Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Idiot Chasid

Charedi women - at greater risk of death from breast cancer
Chasid Shoteh (idiot Chasid) is a term used by the Gemarah to describe an act of piety that in reality is counter to Halacha. Chasid, as used in the Gemarah does not mean what it does today. It simply means an individual of great piety. 

A Chasid Shoteh does not refer to the Chasid of today. It refers to any Jew whose piety is so extreme that it even prevents him from performing a life saving act. The Gemarah gives an example of that.  If a man sees a naked woman drowning and refrains from saving her because of his concern for modesty, he is called a Chasid Shoteh.

What Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll describes in her JC article as the behavior of Bnei Brak’s rabbinic establishment can only be described that way. They are actually advocating that the prevention of potentially fatal illnesses for women not be addressed  publicly because of modesty considerations.

Here is what she said in her JC article
"There’s no greater value for a Charedi woman than modesty.”  So said the former chief of staff for the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, Rabbi Dov Halbertal. He was explaining why posters raising awareness of breast cancer screening in Charedi society were inappropriate for the very population they were crafted to reach. No matter how carefully posters talking about women’s health are worded, he explained, the fact that they address women at all makes them inherently immodest. 
I can’t think of too many things that more closely resemble the Gemarah’s description of a Chasid Shoteh than this. They are putting modesty issues before life saving issues, just like that Chasid Shoteh in the Gemarah.  

In the case of Bnei Brak, to say that addressing women at all is inherently immodest is the height of foolishness and irresponsibility! If it wasn’t such a serious issue I’d be laughing my head off at a statement like that!

Charedi women are not immune to breast cancer. Breast cancer affects them too.  They can die from it, just like any woman can as Mrs Keats Jaskoll notes: 
Three major Israeli medical studies in the past decade have revealed that, despite the fact that Charedi women develop breast cancer at a lower rate than the general population, they suffer a 30 per cent higher mortality rate from the disease. 
That breast cancer can be life threatening is unarguable. But measures can be taken to prevent the disease from killing you. Especially if there is early detection. That’s why mammograms are so important.

There has been some controversy about false positives that occasionally occur raising questions among medical experts about what age screenings should begin.  For example the American Cancer Society has recommended that the age where annual testing begins should be raised from age 40 to 45.  On the other hand 'the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), say that starting at 40 is best. Meanwhile, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Services (USPSTF) says that women can wait until 50'.

There is no disagreement, however, about the need to be begin being screened at some point and to do it annually from there. That rabbis in places like Bnei Brak forbid any public discussion of it for modesty reasons may be one reason there is a higher mortality rate in the Charedi world despite their lower tendency to get the disease.

I have to wonder about the thinking that goes behind the kind of extreme modesty guidelines that can actually increase the incidence of death. Surely the rabbinic leaders of Bnei Brak know about the concept of Chasid Shoteh. How do they not see their attitude here being an application of this very clear Gemarah? 

I know they must think there are other ways to transmit this message to their wives, mothers, and daughters.  But there is no  better way to get the word out than by publicizing it. Shouldn’t getting the message out to as many people as possible be the priority here?

That is after all how they get their other messages out. There is no reluctance to publicize those issues with  public notices on billboards and the like. They are quick to call for an Asifa (public gathering) with speaker after speaker haranguing their public about an issue like the internet. Isn’t the prevention of death from breast cancer as important an issue as the internet?

Are they willing to tolerate a higher morbidity rate for Charedi women with breast cancer so that they can maintain their extreme modesty standards? It sure seems like it.