized kids they should accept before they jeopardize other kids in the school? Have a quota of unimmunized kids to accept x amount of risk before it becomes sufficient to start rejecting others? Isn't there a risk to even one kid not immunized against chickenpox contracting the disease and passing it on to his classmate with leukemia who could not be vaccinated with a live vaccine? And once a school starts accepting unimmunized students, do you really think it will stop there? Or do you think it will become known as "that school" (just like some pediatricians are known as "that pediatrician") and will become a magnet for the unimmunized?

      If parents chooses not to immunize, that is their choice. They are wrong. But it is their choice. But they don't get to turn around and insist that their kids then get to go to school where they will potentially endanger others. The schools are not denying children an education. It is just one more consequence of a poor parenting decision.

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    3. Aryeh,

      All of your questions are valid and difficult for the schools to deal with, however, at the end of the day it is not the role of the school to enforce public health policy.

      It IS the role of the school to protect their student population. It is also their role to act in the best pedagogical interest of the child/children. That (in Asimovovian terms) is their zeroeth law.

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    4. Yossi -
      Except that it is the school's role to enforce public health policy in so far as it affects the health of its students. The measure is protective, not punitive. Yes, the school's raison de' etre is education. That does not mean it does not assume other roles that at times may supersede their primary purpose. Student safety is one such role. If the fire alarm goes off, students leave the building. More to the point, there is a list of infectious illnesses that will exclude a child from participation. Even lice - which has no true associated medical risk - will get a child sent home from school. All those situations will result in degradation of the primary purpose of the school that is education. Student safety takes precedence. Unimmunized children in the school pose risks to the other children. Even one unimmunized child poses potential risks. It is the role of the school to minimize those risks where possible.

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    5. Even lice - which has no true associated medical risk - will get a child sent home from school.

      If you are really looking for an issue where the schools are excluding kids based on bad science, you've hit it on it. From the AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS:

      No healthy child should be excluded from or allowed to miss school time because of head lice. No-nit policies for return to school should be abandoned.

      See the entire report here: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2010/07/26/peds.2010-1308.full.pdf

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    6. Dear Aryeh,

      As I said, you raise difficult policy questions. Without doubt 100% immunization rate is the gold standard which to apply. Nevertheless, Public Health officials will agree that there is a minimum threshold of immunization where herd immunity itself will be sufficient for effective population immunization. We could debate the numbers (90% or 95%) but the real question here is in a scenario of diminishing returns, is it ethical for a school to deny one child access to the school due to lack of immunization if 95% of the school is already immunized.

      Sending a child home due to illness or lice, scenarios where there will be a limited absence from school, and were the actions are measured compared to the threat poised by the individual on the population, is not qualitatively the same as denying a child access to education in toto. Refusing enrolment in a school could be argued to be a punitive measure over a decision that the child themselves have no control over, or understanding of.

      Aryeh, I get it! There needs to be incentive for parents to immunize their children and immunization is a public good. Low immunization rates would increase the threat of preventable disease, and public health officials need to work to maintain high levels of immunization. Perhaps schools should publish % of student body who have "up to date immunizations", so parents can make informed decisions about the risks associated with sending children to a particular school. I also think that it is good public policy to require immunization records prior to enrolling students into a school. But, I have moral concerns about placing barriers to education - at any level.

      Let me ask you this: Would you deny enrollment to a child whose parents have been convicted of crime? So why would you deny an education to a child because their parents are ignoramuses?

