The practice of medicine is best left to doctors and medical researchers. But be that as it may, it seems these days that everyone has strong opinions about medical matters they really know very little about.
Take the issue in the news lately about vaccinations to protect against the spread of diseases like measles, mumps and chicken pox. It is indeed a dilemma, and there seems to be quite a divide — especially in the Orthodox Jewish community — on whether to vaccinate babies and young children.
Most recently, the news has been replete with stories of a measles outbreak in Monsey and just a few days ago in Ocean County, New Jersey, which includes Lakewood. It seemed as though the local new stations were subliminally suggesting that Orthodox Jews were uncaringly spreading the disease due to personal and possibly self-centered motivations, which paid no mind to those who are more medically vulnerable.
Though I was not present, I was told that some of our leading Torah sages at last weekend’s Agudas Yisrael convention took up positions both in favor and against vaccinating our kids. I was told that Lakewood Rosh Yeshiva R’ Malkiel Kotler and Philadelphia Rosh Yeshiva R’ Shmuel Kamenetsky came down definitively against vaccinating, while other rabbanim said they are in favor of the practice. Contemporary medical wisdom says that vaccinating young people against diseases like measles prevents the spread of the illness. The underlying premise, then, is that if you are a critic of vaccines, you are for the spreading of these illnesses in children.
Vaccines will likely remain a point of controversy in the community going forward, but the majority of pediatricians practicing in this area strictly adhere to the vaccinations protocol, and very few iconoclastic physicians will break rank on the matter of vaccines.
The other night I happened across a middle-of-the-night radio show — Coast To Coast AM — broadcast on WOR in New York, on the subject of vaccines. The guest on the radio program was JB Handley, author of the new book “How to End the Autism Epidemic.”
Here are some of the facts that I was able to jot down as Mr. Handley was making his presentation on the connection between vaccines and autism. He said that up until 1986, most children were given three vaccinations. If you are old enough, you may even recall their names — polio, MMR, and DTP. The MMR, as the acronym indicates, is the vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella. The DTP is a combination vaccine that is supposed to prevent diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), and tetanus.
Handley, who is described on some medical websites as a “pseudo-scientist” and has a young child who is autistic, said that at present there are 138 different vaccines that can be administered to children. He added that back in the 1980s, the vaccine industry generated about $160 million in revenue, and in 2017, vaccines produced over $60 billion in the medical industry. That does not prove much — other than that vaccines are very good business.
Mr. Handley did not dispute the idea that vaccines impede the outbreak of these illnesses in children. But he added that not enough attention has been directed at other sometimes-serious side effects that create other problems in young people.
A fascinating assertion made by Mr. Handley was that contracting the mumps, measles, and chicken pox as children builds up the immune system, and later in life that can assist the body in preventing more serious diseases like cancer.
Conventional medicine says these conjectures are not scientifically proven, and a term used by doctors is that these claims are “bogus.” But Mr. Handley and the doctors he consults say that they have traced vaccinated children with a plethora of medical problems including learning disabilities and depression.
According to Mr. Handley, in the early 1980s the possibility of having a child with autism or Asperger’s was one in 10,000. Today it is 1 in 35, an astounding and very troubling statistic. Nowadays 54 percent of children in the United States are dealing with some kind of chronic illness. He also said children can be screened to see if they have a physical malady that can be exacerbated by vaccines. Handley said that his research has shown some of those signs in babies are eczema, circles under the eyes, and a bloated stomach.
As a casual observer of these matters, the debate is both eye-opening and fascinating to me. From a halachic perspective, it is a matter of the dictate to preserve your health and your life as commanded in the Torah. The broader question is whether we are doing more good or more damage by acceding to the wishes of pediatricians and other medical professionals by unquestioningly following their directive. The controversy has created pro- and anti-vaxxer groups and has become quite a contentious debate that does not look like it will be settled conclusively anytime soon.
The Holocaust Gene
For the past few years, I have been addressing students at a number of schools in the Five Towns and Queens as part of a project called “Names, Not Numbers.” The program, initiated some years ago by Tova Rosenberg, introduces the Holocaust to eighth-grade students through first-person interviews. Young people around 13 years old have less of a real or palpable connection to that dark period in Jewish history and the impact that experience has had on two subsequent generations of Jewish families.
I bring that up now because one of the things I recently told the students at HANC was that considering that there are a waning number of Holocaust survivors still living, chances are that future classes like theirs will be speaking with and interviewing the children of Holocaust survivors someday.
A few days later, I came across an article written by Linda. F. Burghardt, the scholar-in-residence at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center here in Nassau County. Ms. Burghardt discusses the physical intergenerational transmission of trauma. That means that those of us who have parents or grandparents who survived the Holocaust may live with the familiarity of the Holocaust as if we were there — even though we did not personally experience it — as a result of our ancestors’ extreme trauma that has been passed down to us and is a real part of our personal composition and even, to an extent, our DNA.
The Burghardt piece cites epigenetic scientists Siddhartha Mukherjee and Rachel Yehuda who say “we were born with physical scars from traumatic events that our parents endured before we were even conceived.” Burghardt adds that their research has found “epigenetic changes in our parents’ genes, such as stress characteristics that cannot be turned off, came to us through biological information passed down genetically and that we have literally inherited the Holocaust.”
It is certainly an interesting and novel approach to a generation of children of survivors who may have wondered from time to time what Jewish life will be like in the future when the last survivors have passed on. This research explains a lot about children of survivors who carry habits, concerns, and practices that their parents or grandparents had as a result of their experiences in World War II that they themselves did not live through. In other words, you did not have to survive the Holocaust in order to be a survivor. n
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.