MEASLES: STATE OF EMERGENCY!

As more people contract measles in Rockland County, new rules are imposed upon those children who are not vaccinated. All eyes now turn to some in the area’s Orthodox Jewish community who have shunned the vaccine, and what is being done to contain the outbreak.

Aired on March 28, 2019. 

TRANSCRIPT

> STATE OF EMERGENCY.

THAT IS WHAT IS HAPPENING JUST ABOUT 35 MILES FROM WHERE I AM SITTING, UP IN ROCKLAND COUNTY, WHERE THE WORST MEASLES OUTBREAK SEEN IN DECADES IN NEW YORK IS SPREADING AND SPREADING FAST.

SINCE LAST FALL, MORE THAN 150 MEASLES CASES HAVE BEEN RECORDED IN A NEW YORK SUBURB, HOME TO A LARGE ULTRAORTHODOX JEWISH COMMUNITY WHERE THERE HAS BEEN SOME RESISTANCE TO VACCINATIONS.

VACCINATION RATES TEND TO BE LOW AMONG THE ULTRAORTHODOX.

REASONS VARY, FROM FEAR OF INTERFERENCE FROM OUTSIDERS TO CONFUSION ABOUT ACCURATE MEDICAL INFORMATION AND THEIR OWN RELIGIOUS BELIEFS.

THESE FEARS COME DESPITE COMMUNITY LEADERS URGING PEOPLE TO GET VACCINATED.

OFFICIALS HAVE IMPOSED STRICT NEW RULES FOR THOSE WHO ARE NOT VACCINATED.

IF YOU ARE AN UNVACCINATED MINOR, YOU'RE NOW BANNED FROM THE PUBLIC AND PUBLIC PLACES IN ROCKLAND COUNTY FOR THE NEXT 30 DAYS.

JOINING US NOW WITH MORE ON NOT JUST THE MEASLES OUTBREAK BUT TO SHED SOME LIGHT ON THE HASIDIC COMMUNITY, ARI FELDMAN.

I'VE SEEN SOME REPORTING THAT THE ORTHODOX JEWISH COMMUNITY, ESPECIALLY THE ULTRAORTHODOX JEWISH COMMUNITIES, REJECT ALL MODERN MEDICINE.

AND I WOULD SUSPECT THAT'S NOT NOT ENTIRELY TRUE.

LET'S START OFF WITH THE COMMUNITIES.

AND LET ME ASK YOU TO EXPLAIN TO US THE NOTION OF HOW THEY'VE SETTLED IN THIS AND HOW TIGHTLY KNIT THESE COMMUNITIES ARE.

SURE.

FIRST OF ALL, WHAT WE CALL ULTRAORTHODOX JEWS REPRESENT ABOUT 250,000 TO 300,000 AMERICANS, MOSTLY IN ROCKLAND COUNTY AND BROOKLYN.

YOU'RE RIGHT TO THINK THAT THEY DO NOT ESCHEW ALL MODERN MEDICINE.

MODERN MEDICINE IS VERY IMPORTANT TO ORTHODOX JEWS IN GENERAL, PARTICULARLY THINGS LIKE REPRODUCTIVE MEDICINE.

SO WHAT'S INTERESTING ABOUT THIS CASE IS THAT IT'S AN INSTANCE WHERE MANY HASIDIC JEWS, A MINORITY OF A MINORITY, BUT A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT, ARE REJECTING MEDICAL SCIENCE AND REJECTING WHAT THEIR RABBIS ARE TELLING THEM TO DO IN TERMS OF FOLLOWING THAT MEDICAL SCIENCE.

LET'S TALK ABOUT THE REASONS FOR THAT.

AND LET'S START WITH THE RELIGIOUS COMPONENT.

ARE THEY RELYING ON SOMETHING WITHIN THEIR RELIGIOUS TEACHINGS THAT ALLOW THEM TO SAY THAT WE SHOULD NOT BE ENGAGING IN THESE VACCINATIONS?

CERTAINLY WHAT MANY OF THE PARENTS WHOSE CHILDREN ARE NOT VACCINATED ARE CLAIMING IS RELIGIOUS EXEMPTIONS, BECAUSE YOU CAN CLAIM RELIGIOUS EXEMPTION FOR ANY KIND OF VACCINATION IN THE UNITED STATES, MORE OR LESS.

BUT WHAT'S REALLY INTERESTING ABOUT THIS SITUATION IS THAT THE VAST MAJORITY OF LEADING RABBIS AND WHAT WE CALL REBBES, THE SPIRITUAL LEADERS OF THESE COMMUNITIES, ARE URGING THEIR COMMUNITIES TO GET VACCINATED.

