There are always a great deal of issues of particular interest to the worldwide Orthodox Jewish communities that can be explored, discussed and debated here and in other newspapers and media entities.
Those subjects run the gamut from U.S.-Israel policy to Jewish attitudes of several newly elected leftist members of Congress, changes in New York State politics, and so on.
Over the last few years, in addition to Trump and Israel, there have been several topics that regularly grab people’s attention.
One of those issues is the unfortunate impact of drug use in the frum community and another is the ups and downs of the shidduch system and the proliferation of older single men and women in our communities.
But then over the last few weeks two additional topics have jumped, or even somehow catapulted themselves, to the fore and have become matters that are dominating attention and will probably do so for a long time to come.
That is the nature of debate. Who can argue more vigorously or over a more extended time than leaders and people in our Jewish communities, regardless of the topic?
The reader can probably guess what these two additional subjects are, as they have been featured here in columns and articles written by several people just over the last few weeks. The first is the debate over children receiving vaccinations from their doctors in order to prevent and ward off a number of childhood diseases with the more prominent and noteworthy ones being measles, mumps, and chicken pox.
Over the last 20 years that we have been publishing the 5 Towns Jewish Times, I do not recall the subject being raised or even written about by anyone in more than a casual and passing fashion. Babies as a matter of routine are inoculated, with the scariest part of the whole process heretofore being watching the doctor stick the needle in the baby’s arm or elsewhere, without even a moments’ thought to what kind of a concoction he or she is pushing into your kid’s system.
That is just the very beginning of the discussion. On the one hand authoritative medical opinion is that vaccinations are both lifesaving and imperative. The medical community and medical practitioners will not engage in debate or entertain an opposing or different viewpoint, maintaining that those opinions are neither credible nor legitimate and are not worthy of even talking about.
The issue has additional staying power by virtue of school and yeshiva policies and the matter of whether or not our yeshivas are right to either require that every child admitted to their school be vaccinated or to insist that non-vaccinated children not attend the yeshiva. This position is complicated somewhat by a split in some leading rabbinical opinions on the matter of what the risks are involved when interfaced with Jewish law and how there maybe an overlap, or even conflict, between a parent’s halachic right and medical opinions.
One of the unfair aspects of this debate that has come to the forefront over the last few weeks is the idea that if you are one who questions the nature and side effects of vaccines, then you are cast as being opposed to the process from start to finish. And that is just not the case. Many in what has been characterized as the anti-vaxx community are calling for vaccinating children at a slower pace than currently prescribed so as to monitor the child’s physical reaction to the shots. Questioning vaccines does not mean you are throwing caution to the wind and letting be whatever happens and attributing that to G-d’s will. Because I dedicated space to those who question the efficacy of vaccinations some have written online that I am complicit in the death of children.
And now there is the matter of the New York State Department of Education getting involved in the secular study requirement, or in some cases the lack thereof, in some of our yeshivas. This is the latest and, we can say for now anyway, hottest topic of discussion in the Jewish media as well as for derashos, sermons, and casual conversations at kiddushes and simchas.
Last week in this space we editorialized not about the specifics and the nuances of official education stances and policies but the result of some new regulations coming out of the state education department and the irresponsible hyperbolic reaction of some in the chareidi press.
This is not the first time that these press outlets have resorted to this type of fright-filled tactics. Actually it is probably something they resort to more often than not because this type of approach actually serves two simultaneous objectives. The first is that it grabs people’s attention and keeps them as readers week after week. Secondly some of these communities use fear as a way of controlling people. And that is what these headlines and stories have attempted to accomplish.
On the issue of the state education department looking to tighten education requirements and policies in our yeshivas, some of these newspapers and magazines referred to the effort as an assault by government on Yiddishkeit. Some described it as an attempted pogrom and other leaders wrote that the effort was reminiscent of the efforts of the Greek Hellenists who 2,000 years ago sought to extract the spiritual and holy dimension of our Torah study.
I asked one editor how he could describe what was taking place as being similar to the Greek attack on the Maccabees and his answer was, “Well, it was just around Chanukah, so …..”
HALB lower school principal Richard Altabe took issue with my editorial from last week where I called out some of the chareidi media for seeking to control and manage their readership and the communities they serve by scaring them into thinking our kids’ traditional education is at risk.
It is imperative that we be vigilant and manage our relationships and communications with political leaders on all matters including education legislation and funding for our schools. This is especially so here in New York as the Democrats are now the majority and ruling party in the state senate for the first time in decades.
This does not mean that a Democratic majority will automatically vote on policies that are challenging for our yeshivas. What it does mean is that a greater effort needs to be made to communicate to them the nature and wisdom of the education that we as a community dispense to our children.
The reality here is that we are probably all with some variations on the same side on many of these issues. The differences emerge in the approach and how we communicate the essence of these issues to the people and communities who look to us to extrapolate and unpack complex matters.
No one is suggesting that we be complacent on any of these issues but the flip side of that does not have to be believing that we are under assault and that we are dealing with dire emergencies. We need to be smart and responsible, not act like things are desperate or dangerous.