Time for the Herd to Stampede: Measles Outbreak in Detroit

I’m in Detroit, unhappily a not-uninvolved participant in what is going on around me. The situation is somewhere between precaution and panic, the latter averted only because of strong, deliberate action by community rabbonim, Hatzola, and the county medical authorities. It is strong testimony to the havoc that is wreaked upon us by the anti-vaxxers, and those who lack the spinal fortitude to firmly say “no” to them.

The current round began with a visitor from Israel, who picked up measles from one of the affected outbreak communities in the New York/New Jersey area. Interestingly, he had thought that he had contracted the disease as a child, and was immune. He wasn’t. The virus, although having a very short “shelf life” outside the body, is extremely virulent while active. The clock towards the end of the outbreak period (21 days after the last case reported) is reset every day as new victims are discovered.

Because so many people do not know if they were exposed, or whether they received any recommended booster shots as adults, everyone in the community has been urged to receive a new dose of the MMR vaccine, and people are lining up at Young Israel each day to receive the precautionary treatment.

BH, unlike Yerushalayim, there have been no deaths. Still, the interference with the life of a community is enormous. People – at least those not yet immunized – have been urged to stay away from crowds. Travel has been disrupted. Friends and relatives of the honorees at the annual Kollel dinner (my son is one of them) have cancelled their flights. The community rabbonim issued a statement in the strongest terms banning anyone with any suspect symptoms from going to shul, school, or mingling with others. The immuno-suppressed (who cannot receive the vaccine) are worrying their heads off.

The chilul Hashem is enormous. Local outlets have identified the source of the outbreaks around the country as Orthodox communities. Detroit is not a community that “deserves” this treatment. There is no anti-vaxx lobby here; the frum community is solidly mainstream regarding inoculations. (My son was wise enough to call a few of them to demonstrate that the vast majority of the community vaccinate, distance themselves from the nonsense of the anti-vaxxers, and fully support the efforts to control the outbreak.) It is as if the medieval rumors of Jews spreading the Black Death had come back – only this time, with a factual basis. It is a mark of shame upon us that we are being associated with the mindlessness and selfishness of the LA celebrity community, which was what used to be linked to the anti-vaccination stupidity. It is not just us who look like members of the Flat Earth Society. Torah itself is shamed thereby. And, with anti-Semitism menacing to a greater extent all the time, projecting an image of dumb Jews creating a health hazard for their neighbors is not what we need right now.

The release by the local rabbinate was impressive, and did not mince words. It fully embraced the right of the community to protect itself from the errors of the uncomprehending and the conspiratorialists. Schools and others have the full right to ban unimmunized children. No exceptions allowed, other than those who have medical reasons, and then only if attested to by a physician who is known to otherwise support vaccination, rather than the rogue medical bad apple.

The time is long past for plugging up the last holes in the wall of our community resolve. The Torah community has the right and sanction to take action against individuals who compromise the well-being of everyone else, no matter what they hide behind.

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18 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    Is this post suggesting that one can be a measles carrier without actually being sick? How exactly can large or even small Jewish communities police visitors without outward symptoms? I’m glad the Metro Detroit Rabbonim are so forthright and responsible. When we lived there, this quality impressed us.

  2. Dr. E says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein:

    Thank you for your firm and unequivocal article. I too have family members in the Detroit community including grandchildren who are literally too young at this time to be fully inoculated. Yet, my kids have had to be quite inconvenienced by this whole situation.

    I will mince no words here. Those Rabbinic figures who have maintained and continue to maintain their ill-informed and irresponsible anti-vaxxer stance are not merely in the category of Rodef. That would be “dayeinu” on this issue. But, as you point out that they are also now party to Chillul Hashem and quantifiable financial damage to Torah institutions. Surely, those individuals are familiar enough with the sources to review those sugyos and the repentance required. But that will take a certain level of cheshbon hanefesh and contrition. Until that point, the aforementioned “leaders”, regardless of whatever merits that followers and colleagues think they may otherwise have, should be discredited and called out by name.

  3. David K says:

    In an online article about Orthodox leadership and vaccination I read this: “the Agudah doesn’t routinely address medical matters, leaving them to constituents’ consultation with their doctors.” Is it true that the Agudah has not issued a directive to its followers on vaccination?

  4. too tired says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,
    Welcome back to Detroit. A closer look at the Vaad Harabbonim statement shows that the rabbonim did not ban anyone from any institution, just that they gave permission for those institutions to do so on their own.
    It is likewise interesting to note that all of the adults- without exception- who have contracted the measles thus far all had been vaccinated as children. May HKBH watch over our wonderful community.

    • mycroft says:

      without exception- who have contracted the measles thus far all had been vaccinated as children

      No vaccine is a 100% effective, have enough vaccinated and herd immunity will prevent outbreaks and thus even those where the vaccine did not take will not become infected

      • too tired says:

        Didn’t work here. All the schools are have far above the 95% vaccination rate that should have produced that herd immunity. For current, quality information, see the many articles online in the Detroit Jewish News.

