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Friday, December 23, 2011

Abi Gezunt! Or not?

Shigella bacteria
Last week, at the request of my guest, we and our children went to a chassidishe shteeble on Shabbos morning. During the prayers, my son needed to go to the toilet. He came back and said that he could't wash his hands because there was no soap! I told him to just wash it with water in the meantime, but inside I felt upset about yet another primitive ritual that is outdated these days.

And then I came across the following post by DovBear called Health Department takes notice of obscure Jewish ritual:
"From what I understand Shigella spreads more frequently among the OJ because we tend to wash with a cup, often before saying Asher Yatzer.  The bacteria goes from your hand to the cup, where it waits for the next person to use the cup for washing.  
In the letter that follows (contributed by Efrex) the NYC Health Department seems to acknowledge this problem, however delicately. In any event, its neat to see our rituals acknowledged."

NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND MENTAL HYGIENE
Thomas Farley, M.D., M.P.H., Commissioner
December 2011
Dear Parent:
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) is concerned about a recent increase in the number of children with diarrheal illness caused by the bacteria Shigella in the Borough Park and Williamsburg sections of Brooklyn. Most illness has occurred among young children (ages 1-5). Shigella germs are found in the intestinal tract. The disease is most commonly spread by direct contact with an infected person. The Shigella germ can spread quickly among young children in day care programs or pre-kindergarten programs. Symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramping and bloody diarrhea.
Large outbreaks of shigella have previously occurred in traditionally observant Jewish communities in Boro Park and Williamsburg as well as other parts of New York State, New Jersey, Illinois, Maryland and Canada. One such outbreak affected over 1900 persons and lasted for eight months.
  1. The most important way to prevent this disease is good hand washing with both soap and warm water. This is especially important after going to the bathroom. Before performing Asher Yatsar, children should wash with soap and warm water. Hands should be also washed on arrival at day care or school, before eating or whenever hands look, feel, or smell unclean. For parents, handwashing after diaper changing is also very important. Developing the habit of good handwashing will prevent not just Shigella but many other diseases that spread person-to-person, some of which may be serious.
  2. If your child develops diarrhea, he/she should not be sent to day care or school until the diarrhea has completely resolved. Because transmission is person to person, we want to be sure that other children as well as teachers do not get sick from this germ. One way to make sure that your child no longer has the germ is to test the stool. The DOHMH asks that ill children have at least two negative stool tests to be sure that the child is no longer carrying the Shigella germ. While we understand it can be a hardship, this is a requirement in all New York City daycares and is to protect other children in the daycare and the community. You can have the stool tested either at your regular doctor or through the DOHMH.
  3. Since the Shigella bacteria has become resistant to two commonly-used antibiotics, we are not recommending that all infections be treated. Mild illness will usually resolve on its own without antibiotics. More severe infections need to be evaluated by your physician.
We appreciate your cooperation in helping to control this outbreak and ensuring continued good health for your family and your community.
Sincerely,
Marcelle Layton, M.D.
Marcelle Layton, M.D., Assistant Commissioner
Bureau of Communicable Disease
New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
Just imagine this: An obviously significant amount of children are suffering from diarrhea and other diseases just because some fanatics never updated their hygiene standards. Some kids even receive antibiotics they don't need. Imagine also all the other diseases like flues and colds that are transmitted among adults just because of the lack of hygiene.

Perhaps Jews were more hygienic in the Middle Ages than our non-Jews neighbors and this saved many lives. But we already know about bacteria since the 17th century when Antony van Leeuwenhoek discovered them, and we know at least for a century already that washing our hands with soap will reduce bacterial infections.

So much for 'Abi Gezunt'!

32 comments:

  1. Maybe try donating some soap to your synagogue.

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  2. By the way New York State recently legalized gay marriage, further legitimatizing probably about the most unhealthy lifestyle possible.

    http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/archive/ldn/2005/jun/05060606

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  3. Poor hygiene is not limited to any sector of the public. It's an accepted fact nowadays that many cases of MRSA (antibiotic resistant staph infection) are caused by poor hygiene practices among doctors, nurses and hospital staff. It's an often fatal infection that would be easily prevented by washing hands regularly with soap and warm water.

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  4. I agree, SY, that this problem is not limited to Orthodox Jewish communities. But wouldn't you think that practices supposedly required by a benevolent deity would lead to healthier lives with less suffering? Vechai bahem and all that.