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    7. Yossi –
      Hard for me to be more clear about this. Mandatory immunizations for school entry is a protective measure, not a punitive one. As such, comparison to denial of enrollment of a child of a convicted felon is irrelevant. I am not denying the unimmunized child enrollment because the parents are ignorant. I am denying enrollment because that child poses a risk to other students, a risk that could be easily negated by vaccination. If the parents choose not to vaccinate, they will need to find an alternate means of educating their child.
      Your assessment that herd immunity should cover a few unimmunized kids in the system is flawed on several points.
      1. Herd immunity is obviously not an all or nothing phenomenon. The more children vaccinated, the better the herd immunity. Even one unimmunized child poses some risk. That is in large part because:
      2. School is not the only “herd” the child belongs to. While the child may have benefits of herd immunity in school, the child may come in contact with other social groups where vaccination rates are not optimal. I can make the argument that parents who choose not to vaccinate are probably at higher risk for exposure to such groups. Chickenpox parties come to mind. Of course there is also the issue of:
      3. Practicality. There really is no practical way of allowing a “quota” of unimmunized kids safely into the school. Where would you draw the line? Thresholds for herd immunity vary based on communicability of individual disease and efficacy of individual vaccines. There would be no practical way to accommodate for this. Also, you cannot realistically set up a system where you will force the vast majority of the parents to religiously adhere to the vaccine schedule on penalty of exclusion until they are fully and maximally vaccinated (in order to maintain your herd immunity) and then turn around and allow a few kids who are entirely unimmunized to enroll because their parents choose not to immunize. Pretty sure no one would view that as fair. The only practical (and equitable) solution to ensure safety of the students is universal vaccination. But even if you could come up with some practical way of doing this, that ignores the even bigger point:
      4. Unprotected individuals already exist in the herd. They are built into the model. These include people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, people who do not respond to vaccination because of immune deficiency, and people who did not respond to vaccine because of vaccine failure. Every vaccine has a failure rate. Some more than others. So there are already those in the school “herd” who are not protected against these diseases. Adding more unprotected children to that herd would be irresponsible and has the potential for breaking the herd immunity that protects those children who are unprotected for legitimate reasons.
      As for lice being a short-term issue (yes, David Ohsie, you are right, but not the point I’m working on at the moment), what if the parents refuse to treat their child? They did the research - real research in this case. They know that the risks associated with pediculocides far outweigh the benefits of treating a benign entity. So they just won’t treat their child. Would you deny that child an education? How is that different than the parent who won’t vaccinate? I mean other than that the unimmunized child presents a real health risk, whereas lice just scores high on the ick factor.
      As to the idea of thrusting the onus back on parents of the immunized kids – having them research which schools have higher vaccine rates. Come on. How about we reward parents who are good citizens by protecting their children from the decisions of antisocial parents who want to act as parasites on society?

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  20. Understand the parties in question are not charedi but rather far right conservatives politically.

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    1. Actually, most of the opposition to vaccination in the West comes from affluent Northern California types who almost certainly check the boxes on every liberal cause you can imagine.

      Accusing conservatives of being "anti-science" is a favorite libel of the Left, but that doesn't make it true. Very often, the opposite is true.

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    2. The Baltimore family is absolutely right wing. They are from the Mercer Island stream of conservatism. Vaccines are an example of the strange alliance of the far left health nuts with far right conspiracy theorists.

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    3. http://www.amazon.com/Science-Left-Behind-Feel-Good-Anti-Scientific/dp/1610391640

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    4. Oh, no doubt. Lots of blame to go around.

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  21. I heard a recording of a shiur by Rabbi Dr Akiva Tatz of london. this lecture was given as part of the Yemei Iyun by Ohr Samayach in spring 2014. Ironically, I think it was the lecture delivered in Baltimore. In the shiur he mentioned that he once told a patient that it is safer to have a vaccine. Later he realized that for the individual this is not so. rather, for the community it is safer for everyone to be vaccinated. So he went to Rav Elyashiv zt"l to ask what to tell patients and their parents. Rav Elyashiv was emphatic that everyone must follow conventional medical practice of the time and vaccinate their children. There is no room for compromise on this issue according to the posek hador!

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    1. Rav Sherira Gaon ruled over a thousand years ago that we follow the physicians of our times rather than the medical wisdom of the sages:

      http://torahandscience.blogspot.com/2006/04/rav-sherira-gaon.html

      To argue that a contemporary posek can overrule Rav Sherira Gaon would appear to be a violation of yeridot hadorot. Alternatively, one could write Rav Sherira Gaon out of our mesorah which isn't much different from writing Ravina and Rav Ashi out, which is what the Reform movement did.

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    2. If Dr. Tatz is the voice of reason, we're in trouble. Why does R' Elyashiv have anything to do with this one way or another? I really don't care if he ruled in favor. We're better than that. Aren't we? Or is a desire to be led a part of human nature?

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    3. Charlie, you know full well that Rambam "overrules" the geonim as a matter of course. So while I actually personally agree with your argument, it is not a correct characterization of how Judaism functions.

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  22. The benefit of vaccinations is no more of a hoax than Torah M'Sinai.