  5. mb says:

    Childhood vaccinations cause ……………adults!
    (Be careful!)

  6. SB says:

    Dr. E
    I’m curious to see how you pasken on where the line should be drawn for requiring people to stay home with communicable diseases.
    If someone has strep, must he stay home for 24 hours (till antibiotics kick in)?
    Is he allowed to leave his house but must keep x feet away from anyone? must he wear a mask? is it rodefa to shake hands with someone? Do I need to sanitize the subway pole I was holding after use?
    Would you pasken the same way for the flu? (after all influenza kills more people in the US annually)
    I’m not waying in on the vax issue, I’m simply commenting on what are legitimate questions of personal responsibility.
    Perhaps we should take an equally hard line as the one you are suggesting in regards to the flu. But if we did, then our workplaces and batei medrashim may be very empty during cold season.
    What is the halachic answer?

    • Dr. E says:


      I am not a medical doctor. I am not sure if you are trying to defend the Rabbis whom I am suggesting need to be called out Or whether you are trying to employ statistical concepts and apply them to lomdus of rov, what is or isn’t sh’chiach, and how that might regulate personal behavior behavior. Your relegating this sugya to theoretical micro-Halachic queries is totally irrelevant. Of course, individuals should exercise responsible judgment whenever they enter into a reshus harabim. But in the examples of contagion which you cite, no one has suggested that as a matter of public policy, entire constituencies refuse public policy safeguards that would prevent exposing others to influenza or other types of viruses. But, here, we have Rabbis who seem to be arrogantly defiant in advocating against what the medical community has deemed mainstream public health protocols. Whether some of these notable Rabbis are somehow confident in their medical positions or henpecked, the guidance which they are dispensing to their followers is downright irresponsible. This morning, NBC News ran a segment of what is going on in Monsey, and mentioned that some Rabbis there are refusing to urge followers to get vaccinated. That alone makes one shrei.

      So take your pick of pre-Yom Kippur “Al Chets”– Rodef, Lifnei Iver, Hefsed Mamon, Chillul Hashem.

    • mycroft says:

      “Would you pasken the same way for the flu? (after all influenza kills more people in the US annually)”

      Good question, why the big hue and cry about measles vaccine and not about ensuring people do not become a much more likely danger to others in spreading influenza.
      The following from web searches today.

      In 1920, the United States had 469,924 recorded cases of measles and 7,575 deaths associated with measles. 5 From 1958 to 1962, the U.S. averaged 503,282 cases and 432 death associated with measles each year. 6 Before the first measles vaccine was licensed in the U.S. in 1963, measles increases were seen generally in late winter and spring 7 every two to three years.

      According to the CDC, flu-related deaths between the years of 1976 and 2007 ranged from 3,000 to 49,000. From 2010 to 2016, the flu-related death rate was between 12,000 and 56,000, with the highest season being 2012 to 2013 and the lowest being 2011 to 2012

  7. Midwesterner says:

    Yashir koach. The more voices we hear on the side of sanity the easier it becomes to resist the crack-pot minority. And Bob: by the time symptoms appear it may already be several days, and during that time you can spread the disease to others. Thus it is very hard to “police” visitors – you just have to assume that if the person was exposed or comes from a community with current or recent cases, that the person is a risk unless they are definitely vaccinated. Bottom line: the only defense is universal vaccination for everyone who medically can be.

  8. Reb Yid says:

    Rockland County has finally at long last said genug.

  9. Bob Miller says:

    Talkin’ ’bout my generation:

    If we had the measles itself, in all its glory, as kids, do we need further immunization?

    Same for chicken pox and mumps.

    • tzippi says:

      Re chicken pox, ask your doctor about the shingles vaccine, I think. I don’t know about M, M, or R.

  10. IfWeVaxThenWeVahks says:

    I also believe that an (Un)intended consequence of the anti-vax Narishkeit is the overall distrust of doctors, which has its own dire implications.

  11. Ben Bradley says:

    The assumption that anti-vax attitudes are responsible for this are misplaced. Or at least over-emphasised. I’ve worked in primary care in charedi communities in two countries and the major factors responsible for poor immunisation are not anti-vax attittudes, rather a more complicated mixture of lack of apprecation of the importance of vaccines, maternal time pressures and similar. In fact anti-vax attitudes are mostly a blight found in American communities whereas low immunisation rates are a problem in Europe and Israel too, as seen in this current outbreak
    So while anti-vax attitudes are indeed a communal busha, the issues here are much wider.

  12. Homeopathy is lunacy says:

    Two esteemed members of the Moetzes are ardent anti vaxxers, unfortunately. Until they see the light, we’re in trouble.

  13. Bob Miller says:

    One wider issue is the strange shunning of medical knowledge coming from outside frum circles, in favor of quackery that also comes from the outside.

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