    True, TTBOMK there is no requirement to wash with a cup after using the bathroom.. But the people who insist on using a cup for this purpose believe that God wants them to do it.

    Given the level of OCD behavior that Orthodox Jewish practice encourages, I don't think it should be too hard to get people to wash their hands hygienically.

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  5. >But wouldn't you think that practices supposedly required by a benevolent deity would lead to healthier lives with less suffering?

    But you just admitted it's not given by God. One thing I love about skeptics, is their love affair with cynicism. Truly charming people.

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  6. HH, I guess I am cynical if I am expect true believers to attempt to act consistently with their stated beliefs.

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  8. No, you're just cynical person (the grand creations on earth that make life oh so much more enjoyable). Nonetheless your last comment makes no sense. They ARE acting based on their beliefs. So what do you want? At the very least, they are being consistent.

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  9. HH, isn't vechai bahem also a commandment? But they choose to wash with a cup after bathroom in direct violation of bechai bahem, and washing with a cup is not even halachically required; it's just an affectation that seems "frummer".

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  10. >HH, isn't vechai bahem also a commandment?

    I'm not sure you can say it's a commandment (like kashrut) but more of general directive of how to live. Now, are we seriously comparing washing using a cup with a possibility to spreading germs, to lets say, not calling an ambulance for a dying man on shabbat? Come on! And you judge them to be fanatics? Are we REALLY broadening THIS to include bechai bahem? How about we abolish:

    -Spharadim ripping challot with their hands and throwing them to people.
    -Passing a kiddush cup around.
    -Sharing a lulav.
    -Forbidding shuls from having public talitot. God knows what people have on their heads and skins.
    Sanitizing the Torah handles before everyone comes up to hold it.

    OCD indeed Tesyaa

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  11. >is not even halachically required; it's just an affectation that seems "frummer".

    Really? Are you sure? Like most customs, it starts, and spreads and the next generation does not really now how it started. I can only imagine originally it had some mystical construct. And so what? Whoever started it, didn't start because they wanted to appear frummer, but probably wanted to infuse it with a different madrega of uniqueness. And so what? Why this need to presume some nefarious motive of "appearing frummer" I am not sure. But once again, its the sign of the cynic.

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  12. HH, given how careful we are supposed to be about pikuach nefesh, even treating a choleh she'ayn bo sakana with caution, I don't think being careful about handwashing is too OCD.

    Shigella could be life threatening to old people and kids, I think. Do you think the health department writes letters like this because they've got nothing better to do?

    And thanks for bringing up mysticism and uniqueness; that's definitely worth getting sick for :P

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  13. >HH, given how careful we are supposed to be about pikuach nefesh, even treating a choleh she'ayn bo sakana with caution, I don't think being careful about handwashing is too OCD.

    I don't think its too OCD either. But I think equating this with vechai bahem is over the top. If you really want to be careful over the sakana of spreading germs, and the "mitzvah" of vechai bahem than you should be all for my little list. Why wait for the health department to get involved? My real issue is not having soap there (which they should have), my issue is your cynicism.


    >And thanks for bringing up mysticism and uniqueness; that's definitely worth getting sick for :P

    Is that what I said?

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  14. Tesyaa, practices associated with a benevolent deity? That's another way of saying man-made practices.

    HH- you're being an apologist for practices that can be baseless or occasionally destructive. There is such a term as chumra shtuss, you know. Many practices are subject to machlokes. You can't just assume that any custom has a reasonable basis.

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  15. I don't see how that is relevant to anything I said.

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  16. If you can't see the relevance you need to reread your comments (excerpted for emphasis):

    " Like most customs...I can only imagine originally it had some mystical construct. And so what? Whoever started it, didn't start because they wanted to appear frummer, but probably wanted to infuse it with a different madrega of uniqueness. And so what? Why this need to presume some nefarious motive of "appearing frummer" ...But once again, its the sign of the cynic.

    You're a smart man. Don't act so obtuse.

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  17. That comment was specifically answering her insinuation that it was created for people to look "frummer"

    Regardless, unless something has a reasonable basis for you it's not worth keeping? We aren't slitting throats here you know? And like I said, I have no problem with people washing hands. Point was that she cramming using a kli to wash hands with vechai behem, as if using a natlan, is the same as refusing life saving medicine on shabbat. If so, then we should go down the list and start abolishing any number of activities that I mentioned, including shaking hands.

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  18. For the sake of argument, if it is mystical in origins, who is to say its not reasonable enough to keep?

