As Americans continue to debate the merits of various policies undertaken to confront the COVID-19 epidemic, Moshe Krakowski looks back on how journalists and even government officials sought to depict Ḥaredim as particularly dangerous vectors of disease:
In August of 2022, [the former chief medical adviser Anthony] Fauci singled out Ḥaredim as poster children for the loss of herd immunity: “when vaccinations get below that number you start to see outbreaks like we saw some time ago in the New Yor City area with ḥasidic Jewish people who were not getting vaccinated.” (This, despite the fact that measles vaccination rates in the ḥasidic community were shown to be 96 percent and other, non-Jewish, communities experienced measles outbreaks too.)
In November 2021, a Department of Health official confirmed in testimony to Attorney General Letitia James that Governor Andrew Coumo’s COVID-19 cluster zones had targeted Orthodox neighborhoods, even though other neighborhoods in the city met exactly the same COVID-positivity metrics.
Ḥaredim were routinely described as ignorant and clannish, and as engaging in mob behavior. Ḥaredi religious beliefs and values were mocked as unimportant. In April of 2020, [then-New York City Mayor Bill] de Blasio issued a special “message to the Jewish community” threatening that “the time for warnings has passed” and indicated that he would be dispatching the police to “arrest those who gather in large groups.” Jews were the only one of the city’s many ethnic groups whom de Blasio singled out for public condemnation.
We actually have very little clear or systematic data about how and why Ḥaredim responded to COVID-19—or how the virus responded in turn. There are strong reasons to believe the ḥasidic COVID-19 death rate was exactly the same as the rest of New York, despite the community suffering a massive surge of deaths in the very initial wave that kicked off the pandemic.