Sad opinion piece in the New York Times, by a Hasidic Jew distraught at the failure of significant numbers of his fellow orthodox to protect their children – and the rest of us – from disease. Here’s the most interesting passage of an essay that rehearses ironclad destructive know-nothingism in several aspects (these most notoriously at the moment include the un-education of children and certain grotesque forms of circumcision) of the larger ultraorthodox community – not merely in the anti-vaccination preaching of a powerful subgroup within that community.

Whether out of shortsightedness or strategic malice, some of our religious leaders have directly fostered an atmosphere where thorough research is sneered at, the scientific method is doubted and the motivations of professionals are assumed to be nefarious and steeped in anti-religious animus.

Hardly shortsightedness, is it? I mean, that’s a pretty innocuous word, suggesting that if we can only point out the longer-term results of various rabbis’ behavior, they will maybe change it. No, the author’s use of the phrase strategic malice is far more interesting. The author’s rightly seeking a nasty motive for a nasty set of behaviors. Malice against whom? Strategic in regard to what end? (If he’d written ignorant malice, we could say What do you expect, given the appalling state of education in many American yeshivas? Weep for where the rejection of enlightened modernity lands you…)

The author repeats the word strategic at the end of his essay: Certain religious leaders are exhibiting “the strategic deployment of a siege mentality.” What’s the percentage, for powerful rabbis, of inculcating in their followers an outside-world-rejectionist mentality so severe as to mentally and physically cripple significant numbers of their children for life, and to put the health of the rest of us at risk because of their followers’ behavior? Answer: It’s obvious. These men are insanely power-hungry. As in other abusive, endgame cults, this is how cult leaders totally control people. Unto besieged death.

And, to use the technical term, this is nuts, ain’t it?


Nuts it may be, but it’s hardly unprecedented or enigmatic behavior. Mildly cultic groups notoriously spin off radical subcults (see Warren Jeffs and the like), and respectable sects know to shun their various psycho subsectarians. Maybe they’ve got people sucking infants’ penises and thereby infecting and sometimes killing them. Maybe they’re infecting their own children with measles. “While it is reasonable to allow adults to martyr themselves to their religion, it is not reasonable to allow them to martyr their children,” says an observer.

UD‘s pretty sure it ain’t reasonable to allow adults to self-martyrize either; but anyway the theme within some orthodox Jewish communities of – in a remarkable number of ways – martyring their children is lately unignorable. Yet these communities – often modern as well as ultra – seem incapable of the shunning that other secretive and tight-knit religious communities are able to accomplish. (Not that they don’t love to shun! They just seem to shun the wrong things.) Nor is New York City’s government willing to go there. So here we are.

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