Brooklyn's measles epidemic driving bitter divide in Jewish Orthodox community – New York Post


The measles outbreak is tearing the Jewish Orthodox community — and families — apart.

Some parents are secretly inoculating their children against the wishes of their spouses, kin are abandoning Passover celebrations this week to avoid unvaccinated relatives, and schools are dividing campuses based on medical history, insiders say.

Amid a city vaccination crackdown spawned by an outbreak of 285 confirmed measles cases, mostly in Williamsburg, since October, plans for holiday seder on Friday have become a flashpoint.

Manhattan dad David told The Post he refuses to attend the annual family gathering because he fears exposing his 6-year-old and 8-month-old children to his anti-vaxxer brother’s kid.

“It’s become a very big family problem,” said David. “Besides my child getting it, I don’t want to be the one who gives it to their kid. The virus can be on me. If I hug their kid I can transmit it.”

His relationship with his brother has been damaged, and they’re even ending the phone plan they shared.

“I can’t go near him, I can’t go near his family,” he said.

The controversy is stressing marriages.

One Orthodox mother said her husband pressured her to give their 7-year-old the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) shot after the entire family was iced out of the community and kids kicked out of yeshiva.

“My husband doesn’t like the pressure — he wants me to give up and give in. I keep telling him, ‘They’re not going to stop with one MMR. Next time there’s an outbreak of anything — chicken pox — they’ll demand that [shot].”

Her son has a medical exemption for most vaccines due to an endocrine system disorder.

She said he was treated as a social pariah around her neighborhood, which is now measles-free.

“Even people who don’t have kids uninvited us from a Shabbat meal,” she lamented.

“I’ve decided to give my son the MMR shot despite strong religious and medical reservations,” she said, “so he can be back in society and not be considered a threat to anyone.”

Some non-kosher and cellular components of the vaccine draw objections from some ultra-Orthodox Jewish, and even conservative Christian, parents. But rabbis have unequivocally said the components don’t violate Judaic law, because the vaccine isn’t consumed orally like a food.

Measles warning signs in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Measles warning signs in Williamsburg, BrooklynPaul Martinka

Some ultra-Orthodox are also spreading, and believing, misinformation that ties the measles vaccine to developmental disabilities like autism, a link that has consistently been scientifically disproven.

The rise in families not vaccinating their children has resulted in deadly outbreaks of measles, a disease that had once been all but eradicated, around the world.

Dov Landa, a physician assistant with Precious Health Medical who has practiced in Williamsburg and Rockland County’s Pomona — “the eye of the storm,” he said — has seen husbands furtively come in when their wives are away seeking to “shoot up the kids” with vaccines. (He refuses unless both parents on board. )

“It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to … say there’s a war of vaccines going on within the Hasidic community,” he said.

He railed against the hotlines run by community leaders warning of the dangers of vaccines. He noted that every respected rabbi supports vaccinations.

“There’s a one percent loud minority who creates fear in the average laymen,” he said.

Landa said Williamsburg yeshivas are separating vaccinated and unvaccinated kids in different buildings, bowing to legal pressure from anti-vaxxer parents whose kids had originally been barred from school.

An ordained rabbi and practicing lawyer from Brooklyn — who has family members with compromised immune systems who cannot be vaccinated put at risk by the outbreak — ripped his community’s anti-vaxxers.

“I take offense at their distortion of my religion,” he said. “It’s chutzpah to reject the miracle that is medical science. … It’s an unbelievable perversion of Torah values.

“Their objection to vaccinate is the same as anyone in any community — they’re afraid of autism — but they need something to hang their hat on, so they blame it on religious reasons, claiming their Judaism prevents them from vaccinating.”

Landa said his patients tell him about measles parties to “get it over with already — so they can get exposed and go back to school already.” At these rumored gatherings, healthy children deliberately mix with a sick child to get the measles — and future immunity.

Once a child contracts the measles he or she has lifetime immunity from catching or spreading the disease. Proving a child has had the illness — with a doctor’s note — would exempt the child from vaccination.

Some families are so desperate to claim an exemption that they’re faking doctors’ letters of immunity, by swapping out children’s names.

“They’re falsifying documents,” said a Brooklyn doctor whose colleague was tipped off to the scheme by a yeshiva. “He told me, ‘There’s letters going around in my name.’”

He has now tightened protocols at his own practice. “Now I won’t give letters, I’ll only give them a copy of [blood tests showing specific levels of immunity] — they can’t be manipulated. I tell the school not to accept any letters anymore.”

Families are also tightening their security.

“A friend invited me and my kids to the Bronx Zoo on Passover,” said Orthodox dad of four Baruch Herzfeld, who has recently immunized one-year-old triplets.

“Hell no — I’m not taking my kids. Why would I take the risk?”



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