Dr. Jonathan Frankel’s “A shot of truth about the anti-vaxx Orthodox” (a Times of Israel post that has since been removed) may be well-intentioned, but I am afraid that it is not well-informed, as it broadly paints the Orthodox community as lacking critical thinking skills, as manifested by the fact that some Orthodox Jews have jumped aboard the anti-vaccination wagon.
The real truth is that an extremely small number of Orthodox Jews are anti-vaxxers, in relation to the entire Orthodox community. This little anti-vaccine group, which has adopted the foolhardy policies of the wayward and delusional worldwide anti-vaxx movement, does not represent the overwhelming majority of Orthodox Jews. Normative Orthodox Jews consider the anti-vaxxers to be nuts who are divorced from reality. Please see here for my thoughts on this crazy and evil phenomenon.
Who are the anti-vaxxers? Many of the anti-vaccination movement’s leaders are highly-educated people, with advanced academic degrees, who assuredly have been exposed to critical thinking skills. The is also true of the large masses of anti-vaccination Americans, who are typically upper-class, well-employed professionals. In the anti-vaxx world, backwoods illiterates need not apply. (I personally know a (non-Orthodox) anti-vaxxer. He has a doctorate, runs a business and is a leader in his career field. One would never suspect him to be a follower of something so insane.)
As I wrote in my above-linked article, the healthcare experts with whom I spoke related that anti-vaxxers are impervious to reason on this subject, regardless of their level of intelligence and academic accomplishments. They do not lack education, exposure to information or critical thinking skills; they simply have a ”bug in their heads”, or they lack seichel (common sense), which is something that is often absent from even the most lettered and successful individuals in society, including those who do vaccinate.
The Orthodox world is uniquely close-knit; new ideas, trends and styles spread lightning-fast, if not more rapidly. Great things catch on quickly, and not-so-great things can catch on quickly as well. Such is the case with the anti-vaccination ideology, which snagged a small crowd of Orthodox Jews, who otherwise, like most American anti-vaxxers, are as intelligent and astute as everyone else, but who allowed a highly-irrational “meshugas” to invade their thoughts.
Contrary to Dr. Frankel’s proposal, Orthodox people do not need to be specially taught critical thinking skills. Our community is packed with sharp, quick-witted, discerning and brilliant people, who engage in profound abstract and practical thinking, probably surpassing by far any other population in this regard; we are intelligent enough to realize that vaccination saves lives and is needed. Any objective person with half a brain knows that vaccination prevents serious illness and is an absolute necessity; it does not take a genius or require mastery of a very particularized congitive discipline to figure this out. But the same irrational anti-vaccine madness that has gripped so many otherwise “normal” secular intellectuals has alas come to the Orthodox community as well, whose tight-knit structure has in this case not helped.
We must educate about the importance and imperative for vaccinations, and condemn aversion thereto – but to critique the Orthodox community as a whole for lack of critical thinking is off the mark.