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  23. Rabbi Slifkin,

    It doesn't take a phd in sociology to recognize where this religion is heading.
    As a man with a measure of reason infixed in his judgement, my question to you is : why do you remain?

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  24. "It doesn't really affect or bother me that Rav Chaim Kanievsky says that Jews and non-Jews have a different number of teeth."
    It seems like it "affects" you enough to want to rub his nose in it.

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  25. Re your video, Rabbi, looks like the chap is having a blast. Hopefully he hasn't forgotten contraction joints in that great big slab of concrete ...they are not visible (or will they be cutting them after it sets?) And is the concrete actually being set to bond to the steel beams? Very innovative. But then again perhaps Bet Shemesh and the proximity of Rabbi Abitbul form a protective field which prevents freeze-thaw cycles, settling of the ground and effects of vibration from pedestrians.

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  26. We lived in Israel in the 80s and at that time MMR vaccine was given by kupat cholim/health ministry only from age 12. My young son got rubella but suffered no ill effects beyond a rash and small fever. HOWEVER my husband age 40 at the time contracted rubella from my son. My husband had last been vaccinated at age 14 in the US. He was completely weak and immobile for 2 weeks. Couldnt stand or sit. Viral arthritis swelled and locked every joint in his body. We feared it would be permanent (bh it wasnt). It was a very, very scary time.

    Meanwhile my daughter got the DPT vaccine as an infant and reacted badly. Screamed nonstop for 2 days. The doctor then halved her dose so we'd do one half dose over 2 separate visits for a full dose total This did the trick and she suffered no ill effects.

    Please vaccinate...and get boosters.

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    1. This occurs among the uneducated all over. Always has.

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    2. Sorry. That was meant as a reply to the Anonymous post directly below.
      RM

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  27. It is a good thing my wife and I do not have children, as the issue of vaccination would have been a source of great conflict. We live in a Charedi community in Israel and I have noticed over the years that a great majority of women here believe in the most irrational things. For instance, we have a woman here who used the title of Doctor, gives medical advice, natural so called medicine and the like. But she is not a doctor, no degree, nothing. Yet many women flock to her. Another woman read a book about drinking urine being good for you and does it. All of the snake oil remedies are embraced and regular medicine, doctors, drug are viewed as phony, liars, conspiracies to addict people and eventually kill them. Many men here are into this stuff...but mostly from a sales point of view. It is as if Jewish religious people are marching backwards and I think this is the influence of paganism and Kabbalah. Yes, not all doctors are good and not all drugs are good for people, but those are the exceptions rather the the rule. When one states that were does modern medicine come from, that is the knowledge, etc...they imply it is not from Hashem. The only way to turn this trend around is education and if not that, a plague.

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  28. You're not going to vaccinate your kids? You might as well give them cigarettes & teach them how to smoke.

    There is a terrible chilul Hashem aspect In claiming that Jews have more/less teeth than non-Jews. The Torah tells us that non-Jews should see us & remark upon our wisdom not our idiocy.

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  29. What is it about some orthodox Jews that induces us to be like lemmings and follow certain leaders/gedolim off a figurative cliff? I cannot believe that G-d gave us brains merely to be put on auto-pilot, if they are used at all. Rav Ploni may be a Gedol Hador in halacha but if he advocates against vaccination then he does not know what he is talking about, is committing an awful chilul Hashem and, in this respect, is worse than a fool.

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  30. Not sure anyone's going to look this far down into the comment section, but the Tiferet Yisrael seems to approve of vaccination in Boaz on Avot 3:14 (the Mishna that begins "He used to say, "Beloved is mankind, for he was created in the (Godly) image..."). If you look at a classic edition, it's towards the end of the narrow lines. He writes (my translation) "And we see a number of their (non-Jewish) righteous ones who, aside from recognizing the Original Creator, and believing that our holy Torah is divine, do kindness with Israel, and some of them have done considerable good for everyone in the world, such as the righteous Jenner, who invented the smallpox vaccination, by which tens of thousands of people are saved from illness, death, and disfigurement..."

    Incidentally, if you've got a little spare time, that piece by the TY is well worth reading. Especially if you live in some of the more extreme Dati-Leumi and Haredi communities.

    [technical note: The word that the TY spells פאקקענאימפפונג is Pockenimpfung in modern German, and it means "smallpox vaccination".]

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