YOU HAVE THE HEADS OF THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT YESHIVAS IN THE WORLD URGING THEIR THOUSANDS OF STUDENTS AND FACULTY TO GET VACCINATED.

SO YOU HAVE THIS MINORITY THAT IS GOING AGAINST THE GRAIN, NOT ONLY GOING AGAINST THE GRAIN BUT GOING AGAINST THE VERY ACCEPTED FORMAT OF BEING A HASIDIC JEW WHICH IS DOING WHAT THE SPIRITUAL LEADERS TELL YOU TO DO.

HOW UNUSUAL IS THAT?

BECAUSE I'VE SEEN THE SPIRITUAL LEADERS OUT THERE MAKING THESE PLEAS, SAYING IT'S ESSENTIAL, GO AND DO THIS.

HOW UNUSUAL IS IT FOR THIS FAIRLY SIGNIFICANT GROUP TO ESSENTIALLY REJECT THAT GUIDANCE AND WHY ARE THEY DOING IT?

CERTAINLY THERE'S A WIDE RANGE OF WAYS YOU CAN ADHERE TO JEWISH TRADITIONS AND THERE'S A WIDE RANGE OF DIFFERENT TRADITIONS.

THAT'S WHY YOU SEE HASIDIC JEWS DRESSED DIFFERENT WAYS.

BUT WHEN IT COMES TO ISSUES OF MEDICAL SCIENCE, THERE'S USUALLY PRETTY STRICT PARAMETERS OF WHAT IS ACCEPTED.

AND THIS IS NO DIFFERENT.

THERE'S VIRTUALLY NO OTHER CASES WHERE YOU HAVE THE MAJORITY OF HASIDIC LEADERS, ULTRAORTHODOX LEADERS, SAYING DO THIS AND THE RANK AND FILE, JUST THE EVERYDAY PLEBES ON THE STREET, SAYING NO, WE'RE NOT GOING TO DO THAT.

THE REASONS FOR THAT ARE PRETTY COMPLEX.

I THINK A LOT OF IT HAS TO DO WITH JUST A RISING TIDE OF ANTIVACCINE SENTIMENT IN GENERAL.

A LOT OF THE MEDIA THAT HASIDIC JEWS WHO ARE OPPOSED TO VACCINATION ARE LOOKING AT IS THE SAME AT WHAT SECULAR ANTI-VAXORS ARE LOOKING AT, THE PEOPLE WHO ARE CAUSING OUTBREAKS IN PLACES LIKE WASHINGTON RIGHT NOW.

HASIDIC JEWS ARE INSULAR, THEY'RE NOT INVOLVED IN MODERN SOCIETY TO THE EXTENT WE ARE OR OTHER ORTHODOX JEWS ARE.

THEY'RE ON THE INTERNET AS WELL, LOOK AT THE SAME YOUTUBE VIDEOS, THE SAME SUPSEUDO SCIENCE ARTICLES.

IT'S POWERING THIS MOVEMENT FROM THE INSIDE.

IN GENERAL IN THE HASIDIC COMMUNITY, THERE'S AN AVERSION TO SECULAR AUTHORITY.

WHY IS THAT?

HASIDIC JEWS ARE WARY OF INTERFERENCE IN THEIR RELIGIOUS LIVES.

I THINK THAT GOES BACK TO GENERAL PERSECUTION BY -- IN EUROPE, I THINK THAT'S VERY DEEPSET.

AND IN THE UNITED STATES, THERE'S A VERY STRONG FEELING THAT WE KNOW HOW TO RUN OUR COMMUNITY.

THAT'S WHY YOU HAVE HASIDIC JUICE AND OTHER ORTHODOX JEWS WHO ARE VERY INSISTENT ON THIS ISSUE OF YESHIVAS THAT'S BEEN COMING UP, THEY WANT TO RUN THEIR OWN SCHOOLS, THEY DON'T WANT OTHER PEOPLE TELLING THEM HOW TO DO THAT.

THERE'S AN UNDERCURRENT OF THAT.

BUT AGAIN, THIS IS DIFFERENT FROM THAT BECAUSE YOU HAVE A SMALL MINORITY OF PEOPLE WHO ARE MORE IN THE VEIN OF SECULAR ANT ANTIVAXERS.

IT'S TROUBLING ISSUE.

WE APPRECIATE YOUR REPORTING AND YOUR INVESTIGATION AND YOUR SHARING YOUR THOUGHTS WITH US.

THANKS SO MUCH, YOU BE WELL.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

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