Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The disease that dares not speak its name

Some of you might have seen posters in Hebrew plastered all over my neighborhood authored by Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner, calling for a day of prayer and self-examination (not a bad idea in and of itself) in light of the supposed devastation of young families and deaths of children from "the terrible illness" both here and in Israel. What this terrible illness is the Rabbi wouldn't say, but it is common knowledge that child mortality is at an all time low in the U.S.A., Israel and all developed societies. Rabbi Wosner can visit any number of old Jewish cemeteries on the border between Brooklyn and Queens, and see row upon row of tiny matzevot for tiny children who died of diphtheria, whooping cough, polio and a host of other maladies that are now distant memories thanks in large measure to Jews who went to college (gasp!) and studied science (chas veshalom!). Are we now seeing a spike in childhood deaths or simply lots of children, ken yirbu, some of whom in the natural order of things die before their parents? Nobody seems to be doing the epidemiology, just as nobody knows if our community has more than its share of Down's Syndrome, since many of our women give birth well into their forties.
Rabbi Wosner attributes this alleged outbreak of his unspecified "terrible illness" to vague and unspecified transgressions in behavior and dress. As a scientist I deal only in proximate causes; others may speculate on ultimate ones. But our community, along with the general society, is seeing an epidemic of obesity and its sequelae in children. Children as young as ten are showing up with high blood pressure, elevated blood cholesterol, impaired glucose tolerance and even Type 2 diabetes, ailments that until now were almost never seen in anybody under 40. This does not bother Rabbi Wosner, never mind that we know precisely which aveirot brought it about, namely insufficient physical activity and too much of the wrong kinds of food, in that order. And we know precisely the tikkun to correct it - get our yeshivot to serve nutritious food even though it's more expensive than junk, and get our kids (and grownups) playing, preferably out in the sunshine, for an hour a day. But that means less time indoors hunched over books. Bittul Torah! Perish the thought.

6 Comments:

Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Welcome to the blogosphere!

>Rabbi Wosner can visit any number of old Jewish cemeteries on the border between Brooklyn and Queens, and see row upon row of tiny matzevot for tiny children who died of diphtheria, whooping cough, polio and a host of other maladies that are now distant memories thanks in large measure to Jews who went to college (gasp!) and studied science (chas veshalom!).

You know, I've been to cemetaries many times and seen those unfortunate and tragic rows of little stones but never thought about the cause, although it is of course blindingly obvious.

Wed Jun 07, 11:30:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Godol Hador said...

> thanks in large measure to Jews who went to college (gasp!) and studied science (chas veshalom!).

No, you're completely wrong. it was entirely due to the zechus of Yidden learning Torah.

Welcome to the JBlogosphere!

Wed Jun 07, 12:50:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Enigma_4U said...

Congrats on this new and worthwhile blog. I like your inquiring eye posture and the light-handed way you niggle at the absurdities of our community and its leaders. We need more courageous souls out there, ones who are not afraid to lay the truth bare.

Wed Jun 07, 08:54:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post.

I don't think it's fair to say that Rav Wosner isn't bothered by childhood obesity though. It just wasn't addressed with this poster.

Mon Jun 26, 01:23:00 AM EDT  
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