A petition is calling for a major ultra-Orthodox umbrella group to condemn leaders in its highest ranks who promote anti-vaccination on the eve of the group’s national convention.
An anonymous person calling themselves Dovid Fields started a Change.org peitition to get Agudath Israel of America to condemn conspiracy theories, popular in some segments of the ultra-Orthodox community, that vaccines are a myth or a health risk. The petition has nearly 240 signatures as Tuesday midday, out of a hoped-for 500.
The petition notes that three members of Agudath Israel’s highest council on Jewish law, the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, have supported anti-vaccine positions. The men include Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, who called vaccines “a hoax” in 2014, and Rabbi Malkiel Kotler, the head of one of the largest yeshivas in the country.
“This is an emergency and the most immediately pressing issue of the day,” Fields wrote in an email to the Forward. “[Agudath Israel’s] leaders have a hand in spreading actual risk of death and they should not be allowed to stand silently.”
The comments in the petition showcase many Orthodox Jews frustration with the men who have given support to anti-vaccine myths.
“The fact that we even have to do this is a disgrace,” wrote one commenter.
The petition comes after a major measles outbreak sickened over 1,400 in Israel and dozens in the U.S., almost exclusively in ultra-Orthodox communities. The outbreak hit Orthodox Brooklyn in late September.
Earlier this year, a group of people in the heavily Orthodox town of Lakewood, New Jersey, tried to form a “coalition” to force local yeshivas to admit students who had not been vaccinated. The coalition claimed they had the support of Kotler, the yeshiva leader. In New Jersey and 46 other states, families can claim religious exemptions for vaccines. American yeshivas have generally not admitted unvaccinated students.
Agudath Israel’s national convention, which happens annually over the Thanksgiving weekend, will be at a hotel in Stamford, Conn. The convention features talks and panels on addressing mental health issues and confronting technology.
A representative for Agudath Israel did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
Ari Feldman is a staff writer at the Forward. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @aefeldman