OK, now that I grabbed your attention with that headline, let me say that this essay is about two topics that have little or possibly no connection to each other. The only similarity between the two is that over the last few weeks, both of these topics have been featured in these pages.
Another link between them is that they are topics that seem to generate forceful and sometimes even emotional discussion and are subject to very firm opinions.
Let’s deal with the matter of vaccines first. The sense is that the opinions of some of the Orthodox Jewish community who question immunizing children against what used to be considered childhood diseases like measles, mumps, and chicken pox is not only a matter of dispensing of good and solid medical counseling but a matter of causing or preventing a chillul Hashem.
Of course the important matter here is to do everything right and proper to protect our children, and there is literally no one who would debate or disagree with that. That said, there is an opinion, albeit a small minority position, that believes that vaccines in some cases cause various health difficulties in some children and that therefore the proper approach to vaccinations is to be prudent, deliberate, and educated on the matter as one proceeds.
Obviously, there is nothing wrong or misguided about the desire to monitor whatever it is your child is being injected with, regardless of your faith in the medical professional who is caring for your child and directing you. Today, however, the issue of whether or not various frum communities and yeshivas are allowing children who are not vaccinated into their schools, thereby potentially spreading these diseases, has become a public matter—one worthy of extensive news coverage in some media.
This topic had not been tossed around in public forums for quite a while. Prominent organizations and leaders have signed declarations and ads stating that it is imperative that all children receive appropriate vaccinations as directed by their doctors.
The question here and now is what changed over the last few months that catapulted this issue onto center stage, both in the news and in the Jewish community. The idea that there is a relationship between vaccinations and autism, for example, is not new or, for that matter, news. Doctors and medical professionals will tell you that as far as this matter is concerned, there is no definitive medical evidence to support this supposition. Others, not necessarily experts on the subject, prefer to err on the side of caution.
As far as the non-medical aspect of these matters, this is something that exclusively impacts upon and is a consideration only in our community. And that is that parents choosing to address vaccinations with greater prudence must also consider whether or not their approach is creating a desecration of G-d’s name.
In that vein, a few weeks ago, The New York Times ran a virulently anti-Semitic political cartoon that featured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu depicted as a dog on a leash leading President Trump in sunglasses and a yarmulke. The idea, of course, was to show that Mr. Trump is being blindly led by the Israeli leader.
In a conversation with a colleague a few weeks ago, we were discussing the idea that publishing a cartoon like that not only facilitates but may even encourage anti-Semitic incidents. The person with whom I was discussing this subject responded by saying that he did not see it as necessarily something that can provoke anti-Semitism. What he did say next was, “If you want to know what causes anti-Semitism, it is Orthodox Jews spreading measles.”
My colleague is not Orthodox and lives outside of the community, deep on Long Island. I found what he said quite astounding and told him so. The measles vaccine issue is an important matter, and the news coverage out there is fashioned in such a way so that it isolates frum Jews and projects an image of us as uncaring about others, insensitive to anything else other than what we perceive as being best for us and our children.
I agree that on these issues we are best off following the medical advice of our doctors. That our decision-making process has to be influenced by what the New York Post says about us or our community is not something we should have to deal with.
The other topic I wanted to discuss was the more recent idea bounced around in these pages over the last two weeks on the matter of Orthodox Jewish publications featuring photos of women.
Newspapers and magazines that refer to themselves as chareidi have a strict policy of absolutely no photographs of women in their pages, whether in ads or in their news coverage. In fact, there is a woman’s magazine on the market that is published and intended specifically for women but does not feature any photos of them.
It is a misguided policy. A publisher of one such chareidi publication told me a while ago on the matter of no modest and respectful photos of women in these publications that “it was a mistake, but it is too late to change now.”
In addition, a rosh yeshiva with whom I met a few years ago on another matter began the meeting with me by saying “yashar koach” for publishing women’s photos in this paper on par with pictures of men.
Neither the rav nor the publisher will say these things in public because, as the newspaperman said, it is an out-of-control situation and it is simply too late now to change anything.
Perhaps the item that drew more attention to this issue of late is the policy addressed by Ann Koffsky and Sarah Rudolph two weeks ago on the matter of honoring couples at yeshivas’ and organizations’ dinners but only featuring a photo of the male component of the duo.
Aside from taking umbrage at the policy and insisting that it does more damage than good to the image of women in the frum community, Koffsky and Rudolph propose that, going forward, these institutions and entities should take out the men’s photos if they feel they cannot survive if they feature in the ads a photo of a married couple they are honoring.
The reaction to the idea was mixed, with most who wrote in resigned to the reality of the situation and some saying that it was more of a cultural thing than anything to do with the matter of modesty.
It might be healthier on an emotional and attitudinal plane if at least on paper, frum men and women were treated with some aspect of equality. If a woman insists that her picture not be run in a story or an ad, that is her prerogative. No one is suggesting that anyone be coaxed into being featured in print in any way. We are speaking here about a situation in which a woman would like to be pictured with her husband. I’m going out on a limb here, but that used to be a conventional and normal thing. Now, unfortunately, being pictured if you are female has become prohibited.
So these are the topics of discussion and the issues of the day. The community is in a tizzy about vaccines. People are canceling summer plans to go to summer homes upstate if they become aware that there are kids there who are not vaccinated. Couples with newborns who gave birth here have their doctors advising them not to return to Israel until the baby is immunized because the incidence of non-vaccinated children is much higher in Israel than it is here.
For now on this subject, the bottom line is that if you prefer to be more careful about your children’s vaccination schedules, that does not expose you as a radical anti-vaxxer. At the same time, if you do the right and responsible thing and treat women in print respectfully, you should not be categorized as someone marketing anything wrong or salacious.
Anyway, now that the headline above this essay grabbed your attention, those are our cards; what do you think?
Read more of Larry Gordon’s articles at 5TJT.com. Follow 5 Towns Jewish Times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.