Buzzfeed Takes Part in Ancient Tradition – of Blaming Jews for Spreading Disease

An April 12 article on Buzzfeed is titled: “How A Group For Jewish Moms Spread Anti-Vax Propaganda Before New York’s Measles Outbreak.” According to Google, at one point the headline seems to have read, “Jewish Group Spread Anti-Vax Propaganda Before New York’s Measles Outbreak.”

Compare Buzzfeed’s headline to the way that NBC reported the same story on its website: “Brooklyn measles outbreak: How a glossy booklet spread anti-vaccine messages in Orthodox Jewish communities” (April 12, 2019). Or the Columbia Journalism Review: “Measles outbreak pits Orthodox media against anti-vaxxer movement” (April 10, 2019). Or to the one the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle used when it reported an earlier story about the same group: “Anonymous anti-vaxxers push propaganda on local Orthodox community” (January 31, 2018). 

In the NBC, CJR, and Chronicle headlines, anti-vaxxers present a threat to Jews. In the Buzzfeed version, however, it’s Jews who present a threat to New Yorkers.

As all of those outlets report, a group called Parents Educating and Advocating for Children’s Health or “PEACH,” has been spreading misinformation about vaccines in the orthodox Jewish community. The Chronicle calls PEACH a “purported Jewish organization” and notes that the authors of its propaganda material “hide behind pseudonyms.” NBC calls it an “an anonymously led group,” and quotes the handbook’s Editor-in-Chief’s explanation of why the group is anonymous, although NBC does name two women and one man that it identified through research and linked with the group.

Buzzfeed skirts around the tricky issue of who authored the material by calling it, in the headline, a “group for Jewish moms” – a technically correct statement that disguises the fact that Jewish moms are the target of this propaganda. In the article itself, reporters Claudia Koerner and Julia Reinstein claim, the group is “led by Jewish mothers.” But, while Buzzfeed and other reporters did track down two individuals who purport to be Jewish mothers, the sources of funding, writing and research remain unknown. Buzzfeed challenges every single medical claim the group makes, yet it accepts at face value the group’s claims about itself.      

The Chronicle describes a generally negative response to PEACH from the Pittsburgh Jewish community and explains:

“In Halachah (Jewish law), there is an imperative to follow the best medical expertise that exists,” said Rabbi Daniel Yolkut, spiritual leader of the Orthodox Poale Zedeck Congregation. “I’m not a medical expert, but as a layperson, I understand that there is no scientific support for the anti-vaccination position.”

The Chronicle also lists several orthodox organizations that call for vaccinations before noting that vaccination rates have, in fact, declined in some religious Jewish communities in North America and noting two previous outbreaks of preventable diseases in Jewish neighborhoods. 

The Columbia Journalism Review quotes Albert Friedman, the publisher and editor of Yiddish language newspaper Di Zeitung, saying “Listen, there is zero religious reason not to vaccinate…. I tell [anti-vax mothers] get me a letter against vaccines from any rabbi and I’ll publish it. I never got any letter yet.”

Buzzfeed, in contrast, writes,

PEACH, formally known as Parents Educating and Advocating for Children’s Health, has been circulating magazines and pamphlets since at least 2014 that claim vaccines are in opposition with Jewish religious law, (falsely) link vaccines to autism, and recount anonymous horror stories of children being irreparably harmed by vaccines. Led by Jewish mothers, the group has brought anti-vax arguments and conspiracies into a community known for its cautious interaction with the modern, secular world.

Buzzfeed explicitly calls out the falsity of PEACH’s claim that vaccines are linked to autism. It doesn’t, however, do the same for the group’s claim that “vaccines are in opposition with Jewish religious law,” even though that claim is even more demonstrably false than the claim about autism and vaccines.

For example, the Orthodox Union wrote in November of 2018 that, “The Orthodox Union (OU) and the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) strongly urge all parents to vaccinate their healthy children on the timetable recommended by their pediatrician. … [T]he consensus of major poskim (halachic decisors) supports the vaccination of children to protect them from disease, to eradicate illness from the larger community through so-called herd immunity, and thus to protect others who may be vulnerable.” (Emphasis in original.) And on April 10, two days before the Buzzfeed article, Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt of the Rabbical Alliance of America wrote, “It is downright dishonest to officially attest that Jewish law forbids vaccination … . No poseik ever has stated that vaccination is against Jewish law.” This author also made the same assertion several months earlier in the widely-read Jewish Press. Rabbi Dr. Glatt also wrote that “providing normal childhood vaccinations is a parental obligation.”

Those who read to the end of the Buzzfeed article will learn that “public health officials have stressed that anti-vax groups don’t represent the views of most their residents, including the Orthodox community.” However, Buzzfeed does not tell its readers that there is no basis for PEACH’s assertion that Jewish law prohibits vaccinations. Instead Buzzfeed portrays PEACH as promoting a position that is mainstream, or at least common and accepted, within the Orthodox community and allows its readers to believe PEACH’s false claim about Jewish law.

Buzzfeed also explicitly calls the claim that pediatricians “cover[] up the dangers of vaccines for financial gain” a “ conspiracy theory.” Yet, the publication is unable to clearly state that the claim that vaccines are contrary to Jewish law is false.

Buzzfeed also fails to put the New York outbreak into context as part of a nationwide problem that in other locations has nothing to do with Jews. The CJR explains that, as stated by, the editor of Voz Iz Neias? (What Is News?), a New York-based news blog, “the Orthodox anti-vax movement is an iteration of the larger anti-vax movement in the US.” Even the New York Times, on April 9, reported:

The anti-vaccine movement goes beyond the confines of the ultra-Orthodox community. There are thriving and growing pockets of vaccine opponents across the country that span ideological boundaries: In Washington State, some liberal communities shun vaccinations while conservative populations in Texas also oppose them.

The Times further notes that PEACH is “supported by national anti-vaccine organizations.” But none of this information can be found in Buzzfeed’s sensationalized April 12 story. Indeed, even an April 16 Buzzfeed article that did discuss the nationwide issues, including that “outbreaks of the highly contagious virus are now active in 20 states,” was illustrated with a photo of an Orthodox Jewish woman captioned, “A sign warns people of measles in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.”

Blaming Jews for the spread of diseases is as traditional as attacking Jews around the time of Passover and Easter. Buzzfeed, which presents itself as post-modern and cutting edge, has taken part in two ancient anti-Semitic traditions.