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Rabbis and mayors

Amid a measles outbreak, geniality between city officials and Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn

Rabbis and mayors

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a news conference declaring a public health emergency in parts of Brooklyn due to a measles outbreak. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters/Newscom)

A New York moment: 

I’ve been covering the measles outbreak in Williamsburg, Brooklyn—a neighborhood with a large Orthodox Jewish population—for an upcoming story, and I’m struck again by the general cordiality between city and Hasidic leaders despite their regular disagreements on various religious accommodations.

A few years ago I wrote about the city taking away women-only swim hours at public pools, a time slot that served ultra-Orthodox women who can’t swim with men. The city ended up compromising and restoring some limited women-only swim hours after pushback from Jewish leaders. 

The city and Haredi communities also had confrontations about parking enforcement on Shabbos, circumcision, and dress codes in Hasidic businesses. Before Bill de Blasio became New York’s mayor, he represented on the City Council a largely Haredi community in Borough Park (an area with recent measles cases). 

Rabbi David Niederman, head of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, is working with the city to promote vaccination, although he has fought with some of the same officials on issues like circumcision. I asked him about how the Hasidim have managed religious accommodation negotiations.

“The first thing is, learn not to ask too much,” he said. But he added with a twinkle, “Be tooth-and-nail. Don’t compromise on religion.” 

Worth your time:  

The great Andrew Ferguson writes about the value of print. I recently started getting a paper newspaper again because I was so exhausted from the constant stream of news online. I found print satisfying in the same way he has. 

“It is pleasingly static, momentarily a settled matter,” he writes. “Juan Guaidó, I read, has delayed his return to Venezuela, assuming Nicolás Maduro will allow him to cross the border, and there he will stay until the Journal tells me differently."

This week I learned: 

An MIT scientist thinks we’re all living in a simulation, like the Matrix. As my friend Jeff Walton pointed out: “Interesting how the idea of a designer has entered mainstream secular thought.”

A court case you might not know about:

We covered the debate over cash bail a year ago. The U.S. Supreme Court this month refused to hear a case of a man who, charged with being intoxicated as a pedestrian, spent six days in jail because he couldn’t pay a $160 bail. The American Bail Coalition hailed it as a major victory for its industry.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had also ruled against the man, and the case attracted no amicus briefs from prominent anti-bail organizations. The details of the case probably didn’t set it up well for judicial review. For one thing, the city that held the man on bail changed its bail policy after the case to release individuals in similar circumstances after 48 hours. 

Culture I am consuming: 

For Holy Week: Edvard Munch’s painting Golgotha, which Biola’s Lent series says (in the “about” section of this link) depicts the artist as crucified, with seven deadly sins in the foreground. “Munch uses this as a symbolic representation to illustrate that man can have no identity if he is bound by the sins that confront him in life,” writes Biola professor Alina Beary.

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org