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  19. JP: - Donating soap: Will they then use it before they wash their hands with a kli or afterwards? And should I then also donate paper towels because they use bath towels?
    - Gay marriage: Reading Christian websites is not good for your brain and definitely not good if you want to know about homosexuality. For better information, look here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality
    - I deleted your offensive comment about Hitchens.

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  20. But reading books written by an alcoholic Marxist/Leninist is good for your brain.

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  21. Perhaps you just his works on their truth instead of your preconceived notions. He hadn't been Marxist / Leninist for quite some years. Yes, he loved the bottle but I don't see why that should be any different from a drug called Orthodox Judaism. Has an ever bigger impact on your thinking faculties.

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  22. HH- again, you are not directing your response to my point. There are chumrahs and minhagim that have no basis halachically. This is an accepted fact. Yes, if they are destructive to an individual or community they should be discarded, at least publicly.

    Here's a good example: R' Feinstein observed yoshon. He was seen at a wedding making hamotzi with bread that wasn't yoshon. When questioned, he responded that the mitzvah of the seudat simcha superseded his personal chumra.

    In other words, he acknowledged that his chumra was a personal choice , and it could negatively impact other people in certain circumstances. He chose to respect a less machmir kehillah and set aside his chumrah at that moment.

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  23. UK: you've spent enough time in Israel to observe the smoking and drinking that are common in the Yeshiva world. Perhaps Hitchens was an undercover Frummie ;-)

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  24. "One of Lenin's great achievements, in my opinion, is to create a secular Russia." Hitchins 2005

    http://www.pbs.org/heavenonearth/interviews_hitchens.html

    This greatness was accomplished through mass murder.

    http://www.nytimes.com/1996/10/27/books/censored-by-his-own-regime.html?pagewanted=3&src=pm

    "I consider myself a very conservative Marxist." Hitchins June 2, 2010 

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/06/magazine/06fob-q4-t.html

    "Yes, he loved the bottle but I don't see why that should be any different from a drug called Orthodox Judaism."

    You mean as in "religion is the opium of the people"? How many death does orthodox judaism cause each year? Zero. Alcohol about 79,000 in the US alone.

    http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/ 

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  25. Alcoholism is an organic disease that is independent of religious outlook. There most certainly are Orthodox alcoholics. Additionally the sedentary lifestyle many Orthodox Jews embrace (yourself being a notable exception) as well as the abominable diet their Vaads impose on them lead to chronic illness and death. For once, at least be honest enough to admit there are some serious deficiencies in many Orthodox communities. Your false idealization of that world only serves to further discredit your suppositions.

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  26. Actually, God will make you sober, as I explain.

    http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2011/09/god-will-make-you-sober.html

    Anyhow, I'm still wondering why "Reading Christian websites is not good for your brain" while reading books by a Marxist-Leninist drunk is good for it.

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  27. God will make you sober?
    Here's an Orthodox organization in your general vicinity. You might consider a visit. They could set you straight on this topic as well helping you with a number of personal issues:

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Center-for-Applied-Psychology-CAPs-at-Bikur-Cholim/237389116321988

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  28. This is so typical of atheists. I quote a distinguished scholarly study.

    http://www.casacolumbia.org/articlefiles/379-So%20Help%20Me%20God.pdf

    The atheist responds with ridicule.

    http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-ridicule.html

    Very impressive.

    It's the same with Hitchens. He thought a healthy lifestyle was a big LOL when his employer apparently made an intervention in 2007.

    http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2007/10/hitchens200710

    I'll bet the diagnosis of terminal cancer three years later wiped the smirk off his face.

    Everything is a big joke until it isn't. 

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  29. I have indeed responded to you, because you have to read everything I have written in context to what Tesyaa was saying.

    1) I have agreed that people need to wash their hands with soap
    2) Calling using a kli something that transgresses "vehai bahem" is ridiculous
    3) If you are ready to abolish this minhag under the pretenses of health hysteria, then you should agree that other minhagim (that I listed) need to be abolished as well.

    This reminds how the government legislated that drop-down cribs are illegal, because a couple of dozen of kids of died in a decade. Out of millions of children that have been fine, a few of died, and now it is illegal. It is a nanny state mentality and it is exactly what you are suggesting here by saying it should be discarded (publicly).

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  31. In our shul they use paper (disposable) towels now instead of regular towels (on which more than one has sneezed, I see it all the time!!!!) , that's a big step forward.

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